Architecture & Lodging
1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
Best Bed & Breakfast

A winner from previous years, Woodburn House returns as a favorite among Chronicle staffers for its central location and relaxed atmosphere. Located in the heart of Hyde Park, Woodburn House caters to honeymooners and guests of neighboring residents, but owners Sandra Villalaz-Dickson and Herbert R. Dickson also have played host to film industry types visiting for SXSW, among other celebs. Woodburn House offers reasonable rates, a claw-footed tub dating back to the home's 1909 roots, and a laid-back welcome that is part of what Dickson calls its "low fluff factor."

Best Capital Inprovement To The Third Coast

Guiltless Gourmet entrepreneur Doug Forman opened the doors to his 12,000-square-foot soundstage and production facility in what was once the Post Oak Ranch -- an old movie theater in Capital Plaza -- this past May. Promising state-of-the-art equipment, the space is ready for infinite projects of the commercial, feature film, and television variety. And with such a capable local film community at hand, we've all the elements necessary in wooing the lucrative industry to town. Now we've built it... will they come?

Best Deck

Better than a deck, it's actually a third-floor roof, the kind from which Spiderman jumps and such. It has a helluva view of the now-bustling surrounding area, and you can people-watch or stargaze with equal impunity.

Best Fresco

Harold "Bubi" Jessen's artistry in the portal of the history center -- peach-colored horses dancing across the ceiling -- is still stylish after 63 years.

Austin History Center
810 Guadalupe
512/974-7480
library.austintexas.gov/ahc/about-us

Best Grounds At A Suburban Church

The "Man for All Seasons," Sir Thomas More, served God and King Henry VIII, but lost his head for putting God first. The campus of this church features more of the "stuff" people associate with Roman Catholicism, but it's offered in a refreshingly tasteful way. There are two shrines and an outdoor Stations of the Cross artfully installed among the spreading live oaks and limestone-lined paths. Rather than going the strict, ghoulish, representational route, these stations merely suggest each scene. A quiet place to be by yourself, even if you aren't Catholic.

St. Thomas More Catholic Church
10205 RR 620 N
512/258-1161

Best Hinges

Cast from the behemoth hinges adorning the State Capitol since 1888, these hinges might not fit the scale of today's homes, but that's okay; they're so substantial, they make great bookends. The Capitol Gift shop only sells non-operable sets -- along with doorknobs and Seal of Texas paperweights -- but if you've got the caliber of doors in your house that can justify these beauties, working pairs can be ordered from the manufacturer in Bryan at 800/488-4662.

Capitol Visitors Center
112 E. 11th
512/305-8400
www.tspb.state.tx.us

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best Neighborhood Castle

It's a beautiful day in the Ney-borhood. And who wouldn't love this personal-scale castle/studio, built by the late German sculptress after emigrating to Texas in the mid-1800s? View her works amid the cool hush of the main rooms, then climb the turret or wander the grounds where, in Ney's day, a small lagoon afforded boating. Each June, the castle hosts a series of children's story hours, culminating in a fairy tale costume party where small princesses and dragons consume cookies made from Ney's cook's original recipe. Some enchanted evening, indeed.

Elisabet Ney Museum
304 E. 44th
512/458-2255
www.austintexas.gov/elisabetney

Best Once And Future Landmark

Usually news that real estate developers have bought a beloved Austin landmark spells doom, but not when you're talking about the restaurant formerly known as Mad Dog and Beans. "I put on my freshman 15 right here," admits new owner Matthew Wheeler. Established in 1968, the beloved greasy spoon has a new coat of paint and new name, but the menu has stayed intact. They even have 10 beers on tap now, and will be reinstituting the traditional cookies `n' cream milkshake this fall. For those of us who grew up on the rickety porch slurping oreos through a straw, it's a relief to find that some things never change.

