Architecture & Lodging
2014 Readers Poll
2014 Critics Picks

“Whoever Holds   the Conch”   Bret Brookshire

Best "Whoever Holds the Conch"

This student housing cooperative offers a glimpse into what might have happened if the grown-up lads from Lord of the Flies had made a second go of it – but with a much, much happier ending, of course. Residents, as mutual owners, have a say in the decision-making (and cleaning and cooking) – very egalitarian, indeed. There are other co-ops managed by College Houses, but the tree-house-style 21st Street Co-op (located off of its namesake), is touted as the "first building in North America designed from the ground up to be a co-op." It's also the only clothing-optional co-op managed by College Houses. Just sayin'.

21st Street Co-op
707 W. 21st

Best (Allegedly) Haunted House

So, here's the story: There was this one time when a group of frat guys decided to haze their pledges. Things got a little out of hand, to say the least, and one pledge died. Instead of picking up the rotary phone to call the police, they told the remaining pledges to write down the events of the night in their pledge books. Sworn to secrecy, the pledges were told to burn their pledge books and nail them to the wall of the room where their "brother" died. No one could, like, know what happened that night. Ever. Their biggest mistake (besides committing manslaughter) may have been in not researching the history of the frat house. If they'd have known that, according to lore, it was once the site of a hospital where patients still wander the halls, then they might have splurged on a place with some Corinthian columns and a sand volleyball court. But we'll never know, because in 2007 some douche bag set the place on fire. What's left of the site is privately owned.

Pike House
1132 Belvin
San Marcos

Best Austin Gone-by Mosaic

See how the beacon of blue emanates from atop the lean red-and-white broadcast tower. Note the notes of blue and red along one odd, random line along the UT Tower, or the strange, askew triangle that caps the Capitol entrance, or how the Capitol dome looks more like the Florence Cathedral than the home of the Texas Lege. It's jazzy. It's angular. It reeks of its era – capital-M Modernist – in the best way possible. It's so Saul Bass, we almost expect it to spring to life in a credit sequence of a Sixties Austin spy film. It's Panorama, a lovely li'l jewel almost hidden from sight in the outdoor part of the entrance to Fox 7's lobby. (Yes, you can go see it at any time.) Artists Michael Frary and Paul Hatgil were commissioned to create the 8'x10' mosaic on behalf of Lady Bird Johnson, then-owner of KTBC and the building in 1955. The box lights, the planters … We swear, if someone tears it down, we are going to just scream. It's a gift from an Austin of days gone by. When Austin was a very Gay Place. God bless Lady Bird. God bless Texas.

Fox 7
119 E. 10th

Best Brutalist Architecture

For too long has the PCL been one of the most underrated architectural works in town. Perhaps it's because the primary visitor base (students) only know it as the book-prison made for cramming. Perhaps because some people just can't appreciate architecture unless it's made of glass and has Shakira curves. But this library is a prime example of the oft-forsaken school of Brutalism, the midcentury concrete architecture commonly seen in government offices, institutions, and project housing. Though it's been long out of style, surely the hipster epicycles of cool make it due for a comeback? The PCL was opened in 1977 – near the very end of Brutalism's reign – but the outside edifice displays all the fundamentals: an imposing fortress-like appearance, sharp angles, a complex form out of simple geometry, rough macro-texture of repetitive windows, and those awesome walls of concrete that threaten to smash your ignorant meatbrain into a state of education. On a side note: Contrary to popular belief, the outline of the PCL does not look like the state of Texas. It's officially called a "rhomboid shape."

