Congress Avenue in Austin, Circa 1930

Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas, Circa 1930

Making History

bracketNorwood Firsts

Architectural Details

A Changing of Hands

The earliest tenants of the Norwood Building included the expected physicians, dentists and attorneys as well as financiers, insurance companies, a barbershop, a beauty shop and a bank – Republic Bank & Trust. The Travis County Medical Society and Library, X-Ray laboratories and a drug store served the medical professionals. Businesses familiar to Austin’s current-day residents included Elgin Brick Company, Gracy Title Company, Brown & Root, the Texas State Highway Department, and the law firm of Dan Moody, who after two terms as Texas’ governor (1927-31) officed in the Norwood Building until his death in 1966. (It was believed that Moody’s penchant for fresh air and open windows constantly threw the air conditioning out of kilter.)

Architects Giescke and Harris were granted a rent-free office for their work on the building, but that promise fell with the stock market crash and the ensuing years of the Depression. O.O. Norwood, like many others, soon lost both his office and the building itself, as well as his plans for an adjacent theater and hotel. Norwood recovered his municipal bond business in the coming years but continued to work from his home, which overlooked the Colorado River.
Norwood Bldg. circa 1930, courtesy www.austinpostcard.com

In January of 1934, Capital National Bank opened as a “New Deal” bank in the ground level of the Norwood Building. Walter “Booster” Bremond Jr., who served as a director and president of the bank from June of 1934 to his death in 1953, was a grandson of early Austin Banker Eugene Bremond, whose first loans were made from a back room of John Bremond & Company, his father’s wholesale grocery business, which had been established on Sixth Street in 1847. The origins of Capital National Bank date from Bremond’s bank, which was incorporated as State National Bank in 1882. SNB was acquired in 1927 by Republic Bank & Trust, which was in turn acquired by CNB in 1934. (CNB joined Texas Commerce Bank in 1977 and has since been incorporated into J.P. Morgan Chase.)

The bank’s first board of directors represented some of the most prominent, well-established families of the city: Herman Brown, president of Brown and Root; Hale M. Houston, president of John Bremond & Company; James P. Nash, oil businessman; Dan Moody, former governor; Dr. Zachary T. Scott, physician; Walter Bohn, Bohn Brothers, a dry goods and department store; Adolph (Ad) Kohn, president of Bon Ton Baking Company; George H. McCullough, G&S Sporting Goods; Charles E. Marsh, owner and publisher of the American Statesman and other newspapers throughout the country; Eldred McKinnon, former president of Republic Bank & Trust and initial president of CNB; and George E. Shelley, attorney. John A. Gracy, a nephew of banker George Littlefield and founder of Gracy Title Company, joined the board later the same year.

In addition to Hale Houston, chairmen of the CNB board would eventually include W.A. Keeling, former attorney general of Texas and a corporation lawyer of national repute, and contractor Herman Brown, who served as chair until his death in 1962. Edward Clark, former Texas Secretary of State, US Ambassador to Australia, and one of the most influential Texans of his time, became a director in 1944, the same year CNB purchased the Norwood Building.

Under the direction of Brown and Bremond, the Motoramp Garage was remodeled and enclosed in 1951 by the architects Page, Southerland & Page to accommodate banking facilities on the ground floor, with the main lobby entry on Seventh Street. Three drive-through windows and three walk-up windows faced Colorado Street. Clark was to follow his good friend Brown as chairman of the board in 1962. It is interesting to note that well-known banker Joseph “Jody” Grant, chairman and CEO of Texas Capital Bank, the bank currently located in the Norwood Tower, was president of Capital National Bank in the 1970s. CNB eventually outgrew its facilities and moved to a new building in 1981, while under the leadership of Clark and Martin Butler.

Purchased by Rust Properties in late 1970s, the building underwent a five million dollar renovation in 1982-83 to bring it up to contemporary standards while preserving its character and original style. The building, which had come to be known as the Capital National Bank Building, was renamed the Norwood Tower. In December of 1997, it was purchased by the LBJ Holding Company, a fitting return to a company with family ties that run deep in the history of Norwood Tower and Austin.