Austin is old. It was officially incorporated on December 27, 1839. Therefore, it’s only fair to assume that a lot of the hotels here are old. And there are a lot, but not as many for as old as this capital of Texas is.
A major part of that reason is that a lot of historic buildings have not been kept up over the years. So, purchasing an old hotel and running it would cost tons of money in renovations, as some of the owners of the hotels below have discovered.
Regardless, there is still a decent amount of history in the walls of the eight oldest hotels in Austin that you can stay in. Which one will you stay at?
A senator’s daughter still haunts the halls of one of these historic hotels to this day
A war between Texas and France almost started because some pigs invaded a Frenchman’s hotel room
Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife had their first date at the Driskill
Hotel San José hosts a 5-day music festival in its parking lot
8. Austin Motel
If you’re looking for the success story of the ages, we’ve got it with the Austin Motel, originally constructed in 1938.
Now, we’re not saying 1938 is recent, but out of all the historic hotels, this is the newest we included on this list. While it isn’t the oldest, it is one of the most distinguishable ones upon first look.
Anyone who knows the Austin Motel knows of its… well, how do we put it… phallic signage out front (and for anyone wondering, yes the employees see it, too).
This 25-foot neon red sign was constructed by the Stewarts the first year they were opened and has remained there since.
Anyway, now back to the success story.
Ordinary folks Leonard and Frances Eck moved to America from Germany in May of 1888. They bought some land and had a general merchandise store that served as a pawn shop and was next to a blacksmith and livery stable. It was nothing fancy, but they were a staple to the area.
They saw a lot of characters walk through their door, allegedly including the famous Texas gunfighter-slash-lawman Ben Thompson.
As a point of fact, the dangerous but even-keeled Thompson died in an 1884 ambush. However, his less predictable brother, Billy, might’ve stopped by the Ecks’ store.
We know for sure that Leonard and Frances became the first business owners south of the Colorado River to install a telephone.
In 1925, after Leonard Eck died, he passed on the ownership of his land to his daughter Jennie Eck Stewart. She had the same entrepreneurial drive as her father and expanded the stores on this land.
Then, in the 1930s, when the automobile industry was booming, Jennie thought to take advantage of this situation and built a motel to accommodate these new types of travelers. Jennie wasn’t one to shy away from newness; she ran toward it and used it to her benefit.
While many hotels and motels have failed over the years, this one has stood tall, but not without changes. When hotels started putting up pools, the Austin Motel dug one (and might I say the kidney shape gives it a certain charm).
The Stewarts were also quite friendly and energetic, bringing people back just to see them. I guess a smile does go a long way in the south.
Motel Austin is are proof that when the times are changing, you just change with it!
7. Hotel San José
The year’s 1936 and you notice something being constructed on South Congress Avenue. It can’t be…but it is! It’s an
ultramodern motor court.
A motor court is a motel that offers free parking to travelers and usually has each door open straight out to their parking spot. This was very important during the prime time of motor travel growth.
Built around an inner courtyard now housing a pool, this 40-room hotel has been through a lot. From a bible school to a brothel… well, if these walls could talk, am I right?
But in the 1990s, notable hotelier Liz Lambert purchased and ran this building as a residential hotel until she could secure funding for a full renovation.
She thought at the time of purchase, she’d be able to slowly redo it room by room, but her financial situation made it impossible and she had to rent it out for low prices.
She actually chronicled this experience with the residents in her documentary Last Days of San José, which casts an interesting light on human relationships with gentrification and urban renewal.
Nowadays, the hotel is Texas-themed with custom saddle leather chairs and reclaimed native hardwood bed platforms and they host a five-day South by San José music festival every year with attendance in the thousands!
6. Commodore Perry Estate
As most ideas start, this luxurious hotel started as nothing more than a gravel pit. Yet, something about it caught Edgar Perry’s eye as a welcoming showplace for guests to be entertained.
So, in 1928, the Commodore Perry Estate was built.
You might be wondering where the
Commodore part comes from. Well, it was a lovingly sarcastic nickname given to Perry after his boat washed away during a flood on Lake Austin. Being a hotel is named after that nickname, it can be safe to assume that it stuck.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the Commodore Perry Estate was partly made because of Perry’s love for his new hometown of Austin. He wanted to make it the best place to live.
He even joined the Austin Housing Authority and was appointed as the head.
This establishment has a lot of unique finishes to it, from the Italian Renaissance Revival mansion, manicured formal gardens with fountains and sculptures, and even an on-site chapel that was built in 1948.
Vogue named this hotel on its list of 18 Most Anticipated Hotel Openings of 2020 after Auberge Resorts took it over and completely renovated it. Now it has 42 rooms and seven suites, five of which are in the mansion and named after the Perry Family.
5. Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta Hotel
If you’re a luxurious person, you’ll be interested to learn about this historic hotel.
Built in 1924, the Stephen F Austin Royal Sonesta was one of the first high-rise luxury hotels in the city. It was named after the
Father of Texas himself: Stephen F. Austin (duh). He got this nickname after successfully colonizing Texas by bringing more than 300 families to the area in the 1800s.
This hotel was a notable spot for celebrities and several presidents, including Lyndon B. Johnson and the two Bushes. Many presidents used this as the location for their campaign headquarters.
A little fun fact about this building is that it was the first in Austin to have a lighted roofline. This is a feature it still has to this day.
Some claim it’s haunted. If you believe what you read on the internet, then you should know that room 408 had mysterious flickering lights and a door that opened on its own. This could be made up, but are you willing to risk that? If you are, then you should check out one of the Ghost City Tours in the area. Staying at this hotel can give you a discount.
In the 1990s, InterContinental Hotels purchased this property to restore it to its former glory. Now the 190-room high-rise is a blast from the past it came from.
4. Hotel Saint Cecilia
Hotel Saint Cecilia wasn’t always this historic hotel’s name.
The Miller-Crockett house, occupied by Leslie Crockett, who as you can probably guess was a descendant of Davy Crockett, was created in 1888. It’s one of the five remaining Victorian homes of the original twelve along this stretch of the Colorado River. It was not until 2008 that it got its name Hotel Saint Cecilia.
Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music and poetry, and the current vibe of this tiny hotel captures that well.
When Liz Lambert (there’s that name again!), created her vision of this place, it took on a 60s vibe, with Rega turntables in each room that can play loaned vintage LPs, rock biographies, and poetry anthologies from the hotel.
While it doesn’t have its original historic feel, you’ll still feel as though you’re stepping back in time here.
3. Hotel Ella
This cute boutique hotel that’s nestled within the historic Goodall Wooten House was renovated completely in 2013 but dates back to the 1800s when the land was purchased by Thomas Dudley Wooten, one of the founders of the University of Texas.
While the land was purchased in 1878, the home was not constructed till 1900. This turn-of-the-century estate (one of Austin’s original landmark estates) has a funny origin story.
Apparently, Goodall Wooten, Thomas’s son, asked his wife Ella (this hotel’s namesake) if she would prefer a home renovation or a trip around the world. She very cleverly got both.
But she did oversee a lot of the renovations and some of the more interesting touches were under her advice.
Things such as the intricate woodwork by a Swiss carver and the Greek Revival style were her decisions and still remain integral to the hotel.
Hotel Ella wasn’t just a hotel. It’s rumored to have served as many types of establishments, from student housing to a chemical dependency center. But now its 47 guest rooms and wrap-around porch give this place a unique and lovely southern charm.
2. The Driskill
If you had to guess what $400,000 would buy you in 1886, what would you hypothesize? A country? The moon? Every star in the sky? An encyclopedia of sports events up to the year 1952? Well, you’d be wrong.
The correct answer is the Driskill hotel. That’s right. For $92 million in today’s money, Colonel Jesse Driskill built a frontier showplace to rival the luxurious hotels in NYC, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco.
Since its opening, the hotel has been through many ups and downs. The first up was in January of 1887 when Texas Governor Sul Ross hosted his inaugural ball on the premises.
But shortly after that, in May 1887, half of the Driskill’s staff was poached by a Galveston beach hotel. The Driskill had to close its doors. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I spent almost half a million dollars and then some random hotel stole my staff and forced me to close up shop, I wouldn’t take that too lightly.
The hotel reopened in October of that year, but it has been sold and renovated about a million times since its first opening.
The hotel was a hot spot for balls and watch parties and other such events, but none of those moments are as important or precious as one September morning in 1934. Lyndon B. Johnson and his future wife Lady Bird met for their first date over breakfast at the Driskill. You can say the rest was history.
Speaking of history, this hotel is known for a historic moment it once tried to cover up.
Back in the day, right after the hotel opened, Senator Houston stayed at the hotel. During one of his meetings, his daughter Samantha was playing in the hall with a ball that went bouncing down the stairs. Going after it, she ended up falling down the stairs, where she broke her neck and died instantly.
Her father commissioned a lifelike painting of her based on her corpse and it hung in the halls of the Driskill near the stairs she played on. Colonel Driskill bribed the local news media to keep the accident quiet. It went weeks without any mention of names, only that a young girl fell to her death on the stairs. But by then, the staff had already gone to Galveston and the hotel was closed.
The painting was slashed, so copies without nameplates were commissioned. For nearly 100 years, staff and guests would leave candies on the table underneath the painting of the unnamed little girl. Each night, the candy would disappear. Night guards even claimed it vanished right before their eyes.
Nowadays, there is no table, but children are often reported to have been playing with
Samantha in the halls on the fifth floor of the Driskill… I’d be checking out real fast if my kid told me they were playing with a dead little girl.
But if spookiness is your cup of tea, this hotel offers discounts to Ghost City Tours where you can get your fill of the heebie-jeebies.
1. Bullock House Hotel
Austin’s first hotel was standing before Austin was even an incorporated city.
The Bullock House Hotel was constructed in 1829 and is the oldest known hotel in Austin. It didn’t start as a hotel, though.
It first served as the residence of Richard Bullock, his family, and his servants. This was a popular social gathering spot for locals and where people could stay when passing through Austin.
One particular guest had such an unsatisfactory stay, it made everyone involved glad that TripAdvisor didn’t exist yet.
In 1841, French government dignitary Alphonse Dubois de Saligny stayed at the Bullock House. Now, there were already negative feelings between Bullock and Saligny, but this stay did nothing to repair this relationship.
While there, accusations of Bullock’s pigs eating Saligny’s corn, invading his horses’ stables, and even breaking into his sleeping quarters milled about.
Bullock claimed that Saligny ordered his servant to kill some of his pigs and beat up the servant and threatened to do the same to Saligny. The Frenchman then tried to invoke the
Laws of Nations, giving himself and his servant immunity and having Bullock punished.
Unfortunately for Saligny, he not only had a bad relationship with Bullock, but he also had one with the French administration, too. They denied this invocation and Saligny left his country for Louisiana.
Pig War was a blip in Texas’s history, Bullock and his pigs became local celebrities.
Today, a Starbuck’s operates out of the location where the Bullock House Hotel once stood, on the Northwest corner of Congress and 6th. I suppose in a way, Saligny got the last laugh.
There is a lot more history out there than just in these hotels. But it is pretty cool to be staying somewhere that holds a lot of secrets and experiences of a time way before yours. While you’re here, you should check out the multitude of other historic sites. Don’t stop where you rest your head! Austin is full of interesting things that you will definitely fancy.