Perry-Castañeda Library
101 E. 21st

Todd V. Wolfson

Devaki Knowles

Best Fourth Time's a Charm

Now recognized by both the Texas Historical Commission and National Register of Historic Places, the Hays County Courthouse saw a lot less pomp and circumstance back when it was first established in 1848; the small log building that housed its courthouse also served as a church and school, among other public uses. It wasn't until 1861 when county officials employed C.F. Millett that Lady Justice got to stand in style atop the dome. The initial two-story pine building eventually burned, but the hopes and dreams of the people prevailed. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the county courthouse (now constructed out of limestone) rose again, thanks in part to architect F.E. Ruffini, who designed other county courthouses as well as buildings on the UT-Austin campus. And then there was another fire. This time it only destroyed the courthouse's top story. Another Austin architecture company, C.H. Page & Brother, swooped in to design the eclectic courthouse that can still be seen today (with restorations made in 1972) in the middle of the San Marcos Square.

Hays County Historic Courthouse
111 E. San Antonio St.
San Marcos

Best Historic Emergency Response

Our intimate affairs with chosen landmarks are often all passion with no responsibility. If you've ever caught yourself lusting after the vertical fins and cantilevered overhang, or felt embraced by the brown banding of this 1947 International Modern house in the Hancock neighborhood, you are not alone. The ardor shared by locals won't come to an end this year if citizens and preservation leaders prevail over a life-changing bulldozer. Due to a crack team of speakers from Mid Tex Mod, Preservation Austin, the Texas Historical Commission, and Preservation Texas, a unanimous vote by the Texas Historic Landmark Commission has so far forestalled tragedy, but saving this lover from the railroad tracks remains an uphill battle.

Mid Tex Mod

Preservation Austin
P.O. Box 2113

Texas Historical Commission

Preservation Texas

Texas Historic Landmark Commission

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Hotel Restaurant & Pool Redo

Where once clunky chain-restaurant formula sat, a glorious expanse of grace and efficiency now resides. Austin architectural legend Michael Hsu and design branders FÖDA Studio have given Shawn Cirkiel's chavez – located at the corner of Congress & Lady Bird Lake in the old TGI Friday's – a modern and casual flow worthy of the real estate. Chavez beams with warm woods, hieroglyphic letters, bright tile, and floor-to-ceiling windows offering guests an appreciation of the landmark spot – home of Austin's nightly bat exodus. Outside, four single-stream fountains create perfect arcs to accentuate the surroundings and highlight what is now, clearly, way more than some after-thought chain hotel pool. This is a gentle relaxation station delivered with vision in the bustling heart of a vibrant city.

111 E. Cesar Chavez

Best Lone Pickle

There he goes, riding high in the Texas sky! The lone pickle! Commuters and rootin' tooters who take the toll road, aka SH 130, peep this bright briny greeny on signs along Pickle Parkway, named for J.J. "Jake" Pickle, U.S. Rep from the 10th congressional district of Texas, 1963-95, champion of Social Security and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The green-and-white signs are a keen reminder of this cool guy who repped Texas in the U.S. House. If you're on that stretch of highway, headed south past Mustang Ridge, you are, according to Wikipedia, zooming along the "highest posted speed limit in the United States." That's one fast pickle!

Toll Road 130

John Leach

John Anderson

Best Mall Overhaul

A college campus in a mall sounds like some grotesque joke in a dystopian movie about the gradual reduction of everything into a shopping experience. But, that's not what this is. In fact, it's the opposite: Austin Community College has bought what was Austin's first indoor shopping mall (1971) and is turning it into a modern education center, saving the building from probable demolition after years of decline. At 6,000 students in its first phase, this will be one of ACC's largest campuses. Oh! And if you wanted to shop at any of Highland Mall's remaining stores – business is expected to continue for the rest of the current tenant's leases. Everyone wins.

Austin Community College Highland Campus
6101 Highland Campus Dr.

Best Overnight Deer Cafeteria

This sweet retreat on sylvan Cypress Creek in Wimberley is abundant, indeed. Fresh air: Fill those lungs. Long stretches of silence: Lounge near water's edge and dare to not feel content. Gentle friends: Check the bin for deer chow. The nice women who run the place keep it well-stocked. There's a routine: Ladle piles of the crunchy feed out along the stone wall between the lovely main house and cozy cabin. Then go back inside, stake out a window, and wait. Here they come! Bambi and dozens of doe-eyed buddies mosey up to enjoy the abundance of your generosity.