Best Outdoor A/C

In addition to its beautiful edifices, the springs, the flowers, the plants, and the aqueduct, the Wildflower Center also has the most amazing breezeway in town. Located at the Center's offices, the breezeway whooshes, but is not gusty; it's cool in both senses, with the gardens on one side and the nature trail on the other. Even in mid-July, the breezeway provides a comfortable, cool stop during a stomp through the center's breathtaking grounds. We can only dream of building one in our homes.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse
512/232-0100
www.wildflower.org

Best Place To Attend A Church Wedding

No matter how long the ceremony drones on, you'll have plenty of architectural details at which to gaze in an attempt to look spiritual. Erected in 1929, this church sports Nordic-esque beam work and delightful copper light fixtures.

Central Christian Church
1110 Guadalupe
512/476-6941

Best Place To Propose

The food is incredible, with a wine list to match, which is a huge bonus, since the atmosphere alone makes the cellar at Bertram's the most romantic dinner spot in town. The very limited seating capacity and quiet ambiance is spiced with the intoxication of the food and beverage. A splash of candlelight will have any dreamboat's head sitting in Cupid's crosshairs in no time. We like to send Mom & Dad there, just to watch the oldtimers hold hands again.

Bertram's
1601 Guadalupe-OUT OF BUS.
512/476-2743
austin.citysearch.com/E/V/AUSTX/0001/17/05/

Best Signage

This new French Place restaurant gives a convenient landmark for those direction-givers trying to convey the confusing Manor/26th Street merge -- just look for the metal sign with the flaming letters and the steaming coffee cup which started life as a 50-gallon oil drum. It's industrial and nuclear yet coyly charming.

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best Statue Of Jesus

There's something aesthetically pleasing and strangely reassuring about a Versace Christ. Umlauf's style is sleek, elegant, and energetic, and this statue is a surprising counter to its parent building, the monolithic, "I Like Ike-era" Seton Medical Center.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
605 Azie Morton
512/445-5582
www.umlaufsculpture.org

Best Sub-erotica

This unmistakably phallic work of neon has risen majestically from its location on the western side of South Congress for what seems like decades. If the motel's walls had ears, our ears would probably burn off, but there is the sign -- glowing, beckoning travelers and musicians alike into its peculiar warmth and the promise of a good night's rest. Yeah, right -- it's across the street from the Continental Club!

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress
512/441-1157
www.austinmotel.com

Best Theatrical Theatre

Gothic. Victorian. Egyptian. Other. Man, when longtime Dobie manager/wunderkind Scott Dinger announced his intention to remodel/divide "Austin's Most Innovative Theatre," did anyone have any idea? Months in the makeover, the revamped Dobie is a cinematic palace fit for a king (recent visiting auteur Q.T. is rumored to have been "silly from joy" and bummed 'cause he didn't think of it first). Four different settings for four different moods (but where did Babe play, Scott?), complete with faux gargoyles, massive bookshelves, enormous tapestries, flickering flames -- a filmgoer's dream come true. Get to your fave show early -- seating isn't always the best, but the atmosphere makes up for anything you might miss on the screen.

Best Use Of An Old Taco Bell

This South Austin landmark might also get an award for Best Unofficial Museum of Austin History and Culture. An extension of owner Danny Young's personality, it is everything that makes Austin unique from the rest of Texas -- in lieu of wallpaper, every nook and cranny is covered with an assortment of flyers announcing old Armadillo and Soap Creek gigs, left-wing political bumper stickers, and autographed pictures from great Austin musicians past and present. Young's clientele is eclectic -- hippies, rednecks, and businessmen, all chowing down on his great sandwiches.

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best View Of The City

We're fascinated with this Fifties vintage Frank Lloyd Wright-style home built high on a South Austin hillside. The wraparound picture windows offer a breathtaking view of downtown and the beautifully landscaped grounds are fast becoming a popular wedding and event setting. We just can't get enough of the art deco decor and the animal menagerie.

 
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