Norwood Tower

Circa 1930, Austin History Center

Making History

bracketNorwood Firsts

Architectural Details

A Changing of Hands

Save for the Capitol and the UT, the stunning Norwood structure was recognized for decades as the tallest in downtown Austin. It was the first office building in Austin (and one of the first in the nation) built to be fully air-conditioned, and was also the first to have rooftop gardens, an attached parking garage, a residential penthouse, and a pre-cast exterior. Norwood envisioned Austin’s first fully air-conditioned office building, complete with a sophisticated ductwork system, as an innovative complex that would serve medical, financial and legal professionals. Each unit was designed according to the needs of its tenant. The cruciform shape of the 14th floor suite, where Norwood’s offices were located, created four large, corner terraces for Austin’s first rooftop landscape project.

“The building had more light than most buildings. Dad was very pleased with the appearance of the building and with the opportunity to add so many innovations, like the air-conditioning and the garage.” – Watt Harris Jr., son of the architect

The four-story attached Motoramp Garage was another first for Austin. Instead of hoisting cars vertically in lifts and ‘stacking’ them, as other garages did, cars were parked by actually driving them to the appropriate spaces. Tenants dropped off their cars with parking attendants and entered the office building, just as they do today, through a private, second floor entrance. An in-house automotive department offered a complete line of motor services, from fueling and carwash to repairs. Tenants could call for their cars in advance with a signal system on each floor. A Ladies Waiting Room and Parlor were available in the Motoramp Garage.

Norwood Tower Garage

Construction of Norwood Motoramp Garage addition circa 1931, Austin History Center

In 1931 Norwood also became the first mixed-use high rise. The residential penthouse was conceived by Hazel Butler, wife of Thomas J. Butler – whose company, Butler Brick, had provided the bricks for the ramp in the Motoramp Garage. The Butlers lived in the penthouse for 35 years.

Atop the Motoramp Garage was the exclusive Austin Club, set back and surrounded by landscaped gardens. Its floors were decorated with bluebonnet and cactus tiles. The Austin Club was located on the fifth floor, with entry through the main building, until the 40s. KNOW Radio took its place, broadcasting from here for the next 25 years. Louis R. Cook managed the station from 1947 until 1969. KNOW was the immediate descendant of Austin’s first radio station. Founded in 1922 by a physics professor at UT, Dr. S. Leroy Brown, KUT became Austin’s first commercial broadcast station in 1927, when UT decided the radio business was too costly and sold it to the Rice Hotel in Houston. By 1930, it was located in the Driskill Hotel, and in 1932 its new owners, Hearst Publications, changed the call letters to KNOW.