330 Mill Race

Best Place to Nuzzle in the Bosom of Austin

It's not until we find ourselves atop the Contemporary's Jones Center – to enjoy an arcane movie, a band, some party or another – that we remember. The sun is setting; even at the end of the hottest day, a breeze is blowing, and the sky is turning deep blue (ringed with violet if you're lucky). You look up toward the Johnson (that Johnson) family penthouse; you glance back toward the Capitol; you gaze down Congress. It's not the widest city view, but it has a comfortable familiarity you feel in your bones, and it's the one that inevitably makes us appreciate being in Austin, right here, right now.

Moody Rooftop at the Jones Center
700 Congress

Best Southern Gothic Manse

The burly columns of the historic two-story Charles Johnson House frame a perfect party loggia from which to enjoy the sprawling lawn that tumbles down to Veterans Drive, just west of MoPac, along the banks of Lady Bird Lake. Built in the mid 19th century by Swedish immigrant Johnson, the stately mansion has housed American Legion Travis Post 76 since the group purchased the property in the Twenties. Keenly aware of the architectural jewel in their possession, Post 76 hosts all of the social and military honor events you'd associate with a veterans' group. Not only do they produce their own music series fundraisers to keep the old gal in tip-top shape and to support veterans' charities, they also offer this gorgeous piece of Austin history for rent for your next fiesta.

American Legion Travis Post 76
404 Atlanta St.

Bret Brookshire

Best Surprise Date Deck

While zipping along Austin's ever-developing 360, blink and you might miss a little hidden gem. Bring your date to Tuscany Market, and you might get a shoulder punch when you pull in: It's a gas station. A Wag-a-Bag to be precise, part of their migration south from dominating Austin's northern ring (Round Rock, Taylor, Hutto, Georgetown) but only recently plopping in ATX proper. But as cute as that W-a-B dachsie mascot might be, that's not even the thrill of this find. Go inside, and to the left, you'll encounter a small takeout counter of a mini-Austin Java, offering grab-and-gos (sandwiches, pastries, tacos) and their full coffee menu. Pretty great, right? Add to all of this, the real treat: an intimate and cozy deck with see-through railing to soak in all that Hill Country view. What a great little hideaway to enjoy a cuppa joe and a hand-hold, gazing out at the green. While Austin Java closes at an insane 6pm on weekdays (sunsets, people!), the Wag-a-Bag stays open 'til 11pm every eve (except Sunday, 10pm) for you late-night wooers. Grab some Hot Cheetos and your hot cheeto and take in that warm, sunset glow.

Tuscany Market Wag-a-Bag
3310 N. Capital of Texas Hwy. #100

Best Sweeping Vista

No matter which way one turns, a climb on the stairs of the majestic St. Edward's Main Building affords a splendid view. The first "Main" was built on one of the highest points of Travis County back in 1888, the same year as the Texas State Capitol. Her limestone walls have withstood much, and this year marks a great restoration effort. At the end of the project, and for the first time in over two decades, students and neighbors of the campus will hear the peals of the original bell, set in the tower back in 1904. Once the scaffolding is cleared away, sit on the steps, and take in the view to the north. Across the track field and beyond the puff of treetops, Austin's Downtown seems full of promise and hope.

St. Edward's University
3001 S. Congress

Best Way to Rest in Peace

We dream that, after death, we at least will leave a trace of our passing in stone and soil. But like the flesh, even the most imposing tombstone will crumble. The volunteers of nonprofit Save Austin Cemeteries seek to preserve not just the stones themselves, but the meaning of funeral rites. Since 2004, they have not only helped preserve graveyards and built a photo archive of tombs monumental and meager, but have also educated Austinites on how and why we say goodbye.

Save Austin Cemetaries

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