The Baker School is a 60,000-sf building located in Hyde Park Local Historic District. This neighborhood, founded as Austin’s first suburb in 1891, represented a shift in Austin residential life toward a more suburban philosophy. As the community grew, it required a larger school, and the existing school was replaced with the new Baker School in 1911.

Project Name: Baker School
Studio Name: Weiss Architecture
Project Size: 60000 ft2
Completion Date: 2019
Building Levels: 3
Location: Austin, Texas, United States
Photography: Patrick Wong

©Patrick Wong

This new school building was designed by local architect, Roy L. Thomas, whose work includes many iconic Austin buildings, like the Stephen F. Austin Hotel (1924), the Herbert Bohn House (1938), and Tarrytown Methodist Church (1947). The school was named after Dewitt Clinton Baker (1832-1881) a businessman who helped to establish Austin’s public school system. He also served as the inspector of schools from 1872 to 1877, organized Austin’s first public Library, and was the treasurer of the Austin Library Association.

The building is a prime example of Neoclassical, institutional, turn of the century architecture in Austin. The original three-story 1911 building was constructed with three-wythe, locally sourced, Austin Common Butler buff brick. Additions to the North and South were constructed in 1924, which matched the original architecture. In 1939, a two-story steel truss and concrete addition created an interior courtyard on the original building’s west side. This addition blended with the original 1911 massing, but aligned aesthetically with mid-century Brutalist institutional architecture of that era. Finally, another two-story steel truss and concrete addition was added to the Northwest corner of the building in 1958.

©Patrick Wong

The school also experienced several functional changes. Beginning as an elementary school, it became a middle school in 1973, a high school in 1980, and finally a district administrative building in the 1990’s. In 2019, it was purchased by Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas (ADC) for their new corporate headquarters. Instead of redeveloping the site, the company elected to honor the school’s rich history by restoring its original character.

The current work’s design intent focused on rehabilitating historic elements and keeping the existing floorplan by converting original classrooms to open work areas and offices. While some exterior maintenance work was required, the vast majority of the scope was interior. First, all non-historic elements were removed, such as drop ceilings, fluorescent lighting, faux wood paneling, carpeting, and VCT flooring. Original architectural elements were then revealed and rehabilitated, including narrow plank oak flooring, terrazzo flooring, board and batten wainscot, solid wood doors, transom windows, beadboard ceilings, crown molding, and original industrial pendant lighting.

©Patrick Wong

New light fixtures, matching the original lights, were added in the newly exposed, original locations. Walls were painted to match historic colors discovered from layers of chipped paint. Historic millwork and trim were carefully media-blasted of existing paint and restored to the original stain finish. Select partition walls were added only to meet specific program requirements, and maintenance work was performed to existing mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

Through these thoughtful and meticulous tasks, the current Baker School successfully celebrates the building’s architectural and functional history. It is currently in the application process for local, state, and national historic designation.

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