You know Hotel San Jose. And Hotel Saint Cecilia. And the Austin Motel.
Now, meet Hotel Magdalena.
Austin’s Bunkhouse Group has just unveiled its newest property, which is located off South Congress Avenue and was inspired by the city’s lake house culture.
"It’s natural, liberated, airy, earthy and serene. We want this to feel like an escape to nature, but in the middle of a city," said Tenaya Hills, Bunkhouse’s vice president of design. "The story of the hotel is the story of Austin — of live music, the outdoors, and relishing the hot summers in our beloved rivers and creeks. That naturally acted as a springboard for the design elements of the hotel — the pool being our own little swimming hole, the buildings around it inspired by Austin’s lake houses in the 1950s, which then informed the materials you see and furniture system we designed for the guest rooms."
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Hotel Magdalena, led by General Manager Meghan Hughes, who most recently opened and oversaw Bunkhouse’s Hotel San Cristóbal in Todos Santos, includes 89 guest rooms, a dedicated event space, a 900-square-foot sunken swimming pool reminiscent of Barton Springs, landscaping by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and a full-service restaurant that will open in November.
Here are 10 things to know about Hotel Magdalena.
1. The hotel is named after Mary Magdalene. "Saint Cecilia is the patron of music and poetry and the inspired namesake of Hotel Saint Cecilia. Her neighboring sister, Hotel Magdalena, is named for Mary Magdalene," Hills said. "She was both a sinner and a saint. Austin is a little of both, and so is Hotel Magdalena."
2. Its aesthetic was inspired by Austin’s lakeside culture. "Lake culture was an inspiration because it’s what we do here in the summer – hang out with friends on the water, grill and swim," Hills said. "It’s fun, casual and relaxed, which is the intention of this hotel. Austin in the ’70s is interesting just because of the richness of the music scene of the time and the lore of the time. It was the era that created the Austin we know today."
3. This is the only Austin Bunkhouse property designed and built from the ground up. It is also the largest Bunkhouse hotel in terms of number of rooms and the only one in Austin with a full-service restaurant and dedicated event space all conceived of and managed by Bunkhouse. "The others are all at least part historical renovation," said Amar Lalvani, CEO of Standard International and Bunkhouse Group. "It is also the first development we have done with a residential component, the Saint Cecilia Residences."
4. The design team had to get creative, as the hotel comprises just 1 acre off South Congress Avenue. "The topography allows for sweeping views of downtown but also creates issues related to layout, flow and the uses of the public space as well as for foundation and construction," said Lalvani, adding that initial discussions about the hotel started in 2012. "The unique building method we worked with Lake | Flato and our development partners on presented numerous opportunities and challenges along with an unconventional construction timeline and intense coordination between the parties. By utilizing mass timber construction, not only were we able to use more environmentally sensitive building materials, we were able to go vertical very early in the construction process, which allowed us to focus more on the interior elements, fit out, design and quality control with the various sub-contractors. We were able to have our tradesmen focus on precise installation, letting the design speak for itself. This included a range of elements from the exposed structural wood walkways in the exterior corridors to the level of aggregate in the guest room floors all the way down to the geometric tile patterns at the vanity and guest bathrooms."
5. It has a Willie Nelson connection. The site was originally home to the Terrace Motor Hotel, which first opened in 1951 and included a convention center. "After falling out of favor for numerous reasons, the hotel was purchased by Willie Nelson in the late ’70s, who renamed the convention center the Austin Opry House," Hills said. "Its first year hosted shows by Muddy Waters, Ike & Tina Turner, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, the Eagles, George Jones, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Doug Sahm, Jerry Jeff Walker and, of course, Willie himself."
6. This is the first Bunkhouse property in Austin with a full-service restaurant. The restaurant, Summer House on Music Lane, is named after the Terrace’s original on-property restaurant and is also inspired by the lake house culture of the 1970s. The team, which was put together by Hannah Taylor-Noren, food and beverage director at Bunkhouse, includes chef Jeffrey Hundelt (formerly of Launderette) and Eric Hastings (formerly of Jean-Georges), who will oversee Magdalena’s food and beverage program. "I think the atmosphere, menu and the genuine, casual, personal spirit of hospitality will be a welcome oasis a world away from the bustle of South Congress," Lalvani said.
7. The guest rooms are themed by color — green, blue, red and yellow. "There was a lot of time and energy spent thinking about a new take on the typical hotel room layout. Our standard rooms are bigger than your standard hotel room — 330 square feet. This and the efficient use of space effectively turns each one into a mini-suite," Hills said. "Bunkhouse designer Ellie Lochridge worked with Tracey Reinberg of Kismet Tile & Surface in Los Angeles to create four bright colors and the unique tile pattern you see. Those colors then informed the four-color schemes of our rooms, which are carried through the custom bed/desk/couch furniture system in the laminate tops, the custom bedside lighting by David Weeks, the Christian Rathbone throw pillows and Moroso lounge chair and coffee table. And then, of course, it’s the details — other great lighting by David Weeks and Santa & Cole, our amazing room photography by Scott Newton, custom robes and duvets, vintage reissue phones and Neroli scented room amenities by Sangre de Fruta."
8. Each room features photography by Scott Newton, former Austin Opry House staff photographer and official photographer for PBS’s "Austin City Limits." "In the early stages of the hotel, we came across this picture of Willie Nelson running in the benefit 5K ‘Run For Your Life’ down South Congress toward Academy. The hotel sits on that site today, so it seemed perfect," Hills said. "We tracked it down to Modern Rocks Gallery, which represents Scott Newton. Having a local artist was important to us, as was having images that showed a connection to the place and the era we wanted to encapture. He was perfect. There are over 100 photographs from Scott onsite, and no two are alike."
9. Hotel Magdalena is one of the only Bunkhouse properties that includes dedicated event space. "Our existing properties are always asked to hold events, which we do, but they are limited in size and also end up compromising the existing outlets, which have to be shut down to the public and other guests to host the events," Lalvani said. "With Magdalena, we were able to design a space (indoor and outdoor) specifically for events, many of which we have had to turn down in the past."
10. COVID-19 "has presented enormous challenges" for the hotel, including everything from construction and coordination delays to socially distant training and food tastings. "Virtually every single aspect of completing and opening the hotel was disrupted," Lalvani said. "Not to mention that what Bunkhouse does best is bring people together. So the type of disruption was anathema to what we are about. But it forced us to get creative. Rethink how we do things. And work really hard. And we did it. It’s a huge tribute to the creativity, spirit and energy of the Bunkhouse team who never gave up and managed to launch a stunning hotel in the midst of a pandemic without skipping a beat. We can’t wait to get beyond the pandemic to fully open the doors to this new oasis and see people freely enjoy the spaces and each other’s company and have fun once again, which is what our breed of hospitality is all about."