West Line Historic District
The West Line Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
The Old West Line Historic District encompasses an approximately 90-block tract of land in central Austin, Texas. Sited atop a bluff rising from the west bank of Shoal Creek, the largely residential neighborhood lies several blocks north of Town Lake, a dammed portion of the Colorado River. The district is comprised of more than twenty-five subdivisions platted between 1871 and 1948, out of the George W. Spear League and Division Z of the government outlots west of the original city center. Early settlement in the area consisted of expansive estates, later subdivided in response to the city's burgeoning population. The West Sixth Street Streetcar Line [see: Streetcar Suburbs, 1888 to 1928], commonly referred to as the West Line, extended into the district from downtown and facilitated the development of suburban tracts. Due to the piecemeal development and hilly topography of the area, the streets form an irregular rectilinear grid. A number of notable nineteenth-century residences and institutional buildings exist throughout the district, but the preponderance of resources consist of Craftsman and Classical Revival-influenced bungalows built during the height of the area's development from the 1910s-1930s. In keeping with the original developers' intentions, the historic district maintains strong residential characteristics. Overall, the West Line Historic District retains a high degree of integrity, clearly evident in its cohesive streetscapes.
From the earliest estates of the 1850s to the last subdivision platted in 1948, the West Line Historic District represents a century of continuous suburban building and development patterns. The predominantly residential district retains a number of houses that represent the earliest historic period settlement of the area during the 1850s-70s, interspersed within the dense fabric of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century streetcar suburbs. Commercial development within the district is concentrated along W. Sixth Street, a major arterial and the historic location of the streetcar line, and West Lynn, an early north-south street within the neighborhood. Institutional properties range from the nineteenth-century, castellated Texas Military Institute, whose isolated grounds were at the eastern edge of the district, to the 1916 Mathews School, built amid early twentieth-century bungalows on the west side of the district. Varied street patterns and the immense diversity of the resources within the historic district convey a richly layered sense of the history of West Austin.
Rising from the crest of Castle Hill, the Texas Military Institute is one of the defining visual landmarks of the district. The Institute, organized during the 1850s in Bastrop, Texas, relocated to a 32-acre parcel of land outside Austin's city limits, immediately west of Shoal Creek. Constructed in 1870, the former educational building of the Military Institute is a castellated brick structure accented by a three-story tower. Though plans called for a square building with a tower at each corner, only one of the two completed towers is extant. The resultant asymmetry lends the edifice a picturesque quality, and its siting atop the ridge overlooking Shoal Creek makes it visible from much of the surrounding area. The other remaining building from the Military Institute is a one-story stone mess hall, now used as an office, located at 1105 W. Twelfth Street near the main TMI building. Other nineteenth-century resources in the West Line Historic District include Italianate and Classical Revival mansions representing the vestiges of large estates. Subsequent development signaled a shift in land-use patterns, and relatively few barns and other associated outbuildings are extant. Though later subdivisions significantly altered the siting of these resources, the boundaries of earlier parcels of land remain evident through the present pattern of streets and property lines.
Between 1871 and 1948, land within the West Line Historic District was divided into city lots in over twenty-five subdivisions. Initial development initiatives sought to establish a prestigious neighborhood in West Austin. Subdivisions platted on land adjoining Shoal Creek were built out gradually and thus possess a wide range of resources, though the areas are unified by the substantial scale and grandeur of many of the earlier houses. Development in the district peaked between 1910 and 1930, when nearly twenty subdivisions and re-subdivisions were platted, encompassing the majority of land within the district. The primary impetus for development was the area's proximity to the streetcar line along W. Sixth Street. The line terminated at West Lynn until 1912, at which time it was extended past the International & Great Northern Railway line to the Lake Austin dam; subdivisions between the Confederate Home and the I & GN tracks, along streets such as Augusta, Patterson, and Theresa, were platted in anticipation of and following the arrival of the streetcar line. Construction accelerated through the 1920s, and the subdivisions from this era were filled with affordable bungalows pitched to the middle and working classes. Many parcels were subdivided by heirs seeking to sell inherited land, and the last subdivisions in the district were holdovers of large estates.
The subdivisions were established from 1871-1948. They are (oldest to newest): Raymond Plateau, James Addition, Lauve Subdivisions, Raymond Subdivision, Booth Subdivision, Lewis Hancock Subdivision, Ledbetter & Greathouse Subdivision, Taylor-Smith Subdivision, Westridge, R. Niles Graham Addition, Wendlandt's Subdivision, West End Heights, Washington Heights, E. T. Deats Subdivision, Maddox Subdivision, Terrace Park, Eck's Heights, Woodland, R. Niles Graham 2nd Addition, Smoot Subdivision, A. W. Johns Subdivision, Starkey Addition, Castle Court, Theresa Martin Addition, Shelley Heights, Shelley Heights No. 2, Winn Subdivision and Park View.
The perceived elevation of the area above the city and surrounding countryside was referenced in a number of subdivision names, such as Raymond Plateau, West End Heights, and Shelley Heights, in an effort to entice prospective residents. Topography and natural features subtly shaped development patterns, particularly along the bluff near Shoal Creek and the ravine at the western edge of the Confederate Home. Elsewhere, the apparent simplicity of the rectilinear street grid belies the rolling terrain.
