Austin Postcards, Austin Photographs, Austin History, Austin Ephemera AustinPostcard.com
Join us on Facebook
Follow @AustinPostcard on Twitter

The Littlefield Building


An Austin Cornerstone Since 1912

Courtesy of Phoebe Allen

      In 1839, Sixth Street was nothing more than a dead-end trail from Brenham. The Colorado River was not yet consistently navigable, but Brazos River steamboat traffic could bring colonists and supplies from the Gulf of Mexico at least as far as San Felipe before going overland to Brenham and on to the tiny settlement at Waterloo.

      On a hunting trip the previous fall, Mirabeau Lamar had killed a trophy buffalo on the treeless prairie near present-day Eighth Street and Congress Avenue. As the second President of the Republic of Texas, Lamar would influence the choice of the site for the new capital city. Edwin Waller used the intersection of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue as his starting point to lay out Austin's streets in a classic grid pattern in 1839. The square mile was originally part of a Spanish land grant.

      On the northeast corner, Austin's first stone building was constructed by Michael Ziller in 1849 [1] .  It had been the location of Levy & Philipson, dry goods, until 1885, when it began housing a series of gambling parlors and saloons—including the Crystal Saloon, Iron Front Saloon, and Two Brothers Saloon [2] . No doubt the saloons, which played prominent roles in Austin's history, had some relationship to the horse and buggy cabs waiting at the town's main "hack stand" on this corner.

      In 1910, banker and entrepreneur George Littlefield demolished the Ziller Building in order to erect an office building that would house his American National Bank, which was then located in the adjacent Driskill Hotel. [3] The Littlefield Building became the financial center of Austin and was the height of opulence when it opened. It originally sported a roof garden for evening soirees until his friendly competition with the eight-story Scarbrough Building across the street led Littlefield to enclose the roof garden, adding one more story to its original eight. For a short time, its nine stories gave the Littlefield Building the distinction of being the tallest skyscraper between New Orleans and San Francisco. [4]

      The Littlefield Building was among the most prestigious and modern structures of its day. Purchased by Merit Texas Properties in December of 1999, the Littlefield Building lies on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. Austin is fortunate that the present owners of both the Littlefield and Scarbrough Buildings take pride in their history as we move toward their 100th anniversaries as cornerstones of Austin's downtown business district and its two downtown National Register Historic Districts.

 

Littlefield Building

      Designed in the Beaux Arts style by local architect C. H. Page, Jr. in 1910, and built under the direction of the flamboyant Major George Littlefield, this remarkable building was one of the most opulent and modern structures in the nation upon its completion. The Statesman of January 2,1910, reported that the building "embraces characteristics of the Corinthian order of Roman architecture."

      According to Austin, Its Architects and Architecture (1836-1986), "Both the Littlefield and Scarbrough Buildings were part of a national resurgence of neo-classicism. In the second half of the 19th Century many young Americans went to France to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, which emphasized the continuity of the classical tradition from ancient arial,sans-serif through the Renaissance to the present day." [5]

 Click here to see a postcard of the Littlefield Building     Originally built with eight stories plus a basement, it boasted a glamorous rooftop garden, modeled on Madison Square Garden in New York City. The roof garden was covered with Japanese-inspired beams and partially screened for dinner parties "where society stay-at-homes may enjoy their evening outings amid outdoor surroundings of most satisfying elegance." [6] Its opening was celebrated on June 6, 1912, with two reels of moving pictures, orchestral music, a procession of little girls with their dollies in decorated carriages, and a searchlight that could be seen from a distance of five to twelve miles. [7] Littlefield was annoyed that his building was one story shorter than the Scarbrough Building, however, and he ordered the removal of the roof garden only three years later, raising the building to its present nine-story level. He added luxurious Turkish and Russian baths in a new annex at the same time. [8]

      The ground floor accommodated six storefronts, including a billiard parlor and barbershop, as well as Littlefield's American National Bank. The bank lobby was decorated with six large murals—oil paintings of scenes from the ranch life Littlefield loved. Two enormous bronze doors graced the entrance. Wainscoting in the corridor facing Sixth Street was of Pavonazzi marble from Vermont. [9]

      Recognizing the wealth inherited by the area's widows and daughters, Littlefield designed a separate, ladies' banking department with female tellers. A "lady attendant" watched over an exclusive waiting room furnished in solid mahogany. Littlefield's first female vice president went on to become the president of the National Banking Association. [The bank, after a series of changes, is incorporated by today's Bank One, Austin.]

