The four-story Driskill Hotel in Austin was built in the 1880s at the time that the Capitol and the first building of the University of Texas were under construction. The hotel was one of the grandest in Texas, the meetingplace of legislators, lobbyists, and the social leaders of Austin, and was the site of inaugural balls, elaborate banquets, receptions, and university dances and ceremonies. The Driskill was also the headquarters for swarms of journalists and radio and TV reporters during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson.
In 1884 Jesse Lincoln Driskill, a pioneer in the great cattle drives to northern railheads, purchased the half block bordered by Sixth, Seventh, and Brazos streets. Jasper N. Preston and Sons of Austin designed the original cream-colored brick and limestone building, which was apparently inspired by H. H. Richardson's recently completed Ames Building in Boston. The Driskill's two-story porches with Romanesque Revival columns frame Richardsonian arched entrances, but the façade is more complicated than that of the prototype, and small balconies project from the canted corners of the Driskill building.
The hotel opened on December 20, 1886, but within a few months financial problems briefly forced its closing, as repeated changes of ownership began. Originally the hotel had sixty steam-heated guest rooms with four elaborate suites on the second floor. The skylit dining room was the most elegant restaurant in Austin for many years. The Driskill had additional dining rooms for ladies and children, a ladies' entrance on Seventh Street, and, for the men, a large billiard room, a bar, and a barbershop. The columned lobby was later modified by the addition of a ceiling at the mezzanine level. The utility rooms, kitchen, and servants' quarters were in a separate building.
In 1923 the large guest rooms were remodeled and subdivided into 125 rooms, and five years later a fifteen-story annex was begun to the north, which was completed in 1930. At that time eight mirrors once owned by Carlota, empress of Mexico, were installed in the Maximilian Banquet Room. In 1970, when the hotel was once again threatened with closing, the Heritage Society of Austin mounted a successful campaign to interest private investors to save and rehabilitate the building. Volunteers of the Austin Heritage Guild operate a popular luncheon restaurant, the 1886 Room, in the hotel. Though the Driskill continued to change hands during the 1970s, the effort to restore the hotel to its original grandeur has been steady.