The West Line Historic District includes a diverse selection of resources indicative of the rich history of West Austin. The variety of building types and forms are illustrative of changes in the building density and socioeconomic structure of the area, while the different styles present reflect broader shifts in aesthetic preferences. In order to facilitate the evaluation and assessment of such a wide range of properties, resources in the district are grouped into four broad property types based on their original and current functions: Domestic, Commercial, Institutional, and Landscape.
The vast majority of buildings found in the West Line Historic District are single- or multiple-family residences dating from the 1870s through the end of the historic period in 1955. These buildings cover a wide variety of plan types and styles that reflect changes in construction practices and popular preferences over a century of building evolution. Early houses range from simple vernacular forms, such as the center-passage house, to irregular plan types such as the L-plan and modified L-plan, made possible by advancing balloon-frame construction techniques. Booming construction during the early decades of the twentieth century commonly employed variations on the compact form of the bungalow. Massed-plan, linear-plan, and more complex houses filled out the later subdivisions in the district during the periods after the Depression and World War II. Multi-family housing, ranging in type from garage apartments to large condominiums, was built with increasing frequency from the postwar era onwards.
The center-passage house is a vernacular plan type common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Houses of this type follow a linear rectangular plan consisting of a central hall between two flanking rooms, resulting in a symmetrical front facade. Two-story center-passage dwellings are commonly referred to as I-houses. Relatively few examples are represented in the West Line Historic District, and a number have been elaborated into a more complex form with later additions. Most have side-gabled roofs and are of frame or masonry construction. They exhibit a broad range of stylistic influences and ornamentation, most commonly possessing Victorian-era or Classical Revival embellishments.
Irregular plan types prevalent around the turn of the century account for a significant number of resources in the West Line Historic District built before the proliferation of the bungalow. In contrast with the simplicity and symmetry of center-passage facades, irregular house types such as the L-plan and modified L-plan responded to the Victorian-era desire for picturesque, complex forms. The L-plan house is conceptually, and often literally, derived by adding an offset front-facing gable to the basic side-gabled center-passage house type, forming an ell. A shed-roofed porch often extends across one or both sides of the ell. L-plan houses are usually one or one-and-one half stories in height, though a number of two-story examples are present in the district. Even more than the L-plan, the modified L-plan house can vary in level of grandeur, ranging from a simple one-story example to an elaborate two or two-and-one half story mansion. More complex examples, typically associated with the Queen Anne style, have features such as bay windows, prominent dormers, decorative shingles in the gable ends, and spindlework detailing. Later examples often have classically influenced details such as Doric or Tuscan porch columns and exhibit a more balanced treatment of the facade. Other irregular plan types, such as U- and T-plan houses, are generally far less common, and few examples are present in the district. Weatherboard siding is typical of irregular plan types, though the district contains a number of substantial brick dwellings and distinctive limestone L-plan and modified L-plan houses constructed by builder Nick Dawson.
The bungalow is the most ubiquitous house type present in the West Line Historic District, accounting for nearly half of the district's single-family dwellings. Built throughout the nation in the early twentieth century, the bungalow's peak of popularity coincided with an era of rapid development in West Austin between 1910 and 1930. Bungalows are usually wood-clad, one-story homes with moderately pitched roofs, broad overhanging eaves, and prominent porches.
Typical plans have two rows of side-by side rooms, staggered front to back to provide space for the substantial porch. Their interiors reflect changing technology and a new informality of living, incorporating small kitchens into the home and combining living and dining areas. The bungalow is closely associated with the Craftsman style, with its exposed rafter tails, decorative eave brackets, and battered porch columns and piers. Numerous bungalows within the district exhibit modest classical influences, primarily in the form of box columns as porch supports, which are commonly combined with other elements characteristic of the Craftsman style. Less prevalent are Prairie School or Period Revival influences. The bungalow plan type can be subcategorized based on roof form. Front-gabled and cross-gabled examples predominated during the 1910s and 1920s, particularly in the South and Southwestern United States. Side-gabled bungalows became more common in the late 1920s and 1930s. Hipped roofs, frequently with gable vents at the ridgeline, were also occasionally applied to the bungalow type. The front-gabled form accounts for over half the bungalows in the district, followed in prevalence by cross- and side-gabled roofs. Excellent examples of the bungalow form can be found throughout the district.
Massed and linear-plan houses accounted for the bulk of residential construction in the district from the 1930s through the end of the historic period. Following the Great Depression and World War II, new housing construction soared as a result of years of pent-up demand, newfound economic prosperity, and legislation that favored new construction. Though most of this residential construction took place on the peripheries of cities, numerous houses were built as infill in older neighborhoods. Most houses built during these nationwide building booms magnified the architectural trends evident in later bungalows; their exteriors were simple in both form and style, while the interiors retained an overall sense of openness. Within the district, Period Revival-style houses common during the 1930s gave way to simpler Minimal Traditional and Ranch Style houses in subsequent years. Particularly within the earlier massed plan houses, a variety of hipped and gabled roof forms exist, depending on the plan shape and stylistic influences. Linear Ranch houses typically have hipped or side-gabled roofs. Houses built during this period are almost exclusively one story, and the prevalence of wood siding diminished as brick, stucco, and asbestos became more common cladding materials.