      The upper levels included 336 office rooms, some in suites. The basement housed a boiler room, a DC electric generating plant, a refrigeration system that cooled water from an underground spring and piped it through the building, and one of the earliest central vacuum cleaning systems, with connections on each floor. A mission-style grill room and "commodious" restaurant with a modern kitchen and pantries were also located on the basement level.  Some say the remnants of a 500-gallon still used during prohibition days may yet be there. [10]

      Restrooms had hot and cold water and were lavishly finished in Italian white marble with French beveled mirrors. The entire interior of the building was trimmed with Tennessee pink marble. Two ventilation shafts, which explain the "E" design of the building, allowed fresh air into every office and corridor. These "light courts" were lined with semi-glazed brick to reflect light into the offices. Telephones, fans, lights and heat, mail chutes and two of the first electrically operated elevators completed the list of up-to-date conveniences. [11]

      The Littlefield Building quickly established itself as Austin's leading financial center. Today it is still the hub of the business activity it inspired.

      The most famous tenant of the building was Lyndon Baines Johnson, appointed state director of the National Youth Administration (NYA) in 1935. This federal program, which put young people to work and into training programs and kept them in school, was the inspiration of Eleanor Roosevelt. She visited the Austin headquarters on the sixth floor of the Littlefield Building "to find out why the Texas NYA director was doing such an effective job." Twenty-six-year-old LBJ and his staff put in long days there, often working by the original gas lights—little tubes sticking out of the walls, with glass bowls around them—since the building superintendent switched off the generator that supplied electricity promptly at ten p.m.  Roadside parks along Texas highways were the first of LBJ's many projects. His diligent NYA work on behalf of the poor was the first rung on his ladder to the Presidency; the statewide network and staff he established in the NYA became the foundation for his subsequent campaign for Congress in 1936. Married less than a year at the time, Lady Bird recalls these early days in Austin as some of the happiest in their lives.

 

Littlefield Bronze Doors

      Two solid bronze doors were installed at the corner entrance of the American National Bank in the Littlefield Building in 1911. Texan Daniel Webster sculpted the plaster models for the doors in a shack on South First at Barton Springs Road and sent them to Tiffany's in New York where they were cast in bronze using the lost-wax technique.

Click here to see a larger image of the doors.      Heads of Longhorn steers were cast as handles. Bas relief scenes in the six panels of the doors depict cattle drives, cattlemen said to be uncles of Littlefield's banking partner, and grazing scenes reminiscent of Littlefield's Yellow House Ranch in the Panhandle. After the doors were installed, Littlefield noticed that his LFD brand was missing and hired someone to chisel the brand onto the cattle. [12]      

      The doors, measuring 10'4"  high by 6'9" wide and weighing two-and-a-half tons, were moved to the Congress Avenue entrance in 1918, and when the bank moved in 1954, they were removed and placed in storage. [13] In 1960 the doors were donated to the University of Texas Academic Center for use in the new undergraduate library. Since 1975, they have been on display at UT's Ashbel Smith Hall on Seventh Street at Colorado Street, two blocks from their original site.

 

George Washington Littlefield

"It makes no diference what Kind of a business a young man may start in He must Expect verry slow growth." - G.W. L. [sic]

      Born on a Mississippi plantation on June 21, 1842, George Washington Littlefield moved with his family when he was eight to Gonzales County, Texas. George continued to help his mother with the family plantation after the death of his father in 1853, and received a basic education in Gonzales College and Baylor University.

      At the age of 19, Littlefield enlisted with Terry's Texas Rangers and fought at Civil War battles that included Shiloh and Chickamauga. While in Texas to recruit more volunteers, he married Alice Tillar on January 14, 1863. (The two children born to this marriage died in infancy.) Severely wounded the following December by an exploding cannon shell at Mossy Creek, Littlefield was promoted to Major as he lay on the snow-covered ground. He remained unconscious for three weeks, kept alive with morphine and brandy. His body servant, a slave from his childhood who had insisted on accompanying Littlefield to the war front, gradually nursed him back to health. As soon as he was able to travel, Major Littlefield returned to his mother's farm to work with his brother, depending on crutches for three years.

      His first years of farming ended disastrously due to three consecutive seasons of drought, boll weevils, and floods. The small mercantile business he had established on his mother's plantation in 1866, accepting cotton and cattle as barter from neighbors, could not cover his losses.  In 1871, Littlefield rounded up 600 head of his own cattle and that of his brother, bought about that many on time, and personally bossed his first cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail, crossing the Colorado River in Austin at the mouth of Shoal Creek. He returned 90 days later with a clear profit of $3,600. By buying cattle rather than trailing them for a fee, he took a greater risk but higher profit, and began driving increasingly larger herds.

