In 1924, T.B. Baker of San Antonio opened his fourth Texas Hotel, The Stephen F. Austin, at the corner of Congress and Seventh Street in Austin. It was designed by Fort Worth firm Sanguinet, Staats and Hedrick, led by legendary architect Wyatt C. Hedrick. Baker would later hire Hedrick again to design and build the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas.
In the early twenties, the citizens of Austin saw the need for a large hotel in Austin, and they invested $600,000 in mortgage bonds with the Chamber of Commerce to help fund the project. After forming a partnership with The Baker Hotel Corporation, the hotel’s construction was completed in 1924 for a total cost of $775,000.
The location of the hotel on Congress was the former site of the old Keystona Hotel (a wood-framed three story building which was torn down to accommodate the Stephen F. Austin). Prior to that, the area had been used as a feed lot for horses. In the picture on the left, you can see Congress Avenue as it appeared in 1913, looking toward the capitol building from sixth street. The nine story building on the right side of the photograph is the Littlefield building that had a rooftop terrace. The ten-story Baker went up just behind this building, with the ballroom perched high at the top.
Note: Thanks to Mike at IHG for the additional historical information about the photograph!
As the new hotel was being constructed, a local club called the “Business and Professional Women’s Group of Austin” heard that Baker was planning to call the new hotel “The Texas,” (which is also the name of Baker’s hotel in Fort Worth), and began a campaign to change the name to something more locally significant. Together with other activist groups, they successfully lobbied to convince Baker to honor the city’s history with a new name: “The Stephen F. Austin”.
When the hotel opened in May 1924, it boasted 250 rooms and was the tallest building in Austin, at 10 stories high. Uniquely, the hotel featured running ice water in the rooms, along with a coffee shop and U-shaped soda fountain on the ground floor. The 10th floor ballroom quickly became a fashionable spot for parties and events, competing with the historic Driskill Hotel just around the corner, which had been built in 1888.
Over the years the Stephen F. Austin has been a favorite spot for many politicians, and has served as campaign headquarters for many governors, as well as for Lyndon Johnson’s 1937 House of Representatives win.
In 1938, Five more floors were added to the building, again making it the tallest building on Congress for several more years. The building went through many changes under various owners until 1998, when it was restored to the original architectural plans and brought back to much of it’s original splendor. Today, the property is owned and operated by Intercontinental Hotel Group.
A menu from the coffee shop in 1929 is shown below. Note that most of the prices are listed in cents!