The Driskill Hotel
Col. Jesse Lincoln Driskill, a Tennessee native, moved to Austin in 1870. Col. Driksill was a cattleman who made his
fortune by driving cattle north to Kansas to sell at auction. His honorary title of Colonel was awarded to him by the
Confederate Army in recognition of him supplying the army with beef.
The Driskill Hotel was opened in Austin on December 20, 1886. At a
total cost of $400,000 (including furnishings) the hotel was billed
as "the finest hotel south of St. Louis". It opened with much fanfare
and excessive bragging that this new hotel would set Austin not only
apart, but above any other city in the south. The city of Austin saw
the building of the Driskill as a symbol of it's unmatchable prosperity.
These hopes and dreams of grandeur were soon dashed as the Driskill
quickly encountered the first of many hardships it would be required
to endure to establish it's tenure among Austin's landmark buildings.
Col. Driskill's finances had been depleted the prior year by extreme
weather that took its toll on the cattle business. There had been
a drought the prior summer that killed many cattle followed by a extremely
hard winter that only served to worsen the situation. In May of 1887,
less than five months after opening, the Driskill is forced to close
temporarily due to financial difficulties. It reopened in October
under new management. This was the first of many management changes
and ownership disputes that Col. Driskill would see in the short time
before his death on May 1, 1890.
The hotel's British mortgage holders bought the Driskill at auction for $75,000 on December 4, 1894. A short time later,
on May 24, 1895, Maj. George W. Littlefield would buy the hotel for $106,000. Littlefield would later build one of
Austin's first "skyscrapers" adjacent to the Driskill on sixth and Congress. When asked if the hotel would be closed
while it was being remodeled, Littlefield replied, "The hotel will never be closed again".
He spent $60,000, added 28 new rooms, and established the American National Bank in the hotel. In 1906 the hotel is sold again to Dr. E.P. Wilmont.
The year of 1923 brought new downtown competition to the hotel with the construction of the new Stephen F. Austin Hotel.
In 1930 a new wing was added to the original hotel. Another remodeling was begun in 1952 that included air conditioning.
In 1969 the Driskill closed it's hotel rooms to customers, but some of the shops and clubs remained open. A plan was
disclosed later that year that called for a modernization of the hotel into a 19 story glass tower. This plan
never materialized and the hotel was dangerously close to being demolished. In September of 1969 the hotels furnishings, except
the lobby furniture and paintings, were auctioned to the public. One month later, the American-Statesman ran
a story that said, "Driskill Hotel's Fate 'Sealed,'". The story reported the hotel was "to meet its end at
the hands of a wrecking crew". Luckily, a community effort was initiated called "Save-the-Driskill". They
successfully raised over $700,000 by selling $10 stock in the Driskill Hotel Corporation. Corporate
contributions and loans pushed the total raised for redevelopment to nearly $2 million. The hotel reopened in
1973 with much celebration and galas attended by over 1000 celebrities and guests.
In 1973 Braniff International Hotels purchases the Driskill from the
Driskill Hotel Corporation, and began a $350,000 renovation of the
lobby. In 1976 the Austin Planning Commission ruled that the Hotel
should be designated as a historic landmark. Braniff International
protested this ruling and unsuccessfully challenged the action. More
ownership changes are in the cards for the Driskill. In 1980 Braniff
sold the hotel to Laral Hotels. Laral then sells the hotel to Lincoln
Hotel Corp in 1983. In 1986 Lincoln sells a majority interest to Austin
Realty Inc. based in New York (New York City!?!?! Git a rope!). In
1987 Mutual Benefit Life Insurance gets a rope and forecloses on the
mortgage citing $11 million in delinquent payments. CapStar, a hotel
management and ownership firm based in Washington, D.C., buys a minority
interest in the hotel in 1990. Within a few years occupancy is above
80 percent. In 1995 the Driskill's current owners, Great American
Life Insurance, purchases the hotel and earmarks $30 million restore
the hotel to it's glory. A grand re-opening Millennium celebration
on December 31, 1999 celebrated the completion of this latest restoration.
With the Driskill completely restored to it original grandeur it is
ready to take on another century as an Austin landmark.
Other notes of interest...
August 31, 1934 - Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird have their first date at the Driskill. They meet for breakfast in the
Driskill's dining room. She was reportedly "hesitant" and let him sit alone for a time before deciding to join him.
November 3, 1964 - LBJ watched the returns from his re-election bid in the Jim Hogg Suite at the hotel. This gathering
was covered and broadcast nationally on television. Throughout LBJ's presidency the hotel served as the "White House
press center" whenever the Johnson's were back in Texas.
March 1991 - Rumors of ghosts in the hotel inspire the rock band Concrete Blonde to write and record the band's hit song
"Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man".
November 1997 - Cattle Baron's Suite, consisting of 4 rooms including 2 bedrooms, opens with a published rate of $2,500
per night. President Clinton stayed in this suite in 1999 while visiting Austin to attend a fund raising dinner.