      Once, at the rail junction in Ogle, Kansas, where his cowboys were to await him, Littlefield found his cattle milling about in the streets and every last one of his hands in jail. A couple of them had ridden into the saloon on horseback and ordered drinks; the sheriff had arrested them all. [14]

      Over the next two decades he invested in extensive ranch lands in Texas and New Mexico. In 1883, Littlefield moved to Austin and soon accepted a position on the board of Eugene Bremond's State National Bank (see section on John Bremond & Company). In 1890 he established the American National Bank in the Driskill Hotel, which he owned from 1895 to 1903, and served as the bank's president until 1918.

      He was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas in 1911 and was UT's largest single donor during its first 50 years. His contributions include the Littlefield Southern History Collection, the Alice Littlefield Dormitory, the Littlefield Fountain, the John Henry Wrenn Library Collection of English literature, the Littlefield House, and the south mall statues of his heroes: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sydney Johnston, John H. Regan, and Governor James S. Hogg.

      Cattle king, land financier, university benefactor, and family patriarch, Littlefield educated 12 nephews and 17 nieces, presenting each niece with a home at her marriage, and establishing each nephew in business.

      George Washington Littlefield died on November 10, 1920, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery between his wife and his life-long servant, Nathan Stokes.

John Bremond & Company/Littlefield Mall

Austin's famous Bremond family has long-standing connections to Sixth Street & Congress Avenue and to the Littlefield Building.  John Bremond, Sr. came to Austin from Philadelphia in 1845 and established a dry goods and grocery store at 109 East Pecan (6th Street) as early as 1847 [15] . He enlarged the building in 1852 and took his sons Eugene and John, Jr. into the business, becoming John Bremond & Company in 1865, the year before his death.

The dry goods store faced Pecan Street, and the grocery department opened to Brazos Street. Bremond advertised "cheese, chains, clams, clothing, crackers, cranberries, crowbars and cutlery."

      From the store's inception, Eugene Bremond made private loans to early settlers (charging the standard 18% interest) from a room at the rear of the store. In 1882, the State National Bank - known locally as Bremond's Bank - was chartered, and Major Littlefield soon accepted a position on the board of directors in association with Eugene Bremond's son, Pierre. Lewis Hancock (who inherited from his father the corner lot he would sell to Scarbrough's) served as vice president. [State National Bank, which was located at 107 East Sixth until at least 1905, was liquidated in 1926 and absorbed by Republic Bank, which was incorporated by today's Chase Bank.]

      Thus it fell to John Bremond, Jr. and his brother-in-law, John H. Robinson, to run the family store. After the railroad arrived in 1871, the store became the city's first wholesale grocery and dry goods company.

      Robinson sold out to John, Jr. in 1898. Bremond & Company became the first firm in Texas to roast-grind coffee in the early 1900s.

      Before its demolition in 1979, the building was the oldest commercial structure in Austin. Twenty-four apartment units, ground-level retail space, and the 500 parking spaces of the Littlefield Mall incorporated the Bremond store site in 1981, making it possible for the Littlefield Building itself to survive intact.

Early occupants of the Littlefield Building:

      Lewis Hancock (real estate), M.M. Shipe, Frank M. Covert (building manager), John Ben Robertson (attorney), Gerhard Brothers, E.P. Schock, Sr., and William T. Caswell (real estate) were perhaps the most well-known early tenants of the Littlefield Building. Other notable businesses included those of George P. Warner, Butler Brick Works, Austin Typewriter Exchange, Charles Wold, Hugo Brueggeman, S.R. Fulmore, Hicks Domino Parlor, Gracy Title Guaranty Company, M.F. Kreisle (physician), Arthur Watson (real estate), Travis County Chapter American Red Cross, Glesecke & Harris (architects), American Legion Auxiliary, Fiset & Shelley (lawyers), H.F. Kuehne (architect), Christian Science Reading Room, and the Austin Cotton Exchange.

      In addition to LBJ's National Youth Administration offices, other 1930s occupants included Texas Senator Alvin J. Wirtz (LBJ's mentor and supporter in his first Congressional bid), the Public Works Administration, the Texas Liquor Control Board, and the Texas Racing Commission.

 

Legal Description:

Lot 1 &  S23 ft of Lot 2 & N 23 ft of E 60 ft of Lot 2

Block 69 Original City

Total square feet 12420

(Total building approximately 135,000 square feet.)

