history_postcard1Making History

bracketNorwood Firsts

Architectural Details

A Changing of Hands

Built in 1929, the Norwood Tower marks its 75th Anniversary in July of 2004. Its history is intricately interwoven with Austin’s oldest families, medical and legal professionals, and the city’s business community.

 

Ollie Osborn Norwood and Norwood TowerIn 1925, municipal securities and bonds broker Ollie Osborn Norwood (1887-1961) recognized the need for professional space in a city with only two other office buildings, the eight-story Scarbrough Building (1910) and the nine-story Littlefield Building (1912). Described as an inventive gambler “with a talent for grasping entireties and total concepts,” the jovial, socially gifted Norwood first planned a six-story building but was convinced by his architects and bridge club partners, Bertram Giesecke and Watt Harris, to build a Gothic Revival “Castle in the Sky” that would rise 16 stories. In the entire city, only the Capitol and the University of Texas Tower were taller. The Norwood Building’s height was to surpass that of any other building in downtown Austin for almost 40 years.

Ollie and Calie Norwood

Norwood Folklore

Carriage drivers in downtown Austin persist in telling tourists the story that Mr. Norwood went to England during World War I, fell in love with a young English beauty and promised that he would “build her a castle in the sky” if she would marry him. Though the Norwood Tower is alleged to be that “Castle in the Sky,” the facts of the story are somewhat questionable since Norwood married his sweetheart just before he shipped out with the US Army. Perhaps it was actually his wife he was luring to Austin from Matagorda, where she taught school in a one-room schoolhouse. Calie and Ollie moved to Austin in 1919 and lived together until his death in 1961 in a home overlooking the Colorado River.

 

Norwood Employee Profile

Clarence Odie Williams (pictured right) and Dudley Miller worked at a grocery store on Congress Avenue when they were given the opportunity to go into business for Ollie Norwood. Both worked in the Motoramp Garage and then in the Norwood Building itself. Miller was the first building manager. When Williams, an African American, moved into the tower after its completion, he was given the title of Maintenance Engineer and his own office suite in Room #412, with a couch and desk in a private sitting room with a bathroom.

Clarence Odie WilliamsThroughout the period of segregation in Austin, visiting African American dignitaries and local businessmen and ministers would call on Williams to get a drink of water and use his facilities when they were downtown, because it was the only facility available to them. Williams remained at the building until he retired in the fifties, and afterward continued to pick up and deliver the mail for various tenants. Despite the prevailing customs of the day, the best medical professionals in the building made sure that Williams’ family received their attention. According to his daughter, Johnnie Sparks, Williams looked upon the Norwood Building as his home and its tenants as his family. He held the keys to all the locks and sometimes took his children to the very top of the building to see the view.

Luci Baines Johnson

photo by Deana Newcomb

“The Norwood Tower has had a pull on the heartstrings of generations of Johnsons since 1950. Mother’s generation called it the ‘frozen music building.’ My generation called it the ‘wedding cake’ building. Today, we call it home for our business and residence and we hope someday you will, too!” – Luci Baines Johnson, present owner