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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.

Driskill Hotel 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.

Driskill Hotel 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". Driskill Hotel 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.

Driskill Hotel 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.