106 East Sixth Street (601 Congress Avenue)



Footnotes

[1] Mary Starr Barkley, History of Travis County & Austin, 1839-1899. p. 69; and Austin History Center House Building File: 601 Congress
RETURN

[2] Austin American Statesman, Aug. 5, 1973. "Littlefield Building Site Longtime Part of City." Also, Austin History Center House Building File: 601 Congress
RETURN

[3] American Statesman, January 2, 1910, "The New Littlefield Building."
RETURN

[4] Betty Baker, "Historic Walking Tours: Congress Ave. & E. 6th St." (City of Austin, 1995)
RETURN

[5] Hank Todd Smith, ed. Austin: Its Architects and Architecture (1836-1986). (Austin Chapter American Institute of Architects, 1986) p. 40.
RETURN

[6] Austin Statesman, 1912. "Opening a Big Success"
RETURN

[7] American Statesman, June , 1912, "Roof Garden Opens Tonight."
RETURN

[8] American Statesman, April 16, 1916, Vol. 45. "Turkish Baths in Littlefield Bldg. Are Up-To-Date"
RETURN

[9] Littlefield Building/Historical Review (city files) "Littlefield Building Was Austin's First Skyscraper,"
RETURN

[10] Ibid.
RETURN

[11] Ibid. and American Statesman, January 2, 1910, "The New Littlefield Building."
RETURN

[12] Harry W. Nolen, letter of Apr. 25, 1980 regarding bronze doors of Littlefield Building. Austin History Center HB 601 Congress.
RETURN

[13] American Statesman, Feb. 11, 1960. "Famed Doors Going to UT."
RETURN

[14] Austin Statesman July 19, 1936. "Few Can Recall the Life Sagas of Men Who Gave Big Gifts."
RETURN

[15] Barkley, op. cit., p.143. and  Austin American, June 13, 1918.
RETURN


Bibliography

Books

Austin, County Seat & Capitol City of the Lone Star State of Texas 1846-1860. Chapter V, P. 74, 68. (Bremond)

Barkley, Mary Starr. History of Travis County & Austin, 1839-1899. Waco: Texian Press, 1963.

Caro, Robert. Path to Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1983.

Dallek, Robert. Lone Star Rising. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Gracy II, David. "Portrait of a Cattleman." Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 68, No. 2, Oct. 1964.

Humphrey, David. Austin: An Illustrated History. Northridge, Ca.: Windsor Publications, 1985.

Jackson, Pearl Cashell. Austin Yesterday and Today. Austin: E.L. Steck, 1915.

Smith, Hank Todd, ed. Austin: Its Architects and Architecture (1836-1986). Austin Chapter American Institute of Architects. 1986. P. 13, 39, 40.

Tyler, Ron, ed. The New Handbook of Texas. Vol. 4. Austin:The Texas State Historical Association, 1996.    "G.W. Littlefield" by David Gracy, II.

Webb, Walter Prescott, ed. The Handbook of Texas, Vols. I and II. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952.

Newspaper Clippings &  Articles

Austin Statesman

June , 1912. "Roof Garden Opens Tonight." & "Opening a Big Success"

January 2, 1910. "The New Littlefield Building."

April 16, 1916, Vol. 45. "Turkish Baths in Littlefield Bldg. Are Up-To-Date"

June 13, 1918. (Bremond store)

July 19, 1936. "Few Can Recall the Life Sagas of Men Who Gave Big Gifts."

March 5, 1939. "Old Picture Stirs Interest in Austin Centennial."

Oct. 8, 1957. "In 1915, less than 5 years…"

Feb. 11, 1960. "Famed Doors Going to UT."

Aug. 5, 1973. "Littlefield Building Site Longtime Part of City."


Baker, Betty. Historic Walking Tours: Congress Ave. & E. 6th St. City of Austin, 1995.

Daniell, L.E. "Texas, the Country & Its Men: G. W. Littlefield." Austin: ca. 1918.

Galvin, Lois Hale.  1894: 75 Years on Congress Avenue. Newspaper clipping.

Nolen, Harry W. Letter of Apr. 25, 1980 regarding bronze doors of Littlefield Building. Austin History Center.

Files and Miscellaneous

Austin History Center House & Building File: 601 Congress, Austin, Texas

Austin History Center Austin Banks & Banking File: America National Bank. B0702

City Historic Landmark Files, City Historic Preservation Office, Department of Transportation, Planning and Sustainability, City of Austin.

Historical Plaque mounted beside Bronze Doors of Littlefield Building in Ashbel Smith Hall, University of Texas.

