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30-story tower expansion approved for historic lodge

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Landmark commission gives thumbs up to bold plan

An architect’s rendering of a tall, narrow, contemporary tower. At the bottom is a two-story, older brick structure. There are other, somewhat tall buildings surrounding it.
Proposed addition to the Masonic Lodge
Via City of Austin website (DCI/Clayton & Little/Rhode Partners/Stone)

After sending plans back to the drawing board this summer, the city Historic Landmark Commission last week gave the thumbs-up for a proposed tower addition that would rise about 30 stories above downtown’s Royal Arch Masonic Lodge.

Located at 311 West Seventh Street, the lodge was built in 1926 and landmarked in 2000. The local chapter of Freemasons that operates the building is in favor of the change, according to an October 28 Community Impact story, in part due to the need for repairs to the original Beaux Arts building.

The commission first reviewed the proposed project in June, when local historic architectural specialists Clayton & Little, Rhode Partners, DCI Engineers, and Stone Development Group submitted a plan that involves excavating the three-story historic building and incorporating it with a tower that could reach more than 30 stories.

The June presentation drew strong reactions from some commissioners who felt that the contemporary tower overwhelmed the old lodge.

Over the course of several postponements, changes were made to scale back the tower’s visual dominance over the historic lodge: Setting it back from the front of the original building, narrowing the element that connects it to the base, and incorporating an exposed structural grid that is intended to soften the impact of the glass walls. The exterior of the landmark building would be kept and restored.

Presenters compared the contemporary adaptation to that of the Hearst Tower in New York City and the Viceroy Hotel in Chicago.

Ultimately, commissioners voted 6-4 in favor of endorsing the proposed expansion and changes. The building will now continue to go through the city permitting process.