Houses in the West Line Historic District display an immensely diverse array of styles, reflecting changes in aesthetic preferences throughout the district's lengthy period of construction. Older houses often possess a range of stylistic elements due to their evolution over time; many were enlarged or otherwise updated to reflect later architectural preferences. Styles evident in the district range from Victorian-era Italianate, Queen Anne, and Folk Victorian designs to Craftsman and Prairie influences during the early decades of the twentieth century. Classical Revival influences are in evidence throughout much of the history of the district, though other Period Revival styles became common in the post-Depression era. Minimal Traditional and Ranch-style houses filled out remaining lots in the district during the periods immediately before and after World War II. Houses in the district primarily followed popular trends in their appearance, with only a handful exhibiting the influence of twentieth century Modernism.
Italianate houses account for much of the earliest construction in the West Line Historic District. Common nationally between 1850 and 1880, Italianate-style mansions were built in the district during the 1870s, when it was promoted as an exclusive suburban enclave. Salient features of the Italianate style include wide eaves with decorative brackets and tall, decoratively framed windows. The style was applied exclusively to sizable two-story houses with a range of plan types, and executed with stone, brick, and wood siding.
The West Line Historic District has few surviving examples of the earliest outbuildings —including barns, carriage houses, and servants' quarters—related to the large estates of the 1870s. Numerous detached garages and garage apartments, commonly built beginning in the 1920s, are present throughout the district, however. During the automobile era, garages were constructed contemporaneously with new homes. They frequently have similar stylistic influences, though simpler form and detailing, than the dwelling with which they are associated. Front-gabled and hipped roof forms are common for both garages and garage apartments. Outbuildings were documented only where they are clearly visible from the street or public right-of-way. Many historic garages have been altered, most commonly through the replacement of historic hasp-hung doors with modern overhead doors. Those that retain a high degree of integrity, as well as the sparse collection of intact early outbuildings, have been identified in order to promote their preservation.
Multi-family housing in the district ranges from historic garage apartments and duplexes to expansive apartment buildings and condominiums built after the period of significance. Thirty-four garage apartments and sixteen historic-period duplexes were identified. Built from the 1920s onward, duplexes typically are restrained in form and ornamentation, though some exhibit elements of styles popular during their era of construction. Historic apartment buildings, constructed primarily during the 1940s to 1950s, are one-to-three-story buildings clad in brick, stone, stucco, or wood. The majority of apartment buildings in the district exhibit Modern or Contemporary stylistic influences, evident through the refined geometrical arrangement of their facades, lack of ornamentation, and flat or low-pitched roofs. Apartment buildings were built with increasing frequency near the end of the historic period. Though many were constructed on undeveloped land in Shelley Heights, apartment buildings represent the initial wave of redevelopment in the neighborhood and comprised a significant portion of the new housing stock from the 1960s through the 1980s. More recent townhouses and condominiums are frequently larger in scale than their predecessors and often have an intrusive effect on their surroundings.
Designed landscape and infrastructure elements in the district range from the West Austin Park to more informal elements such as retaining walls and terraces that negotiate the area's hilly terrain. The overall landscape of the West Austin Park is defined by scattered plantings of trees, terraced green spaces, and a large open field. The terraced terrain descends considerably towards a circular pool, or natatorium, at the middle of the site. A Tudor Revival bathhouse, consisting of two small brick structures joined by a common roof, creates a gateway between the park entrance from W. Tenth Street and the pool. Other landscape features include the low stone walls surround the park and a few residential lots in the district, including 1300 Windsor and 1815 W. Eighth Street. Retaining walls, elevated sidewalks, and concrete steps, such as those along Patterson and Baylor, create a terraced effect on residential lawns. Beyond providing pedestrian access along difficult sections of street, these elements accentuate the rolling terrain characteristic of the West Line area. Early landscaping efforts on individual lots have provided the district with numerous mature live oak and pecan trees, which give considerable summer shade.
Street intersections throughout the district were marked by metal curb labels identical to those found in downtown Austin. Dating to circa 1935, they were a product of early street paving efforts. As a consequence of subsequent repaving, only a small number of curb markers remain in West Austin. Examples can be found at the intersection of W. Eighth and West Lynn, and W. Tenth and Blanco. Other infrastructure elements include historic street lighting. In 1895, a network of thirty-one moonlight towers was erected throughout Austin. Consisting of 165-foot tall trusses bearing six carbon arc lamps, the towers utilized electricity from Austin's first power plant on the Colorado River. Of the three moonlight towers erected in West Austin, one remains at the intersection of W. Twelfth Street and Blanco, where it continues to provide lighting for the surrounding area.
† Terri Myers and A. Elizabeth Butman, Preservation Central, Inc., West Line Historic District, Travis County, Texas, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.