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Austin’s best gazebo makes national registry

A midcentury structure’s architectural and historical significance gets it on the list

A black and white photo of a gazebo on a jetty-type land mass with a river behind it. The building has a zigzagged roof and slopes dramatically upward in a conical shape. The other shore of the lake has a few buildings on it and is in the background, along with two bridges in the distance. Austin History Center, PICA 09283, courtesy of Austin PARD

The Fannie Davis Gazebo on Lady Bird Lake is one of those neato Austin things we sometimes take for granted (though Curbed Austin has had it on its list of most Instagrammable places for a while, so there’s that). Designed with much midcentury flair by architect J. Sterry Nill and built 1969, the distinctive structure on the lake’s south shore—at what is now called Vic Mathias Shores at Town Lake Metro Park (aka Auditorium Shores)—is a nice stylistic companion to the nearby Long Center and has actually grown more noticeable as its downtown backdrop has become more dramatic. For the most part, though, it has for decades been “one of Austin’s modern architectural gems, hidden in plain sight,” according to the Texas Historical Commission’s Gregory W. Smith.

Now the little gazebo that could (survive the transformation of downtown and nearby environs) is getting its day in the sun, so to speak, having been recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site was chosen for its historical and architectural significance, according to a press release from the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, which is charged with its stewardship.

Designed to resemble an inverted morning glory flower, according to the release, the gazebo combines 1960s architectural tropes and references to rustic structures found in Central Texas parks as well incorporating natural materials with modern forms.

The gazebo’s origins are also rooted in significant social history. The project was spearheaded by the Austin chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction, which planned and raised money for the project. Inspired by the work of the Town Lake Beautification Committee, for which former first lady Lady Bird Johnson was the honorary co-chair, it was the first major work completed as part of civic improvement efforts on the south side of the river.

Plaza with memorial markers, midcentury style gazebo, river, downtown buildings
The gazebo in 2019
Larry D. Moore, Creative Commons license

“The Fannie Davis Gazebo was one of the first structures on Austin’s hike and bike trail, and the Austin Chapter of Women in Construction not only built it, but have been the champions for upkeep and restorations since 1970,” said Kim McKnight, PARD’s historic preservation and heritage Tourism Program Manager. The building was dedicated in 1970 and in 1984 was named for Davis, a founding member of the Austin chapter of NAWIC.

Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake Trail, Austin, TX 78704

Vic Mathias Shores

900 West Riverside Dr., Austin, TX