Towers : This 135-Year-Old Downtown Austin Building Could Learn Some New Tricks

A view of the historic Heierman Building from East Fifth Street. Image: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

A project presented to the Architectural Review Committee of the City of Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission earlier this week would modify a 135-year-old downtown Austin building with a significant renovation including an extra floor, according to documents presented at the committee’s August 8 meeting.

Overseen by acclaimed local studio Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, the plan would modify the Heierman Building at 115 East Fifth Street, a three-story masonry structure dating back to 1887. (Oddly enough, the date of 1880 presented on the facade is a misnomer of sorts.) The renovated building would contain an event space and rear courtyard on the first floor, commercial office space on the second floor, and a residential apartment use on the third floor. A new fourth level, set back 20 feet from the original facade, would also be added atop the building — seemingly as an extension of the residential space on the floor directly below.

A diagram of the building’s frontage and its modifications during the renovation — note the new residential floor at the top of the building, its modern design set back by 20 feet to meet preservation standards. Image: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

A view of the modern residential addition planned as part of the building’s renovation, which would add a fourth floor to the historic structure. Image: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

The Heierman Building is a three-story historic landmark building located in downtown Austin, Texas. The project scope consists of an exterior renovation to both the front and rear facades, an interior finish-out to the existing three floors, and new construction of an additional story structure with interior finish-out.

The first floor is to serve as an event space with access to an exterior rear courtyard, a second floor commercial office with a rear exterior balcony, a third floor residential apartment, and a fourth floor residential addition.

— Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

The presentation by the architects to the commission this week was only a briefing, with further discussion expected later. While the precise purpose of the renovation is currently unknown, the plan appears to be preparing the structure for use by the property’s new owner, relocated California investor Matt Michelsen, who is associated with a number of companies including the emergency management and healthcare sector startups Gothams LLC and Curative — which have both recently made headlines for securing lucrative government contracts during the pandemic era for COVID testing and other logistics services.

That’s the logo for Gothams LLC hanging by the door of the renovated Heierman building in the rendering seen above — a similar sign is already on the building in the real world, but including it in the rendering probably means something, if we absolutely had to guess. Image: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Signage for Gothams is currently visible on the Heierman Building at the street, and it appears that the firm is already occupying the building as office space. Renderings of the renovated structure presented by the architects also include the firm’s logo.

A view of the Heierman Building in 1975. Image: Texas Historical Commission

A timeline of the building’s history, including its tenants and major modifications, prepared by the renovation’s architects. Image: Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

Although any century-old structure is bound to have some stories wrapped up in its walls, the background of this building is a little odder than usual. Originally built as the Hotel Provident, the Heierman family purchased the seemingly unsuccessful business in 1900 and converted the structure to a metal foundry and smelting facility — a few years later around 1905, it’s reported that Austin’s first-ever human cremation took place here in the building’s furnace. As you might expect from such a grim historical footnote, local ghost tours now present the site as haunted.


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