The Gilfillan House at 603 West 8th Street is a 1905 structure that is on the National Register, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and a City Landmark. It’s tucked away in the northwest quadrant of downtown Austin, and the brand new luxury apartment building Seven towers over the historic structure. Located on the southwestern corner of 8th & Nueces, it has been a law office since the early 80’s. It is currently zoned GO-H. The Gilfillan House is grand, but it’s seen better days.
The site was most recently purchased in early June (with a note of almost $3.6MM), and the new ownership (headed up by Rene O. Campos – a real estate investor in Dallas) would like to zone it to DMU-H as part of a restoration of the historic structure.
The much more flexible DMU-H rezoning would also allow the new owner to utilize the restored structure both for office use and for events such as weddings, receptions, business meetings, luncheons, fundraisers (among other things). The owner’s representatives say that this type of flexibility would lend itself to more active uses of the site, and introducing more people to the historic structure (and fill in downtown Austin’s seeming increasing need for proper venue space).
Why is the Gilfillan House worth preserving and sharing, anyway?
A little research at the Austin History Center brought me to some interesting information:
This residence was constructed in 1905 for William L. Gilfillan (d 1932), one of the founders and directors of the Austin National Bank, designed by the prominent Austin architect Charles H. Page, Jr., the two-story brick home reflects a mixture of popular Pre-World War I architectural styles, including Mission Revival and the Prairie School. In 1931, the home was purchased by Julius G. Knape, a Swedish stonemason and contractor.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1981
The Austin National Bank was founded in 1890 and built their second generation space at 507 Congress in 1895 (507 Congress doesn’t exist as an address anymore, it’s been absorbed). The bank kept growing and relocating until its merger with First International Bancshares Inc in 1981.
Here’s a photograph of the 1895 location on Congress – designed by Charles H. Page.
So, lots of history, with lots of Austin’s early movers and shakers. We believe that it’s worth preserving and celebrating many of these structures and all of their stories. And we tend to think integrating the history with a current use is often better than a restoration that creates a well-preserved, but unapproachable (and generally unappreciated and unutilized) time-capsule. History is only useful if people actually know about it.
We personally love the juxtaposition of the old and the new that’s occurring in parts of downtown Austin, and are generally supportive of efforts to activate historic spaces so that the public can access them in a more meaningful way. If done intelligently and intentionally, flexible commercial use of some historic buildings could be a great way to accomplish preservation, increase the functionality of prime downtown Austin real estate, and educate more folks about Austin’s rich history.