Heritage, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 1988 Page: 12
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Fire, Clay, and Moonlight:
Austin's Other Towers
by Henry B. Moncure
T he University of Texas tower is among the most
recognizable structures in the state. Its status as a symbol
of the school, the attention it attracts when lit up after
a notable UT athletic success, and even the notoriety it assumed
as a platform for a sniper have made it a rival of the
Capital and the San Jacinto Monument for a degree of
recognition in the public mind exceeded only by the Alamo.
Thus when the setting is Austin and the term is "tower" few
are unaware of what is meant. But Austin has other notable
towers. These "other towers" lend much to the city's unique
profile but recognition of their significance is a study in
On Town Lake at 1st Street and Colorado stands the
Buford Tower, its few brick stories dwarfed by nearby office
buildings. Its appearance gives no clue to its current use and
only scant evidence of its original purposes. Here stands a
relatively short tower flanked by flower beds and parking
spaces and fronted by a semicircular drive. The setting is a
small lakeside park. The acute observer might notice a fire
hydrant next to the structure. The hydrant is a clue to the
building's past. It was constructed in 1930 as a practice facility
for the city's firemen.
The tower consists of six one-room brick stories with
internal metal stairs. There is a basement in which practice
fires could be built. Firefighters could practice aerial ladder
work, flood the upper stories, scale the walls and conduct
rescue drills through the windows. The tower was burnt
regularly for 43 years until 1974 when it was abandoned in
favor of a new facility in a location away from the downtown
For four years following its abandonment the tower, undisturbed
by regular human activity, stood with its paneless
windows wide open and became a six story pigeon coop. Its
condition, to say nothing of its appearance, deteriorated.
In 1978 the wife of the tower's builder led a campaign
under the aegis of the Austin Chapter, National Association
of Women in Construction, to restore the structure. The restoration
included the installation of a carillon and the tower
assumed a new function. It went from blazes to birds to Bach
within the decade. The carillon is capable of a variety of
melodies and can be programmed to chime the hour or half
On August 23, 1978 the old fire practice tower officially
became the James Buford Tower and Kitchens Memorial
Chimes. Captain James L. Buford was an Austin firefighter
who was killed during a heroic rescue attempt and Rex D.
Kitchens was the tower's builder.
The Buford Tower is an excellent example of the restoration
and adaptive reuse of a structure. Its presence in the
lakeside park provides both an aural and visual plus to the
The Buford Tower, its few brick stories dwarfed by nearby office buildings.
On the lake shore a little more than a mile up river from
the Buford Tower stand the remains of a tower less fortunate.
It is situated beside the hike and bike trail where the path
passes by Austin High School's parking lot. Heavy rains can
cause enough of a rise in the water level to put its base columns
in the water. Hundreds of joggers, walkers and bikers pass by
it every day, most of them unaware of its origin or purpose. It
doesn't even have a name.
This tower was one of four which supported a cable and
bucket system that was used to transport clay from the rich
deposits on the other side of the river to a brick making plant
once located on the bluff overlooking the present high
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 6, Number 2, Summer 1988, periodical, Summer 1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45434/m1/12/: accessed August 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.