“Through all these years, The Driskill has served as a pivot around which great men and great events revolved, the rendezvous of those who have written the glorious history of a glorious state.” — Daily Texan
Walking through the doors of The Driskill hotel in Austin, Texas is like jumping back in time. Once you’re inside, your mind begins seeing things that aren’t there anymore — like the memories of those that lived long before you. That’s the kind of magic that occurs only when you enter a historic building with more than 130 years of American history that has survived the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and other national tragedies. You open your mind and welcome the spirits of the past to lead you across the marble lobby floor giving you a glimpse of what life was like here before Austin was the capital — back when it was a Two Lane town.
Because the hotel is more than a century old, it had become part of many stories for the community, visitors, and even presidents! You can feel the presence of Lyndon B. Johnson in and his wife, Lady Bird laughing on their first date in the hotel restaurant… You can imagine the tenacious and tactical energy brewing in the very ballroom where the Texas rangers plotted their plan to capture Bonnie and Clyde… but more on that a little later.
Let’s start at the beginning. The year is 1886.
Colonel Jesse Driskill, a wealthy cattle baron during the Civil War, and established businessman saw a moment to make his mark. Knowing that Austin would soon see a boom in growth after being named the capital of Texas, Driskill decided to move his family to Texas and get to work building a grand hotel.
The Colonel commissioned The Driskill to outshine the other majestic hotels of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In fact, when it officially opened its doors in 1886, The Driskill was revered as “One of the Finest Hotels in the Whole Country.”
Fun Fact: The Driskill is so old that it was built before the state capital! For a brief time state business was done at the hotel until the capital was completed in1888.
After Colonel Driskill passed away in 1890, for the next century the hotel bounced around from owner to owner with each one attempting to build on its grand reputation. Until one day, the well went dry.
The Driskill Was Almost Demolished
In 1969, the hotel was closed for necessary renovations, but the funds weren’t there. Though it was scheduled for demolition, the community wasn’t ready to see it go. So, they got to work and quickly created a plan organizing a “bake and bond” sale selling $10 bonds and treats.
The community’s efforts were matched by The Heritage Society of Austin (now called Preservation Austin) raising more than $700,000 and eventually forming the nonprofit Driskill Hotel Corporation. In 1973, The Driskill reopened with a triumphant celebration with new renovations and a new title: National Historic Landmark.
Fun Fact: Because The Driskill was saved, it has been able to maintain its tradition of hosting every Texas governor’s inauguration party starting with Saul Ross in 1897!
Ties to President Lyndon B. Johnson
The Driskill Hotel played a big part in the lives of president Lyndon Baines Johnson and Claudia Taylor or “Lady Bird”. Here’s are a few examples:
- In 1934, the couple shared their first date in the hotel restaurant — Lyndon asked her to marry him that same day!
- LBJ returned to The Driskill in 1948 to await the results of his Senate Campaign in Jim Hog Parlor Room and again in 1960 for the results of his race for Vice President with John F. Kennedy.
- The couple even had their own TV station at the hotel called KTBC TV where it was housed from 1954-1958!
Fun Fact: The Jim Hog Parlor Room is also the room where the Texas Rangers met during the Great Depression to plot the capture of famous American criminal couple, Bonnie and Clyde.
The Johnson’s visited The Driskill so many times over the course of their marriage, that the hotel finally dedicated a 1,200 square foot presidential status room to them called the “Lyndon B. Johnson Suite” that’s available for guests to book. A special detail we love is how Lady Bird’s favorite flower, bluebonnets, are sprinkled around the room — especially in the bathroom’s stained glass windows!
Speaking of unique decor…
Decorated With History
It’s difficult to miss the western elegance influences of The Driskill. (Welcome to Texas, y’all!) Stroll through the opulent lobby with its marble floors and stained-glass dome, corridors filled with museum-quality artwork, and grand mezzanine for a glimpse into the hotel’s storied past. The hotel has time-honored decor of horns, chandeliers, tufted leather, cowhides, and cattle taxidermy as a nod to the Driskill family business. When you first walk inside you’ll be greeted by a large portrait of Colonel Jesse Driskill that has hung in the lobby since 1890!
Of course, this place has stunning architecture both inside and out, but follow us into the room of gold known as The Maximilian Room.
This room was given its name from the eight famous Austrian gold leaf framed mirrors that hang on the walls. These once belonged to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico and his wife, Carlotta, a Belgian princess widely praised as the most beautiful woman in Europe. He had presented them to her as a wedding gift with her likeness adorned in each frame via a gilt medallion. The mirrors were discovered in a San Antonio antique store in 1930. They were dusted off and now hang at The Driskill in a room where folks today make their own vows of true love at the hotel.
Fun Fact: The Driskill isn’t the only place decorated with history! Check out Mike Wolfe’s vacation loft rental furnished his items found on American Pickers HERE.
Why This Place Matters
Even as everything grew up around the hotel, The Driskill has managed to fend off demolition and kept its character. We need to hold on to these places as a living testimony to true craftsmanship and a time we’ll never see again. The Driskill is a solid representation of our past, and how there is room for historic architecture like this in our future.
The best way to make sure places like The Driskill stay alive is by your curiosity. Spend the night surrounded by American history, and we guarantee you’ll have a better story to tell when you check out.