The historic Zilker Clubhouse, originally built for the city of Austin as a lodge for the Boy Scouts of America in 1934 by New Deal-era job programs including the Management of construction works and the Civilian Conservation Corps, now offers one of the most impressive public skyline views of the city west of Mopac.
But despite the popularity of this pretty little building as an inexpensive wedding and event venue, it shows its age here and there – that’s a polite way of saying that, among other things, the structure isn’t air-conditioned.
Austin Department of Parks and Recreation Early this summer researched opportunities to renovate the building and collected responses to a survey of Austinites who had previously reserved the space for an event, as well as vendors who had previously worked at the venue. The survey results reveal two main priorities on the public side: First, do not do anything to detract from the historical character of the building, even if it means not installing air conditioning. and second, do nothing to change the relative affordability of the clubhouse as a city-owned venue.
To ensure the building retains its Depression-era charm, the city is bringing in Austin architects Limbacher & Godfrey To help plan the renovation, the company has extensive local preservation experience including the nearby renovation of Zilker’s own Barton Springs Bathhouse. We took our first look at the clubhouse yesterday evening at an event for the “virtual open day”, which was organized by representatives of the park department and the architect Laurie Limbacher – and while the open house video will likely appear on the project page every day, we thought you would appreciate a recap. (You can click on each image below to enlarge it.)
Above, you’ll first see a floor plan of the existing clubhouse complex shaded to show the various years that additions were added. This space upstairs, which is not currently connected to the main event area, is used for the park department offices. However, through the renovation, this space will be reclaimed for event use.
Above you can see the floor plan of a renovated Zilker clubhouse, which converts the non-connected office space of the building into a so-called “green room”, a space behind the house that is suitable for a bridal shower, for example. The toilets are being expanded into a single facility for all genders and the kitchen is being remodeled.
Above is one of the biggest improvements planned for the space – an HVAC system to air-condition the building that will be retrofitted without compromising the historical character of the structure through the use of what is known as variable refrigerant flow VRF.
This technology is extremely compact and circulates liquid refrigerant through much smaller tubes than the channels you would need for a traditional system. In the case of the clubhouse building, these elements of the system are stowed in the rafters of the room and are kept as inconspicuous as possible.
The location map shown above for the clubhouse and its surrounding area gives you a better idea of what the renovation will do for the exterior. The existing terrace, with the excellent downtown views, doesn’t need too much help, but it does get more permanent string-style overhead lighting as most weddings held here do that anyway. You can see what we’re talking about in the drawing below right:
A more drastic improvement of the site will be a new event area on the currently undeveloped north side of the clubhouse – the architects determined that there is also a pretty good view of the city from here. So why not benefit from it? Since the lawn is slightly below the building, an inclined path connects this space to the front terrace, along with a staircase that connects it to the rear of the event space. You can see the scale of the new lawn in the drawings below:
The renovation will have a fairly slight impact on the clubhouse’s unpaved parking lot – we don’t expect any significant additional paving stones, just maybe some obstacles to demarcate individual rooms and “formalize” things a bit. The architects hope to find a solution for hiding the dumpsters. As shown in the photo on the left of the slide below, this is one of the first things you see when you arrive:
The landscaping for the site, courtesy of our friends at the local company Asakura Robinson, gives you a slightly better idea of the improved environment – and lists the huge variety of native plants we’ll see:
After all, much of the renovation doesn’t even involve the clubhouse, but rather the little-known Lookout Point lookout, which is south of this location and is currently in pretty bad shape – although the graffiti shown below has apparently been removed. Lookout Point was also built by the CCC in 1934 and has lost its pergola sun protection on top of the pillars. The walls themselves don’t look too good either.
The renovation plan will restore Lookout Point along with the pathways leading from the clubhouse – and according to the architects, the wooden pergola above will be rebuilt using other such structures to the exact standards of what they looked like 86 years ago from the CCC for reference. That is our attention to detail.
The before and after viewpoint maps shown below show several new trail connections, including one that allows access directly from the clubhouse without having to walk down the driveway. This is currently the only way to get there:
Finally, here is a general plan of the renovated clubhouse and the lookout point together – you can click here to get a larger view:
One last thing, as if you need more than anything on display – the architects designed a new gate for the facility:
Phew, there’s a lot to consider. Despite this major renovation, the overall impact on the historic building itself is small – that’s exactly what Historic Preservation Architects do, and hopefully this design will satisfy all those polled who are concerned about the integrity of the structure. The addition of air conditioning, improved function space, and better back-of-house areas to this facility is a pretty significant improvement. We hope the clubhouse will continue to operate for about 80 years. All that’s left is to keep rental rates at a reasonable level – that will be in town.
According to the park department, the draft development phase of this project will continue until early 2021, with the creation of construction documents and the tendering process for a contractor taking place until early 2022. The construction work should be completed by October 2022. Can you imagine what the prospect will be like by then?