Littlefield Building/Historical Review (city files) "Littlefield Building Was Austin's First Skyscraper,"

National Register of Historic Places, "Inventory Nomination Form." Item 7,  p. 2-3. Item 8, P. 5.

"Major G.W. Littlefield (1842-1920)."  UT website.

Special thanks go to Betty Baker and Ed Vandervort of the Austin Historic Landmark Commission for their assistance and suggestions, and to the helpful staff of the Austin History Center.

 

Timeline, Renovation and Transition Dates of the Littlefield Building

8/22/1854 - State of Texas to Michael Ziller. Vol 1/No. 628

1/15/1909 -  American National Bank to George W. Littlefield. Vol. 227 pg. 557 et seq

1/19/1910 - T.A. Deats & Mrs. E.H. Deats to George W. Littlefield. Vol. 239 pg. 72-73

2/12/1912 - GWL to Christine E. Littlefield  Vol. 251 pg. 72

6/6/1912    - "Completion of Littlefield Building Appropriately Dedicated,"  Roof garden formally opened (see endnote #6, Opening a Big Success)

1915 - Renovation of heating, plumbing, wiring, enclosure of 9th story roof garden, and addition of first floor annex.

1957 - Air conditioning added, "storefront replaced bank's heavy stone front," and two new elevators were added. [According to Will Shephard, bricks or a glazing system were probably added at this time to replace the storefront (see 1989-90 below). Austin historian Ed Vandervort recalls a brick-look front, but no additional documentation of the renovations for 1957 exist.] According to the AA Statesman 8/1/57 & 9/19/57, Frank F. Knight, developer of Medical Arts Square, purchased controlling interest in the building in 1957. "The greatest change in the new construction program will come on the ground floor. The heavy stone front, especially built for the American National Bank, which occupied the ground floor for about four decades will be removed and replaced with a modern store front and the former bank floor converted into a retail sales area."  Work was done by J.M. Construction Co.; Max Brooks, architect; B. Segal, engineer.

1963 - Sold "by Littlefield heirs" to Jack Josey of Houston (oilman).

1971 - Dr. Jerald Senter and Earnest Elam of Austin sell Littlefield Building to Hugh L. Scott of Houston. Scott begins to remodel in 1973, replacing generator with city power.

1976 - Building auctioned; no buyers.

12/30/77 - The Littlefield Bldg.Corp. to John P. Watson, Trustee. Vol. 6057 pg. 522 et seq

1/3/78 - Purchased by BWC Associates (Carl W. Burnette, JohnP. Watson, Jim Burton Casey Sr.) for renovation and development from Hugh Scott. [see Vol. 6516 pg. 2149 & 6332; Vol. 6332 pg. 861 & 865]. Joe Holt, architect

11/2/78 - City Council grants historic zoning to building.

1979 - Restoration begun by Burnette,Watson & Casey, adding a penthouse, new air conditioning, plumbing, electrical systems, three high-speed elevators, enclosed atriums

1981 - Restoration completed by Jim Burton Casey, Sr., with Littlefield Mall across the street adding a parking garage, ground level retail and 24 apartment units.

9/15/88 -  Purchased by Major Littlefield's Associates LP. Vol. 10776 pg. 1522 (Paul Weinberg, Big Field Corp./affiliated with Connaught, Inc.) (Wm. Bremond Houston, Hallie Houston Burns, Catherine Houston Umstattd, collectively, as lessors to GE Equities 9/9/88)

1989-90 - Repairs to building by Will Shephard, architect, "sympathetic to the original design" with attention to historical photographs. Restored façade at ground level up to about 40 feet; replaced windows with energy efficient glass. Left original terra cotta but replaced bricks. Mr. Shephard believes the Landmark Commission approved the work. He can be reached at 652-2222, Carr America.

4/30/91 -  Purchased by Norwood Reunion Littlefield LTD. Vol. 11429 pg. 753 (Jeff Minch & Frank Krasovec; General Electric Credit Equities, Inc./David Martindale is Norwood's financial backer.)

7/31/96 - Purchased by Carr American Realty Limited Partnership. Vol. 12742 pg. 537

12/23/97 - Purchased by KFP Littlefield Limited Partnership  Vol. 13088 pg. 1667. (Tom Stacy of T. Stacy & Associates & partner Highgate Holdings)

12/17/99 - Purchased by Merit Texas Properties of Dallas. Merit Littlefield LTD Partnership  #1999.157.808.



This article is © Phoebe Allen 2002 



Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional