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Remembering Littlefield

Written by Ron Soodalter.

Littlefield spent a fortune renovating the Driskill Hotel before selling it at a loss eight years later. Today, it's one of Austin's most elegant hotels. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

Austin boasts several Littlefield-related structures, notably The Driskill Hotel, at 604 Brazos Street; the Littlefield House, at 24th Street and Whitis Avenue (on the University of Texas campus), and the Littlefield Building, at 106 E. 6th Street.

When cattle baron Jesse Driskill built his hotel in 1886, the Driskill was a state-of-the-art hotel featuring indoor plumbing. Although Texas governor Sul Ross held his inaugural ball there the following year—beginning a tradition honored by many Texas governors since—the rooms were priced too high to attract a steady clientele, and the hotel closed shortly thereafter. George Littlefield bought the Driskill in 1895, invested a fortune in renovations, and sold it—at a loss—in 1903. Today, the Driskill stands as one of Austin’s most elegant hotels, with original examples of fine Western art and late-Victorian furnishings. If you can’t spend the night, you can enjoy a drink at the Driskill’s handsome bar, with reproduction Colt revolvers supporting the bar lamps.

See related: Littlefield's Legacy

When built in 1893-1894, George Littlefield’s mansion (the Littlefield House) cost a staggering $50,000, and stood among several others of comparable worth as a testament to wealth and power. Its neighbors have long since disappeared, but the University of Texas has maintained the building, and it looks every bit as grand as it did in 1894. The home’s faithfully preserved details, including its towers and turrets, marble columns, wide porches, intricate iron railings and grillwork, carved wood trim, stained-glass windows, fireplace griffins, and mosaic-tiled veranda, secure its place as a fabulous survival from a time of opulence and ostentation. The University currently uses the building for offices, small receptions, and storage, but occasionally opens it for tours. Call 512/471-1000, or email the visitor center.

Constructed from 1910 to 1912 to house George Littlefield’s American National Bank, the Littlefield Building boasted hot and cold running water in the marble-finished restrooms, forced heat, electric lighting, and telephones, as well as a refrigeration system that pumped cold air through the entire structure. Once Austin’s tallest building—in fact, it was reputedly the tallest between San Francisco and New Orleans—the Littlefield is now dwarfed by other downtown edifices. Nonetheless, it’s one of Austin’s most desirable office buildings, and with its tasteful period details, still represents a stunning example of the Beaux Arts School. It became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2002. City staff removed the famous Tiffany-made bronze doors, but you can view them in the lobby of UT’s Ashbel Smith Hall, at 7th and Colorado streets. Call 800/926-ACVB;

Beginning September 17, 2011, and continuing through February 2012, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon will offer Littlefield Murals, an exhibit featuring three of the six murals that Chicago artist E. Martin Hennings painted for the Littlefield Building in 1910, along with related photographs and ephemera. According to the museum’s website, “When the bank and its assets were sold in 1954, [these three] murals were acquired privately.” The exhibit marks their first public appearance in more than 55 years. For details, call 806/651-2244;

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