- Early Commercial, Classical Revival, Late Victorian
- Historic Status:
- National Register of Historic Places
Located in downtown Austin, the Sixth Street Historic District is notable not only for its many examples of Late Victorian style commercial architecture, but also for the culturally diverse businesses that operated in the district at the turn of the 20th century. Within the Sixth Street Historic District, over 30 individual properties are recognized as local landmarks.
Closed to traffic Thursday through Saturday nights, Austin’s Sixth Street is well-known for its vibrant nightlife catering to college students and young visitors. On a clear evening, the district swells with people and music spilling in and out of old masonry buildings.
Hidden behind Sixth Street’s historic facades is a story of Austin’s early economic growth. The architecture of the district is characterized by two- and three-story Late Victorian commercial buildings constructed in a boom immediately following the Civil War. Situated one block from Austin’s first railroad, and far enough from the Colorado River to avoid flooding, Sixth Street (or Pecan Street as it was called then) was one of the foremost thoroughfares in early Austin, and was once considered equal in importance to Congress Avenue. Even today, the intersection of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue is considered by many to be the heart of downtown Austin.
Many of the buildings that now house bars, music venues, and comedy clubs were built in the 1870s and 1880s. These load-bearing masonry structures with cast iron ornamentation demonstrate a vernacular particular to the Central Texas region. The buildings make use of limestone and light-colored brick—abundant in the area—forming a cohesive streetscape of creamy buildings. The few buildings clad in darker brick signaled affluence, as the material was imported at great expense. Within the district, 33 individual properties are recognized as local landmarks. While most of the buildings are of the Late Victorian style, the district also includes the stunning Richardsonian Romanesque Driskill Hotel, as well as Austin’s first skyscraper, the Scarbrough Building, located on the southwest corner of Sixth and Congress.
In the 1890s, the district began to display notable ethnic diversity among business owners; this quality would become one of its most significant features in the early 20th century. By 1940, Sixth Street was home to Black, Lebanese, Syrian, Jewish, German, Chinese, and Mexican businesses. The district’s history of early racial diversity is one of the key reasons the area is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the decades after World War II, the commercial success of Sixth Street waned, but preservation efforts in the 1970s led to its establishment as an entertainment district. In addition to its typical weekend festivities, the street hosts a popular arts and crafts festival (the appropriately named Pecan Street Festival) every spring and fall. – Claire Townley