A Bit of History About the Chronicle Building

Little has changed with our building, which lies in the path of an expanded I-35

What the Elgin-Butler Brick Co. office looked like when it was shiny and new. The intensive historic resource survey conducted on our building noted that very little has changed in the intervening 65 years. (Source: TxDOT)

We've noted before in our I-35 coverage that the current office of The Austin Chronicle, at 4000 N. I-35 in the Hancock neighborhood, is slated to be acquired by TxDOT as part of the wider right-of-way the agency will need to fit the mainlanes, managed lanes, and frontage roads below where the to-be-demolished upper deck now stands. While that's bound to cause some inconvenience, the Chronicle owns several adjoining parcels, including one to the west on 40th Street that was the first stand-alone home of South by Southwest. So we have options for relocating close at hand. What's going to be a bigger headache for TxDOT, however, is what to do with our building itself, which appears to one of the more historically significant structures in the existing I-35 corridor.

The building that became home to the Chronicle in 1991 was built in 1957 as the headquarters of the Elgin-Butler Brick Co. Like Austin White Lime (the Robinson family), Calcasieu Lumber, or the old Stasswender Marble & Granite Works, Butler Brick literally produced the raw material from which so much of Austin was built, and in the mid-1920s was the largest brick company in the Southwest, producing 42 different types of brick.

The company moved its production to Elgin – away from its yards south of the river at what is still called Butler Shores, along Toomey Road – in the 1940s, where it remains. Its offices at 13th and Congress were acquired by the state in the 1950s for the future expansion of the Capitol Complex, at which time they built our building near the northern city limits, along what was then the Interregional Highway. Hancock Center, built on what was the back nine holes of the golf course of the same name, came later, in 1963; the upper deck came about a decade after that.

According to the 62-page report on the building included as part of the environmental impact study, the structure is historically significant on a number of National Register criteria: the importance of the brick company as a business; the importance of the Butler family (no other property associated with the brick Butlers, who are different from the Butlers after whom the trail at Lady Bird Lake is named, remains standing in Austin); and as "a locally rare example of a post-World War II Contemporary office that is reflective of its time and serves as a showcase for the EBBC's innovative products," all still in good condition and at its original site. "As such, the EBBC Main Office retains all aspects of historic integrity."

And yet, right now, TxDOT's plan is to demolish it. Actually, it won't be able to do that without conducting what's called a "Section 4(f) analysis," referring to that section of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 that "prohibits the Secretary of Transportation from approving any program or project that requires the use of … any land from an historic site of national, state, or local significance … unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of such land, and the project includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property." What that planning might involve has yet to be determined.

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