Byrne-Reed House

Restoration

Vision, Leadership, Support

When Michael L. Gillette became executive director in 2003, board chair Maceo Dailey Jr. encouraged him to develop a plan for obtaining a building that would provide both increased visibility and a venue for our programs. A year later, the staff defined the organization’s spatial needs and began to scout the local real estate market. After looking at a dozen options, we settled on the only one that met all of our criteria: the building now known as the Byrne-Reed House.

The Humanities Texas board took several Olympian leaps of faith in purchasing the building in December 2006. The fact that the century-old mansion had been entombed in a modern stucco façade for forty years made it impossible to tell not only the condition of the original structure but also the cost of restoration. Humanities Texas also faced a daunting financial obstacle: we didn’t have the money to purchase the building, let alone restore it. The extraordinary leadership of our volunteer board, led by Julius Glickman, capital campaign chair, enabled us to reach our fundraising goal of $5 million. Glickman honed our case statement into a compelling appeal and developed a statewide fundraising strategy, enlisting current and former board members to take the lead in their communities. Hundreds of individuals have contributed to the restoration, along with more than twenty Texas foundations. In addition, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded Humanities Texas a $1,000,000 Challenge Grant, the endowment’s largest single grant in Texas, which gave the initiative credibility and additional incentive for individuals and foundations to participate. Visit our Capital Campaign page to learn more about our donors. 

Research and Discovery

Striving for the most accurate restoration possible, Humanities Texas conducted documentary research in order to collect evidence of the house’s historical appearance. We obtained valuable historic photographs, many of which came from the descendants of the Byrne and Reed families. Tom Reynolds, Edmund Byrne’s great-grandson, provided the earliest and best photograph of the building’s exterior. The architects and contractors made extensive use of this professional-quality photograph throughout the restoration. Noëlle Paulette, Ruth Reed’s granddaughter, gathered numerous historical photographs from fellow descendants of the Reed family. These remarkable images documented many important architectural features of the building’s interior and exterior and, along with architectural drawings and physical evidence, were essential to the success of this project.

Architectural historian Gregg Free, who authored the Historic Structure Report, first advised us that much of the hidden original structure was intact and that the stucco façade could be easily removed. The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture faculty also provided early guidance. Larry Speck and Wayne Bell served on our Architectural Advisory Group, along with noted architectural historian William Seale. Professor Michael Holleran’s graduate students used the Byrne-Reed House as their project in a preservation studio course.

After additional research into the history of the building and its existing condition, Humanities Texas engaged HS&A for restoration project management services, led by David Stauch, managing principal, and Bill McCann, project manager. With their guidance, we chose Clayton&Little, headed by lead architect Emily Little, as the architectural and engineering team. We selected Journeyman Construction, Inc. as the general contractor.

In September 2009, Journeyman Construction began the discovery phase of the restoration exposing a number of exciting architectural elements. Two historic windows that were completely covered by stucco and wood paneling were found in place on the second floor. The windows were in their original wood frames with original glass, hardware, and screens. The encaustic tile on the exterior porches, which was previously only seen in historic photographs, was found beneath four inches of poured concrete slab. In addition, many sections of the decorative plaster frieze crowning the building and parts of the plaster column capitals atop the porch columns were discovered intact.

During the demolition process, several more historic elements were discovered, including beautiful iron-flecked brick used to highlight architectural features such as arches and doorways, the original hardwood floors, and encaustic tile throughout the first floor terraces. In addition, a segment of original wrought iron railing was found embedded in a plaster wall. This segment was later used to replicate the missing sections of railing.

One of the most exciting discoveries was a number of broken original tiles that had been discarded when a composition roof was installed during a previous renovation. These tiles were stamped with “LUDOWICI-CELADON CO,” the name of a tile manufacturer in New Lexington, Ohio. Lead architect Emily Little sent the piece of clay to the manufacturer, now simply called Ludowici, who sent back a sample of the reddish-brown tile. The next shipment from Ludowici was much larger—enough red clay tile to cover a surface of more than 5,100 square feet. This new tile, which has been applied to the roof of the Byrne-Reed House, replicates the house's original roof.

A Mindful Restoration

In order to restore and preserve extant materials and recreate important, documented architectural elements, a number of skilled and knowledgeable subcontractors worked on the project. 

For example, Louis Hayn and the team at Looking Good Masonry did an extraordinary job repairing and restoring the exterior façade. Their work included replacing areas of lost brick, repairing columns and porch skirts, rebuilding the porch railings, and recreating the chimneys. They used a combination of new brick and historic brick culled from less public areas of the building to seamlessly integrate old and new materials. 

With similar diligence to ensure the historic integrity of the house, two remarkable craftsmen oversaw the restoration and reproduction of plaster elements at the Byrne-Reed House. Matt Henson of Professio, Inc. reproduced the molded ornamental plaster elements of the Byrne-Reed House, including the exterior frieze and column capitals and the interior dining room ceiling. For those pieces that needed to be reproduced, the Professio team gently removed pieces of the original plaster and took them to their studios in Lubbock where they made molds of the originals and cast reproduction pieces. 

Martin Diaz and his team at Diaz Plastering, Inc. replastered all of the appropriate interior surfaces and, most notably, recreated the distinctive scalloped plaster design on the exterior porch arches. Based on a historic photograph of the house, the craftsman counted the number of scallops on each arch to ensure the restoration was as accurate as possible and then applied the scalloped design entirely by hand.

These are just a few of the outstanding team members that made restoring the Byrne-Reed House to its original grandeur possible. For a complete list of project team members, visit our Restoration Project Team page.

Bringing a Landmark to Life

The restored Byrne-Reed House is already transforming our organization’s activities. Thousands of people pass by the building every day, increasing Humanities Texas’s name recognition around the state. The elegant public spaces on the first floor, including the Julius and Suzan Glickman Room, provide a grand setting for our own events and those of other organizations. These grand spaces will also be used to hold seminars, conferences, and workshops for Texas teachers. The restored Byrne-Reed House also has a large basement that houses a workshop and over sixty exhibitions that travel to schools, libraries, and museums throughout Texas and the nation.

In addition to restoring a nearly forgotten piece of Texas history to a highly visible street, Humanities Texas has established a modern trading post for ideas, culture, and creativity.

Read more about the history of the Byrne-Reed House.

Watch a time-lapse video of the amazing Byrne-Reed House transformation.

2011 AIA Austin Design Award jury members speak about their selection of the Byrne-Reed House Restoration for a Citation of Honor.

The northeast corner of the Byrne-Reed House in the 1927. From the Austin History Center, C01460.
The northeast corner of the Byrne-Reed House as the process to remove the stucco exterior continues on the east facade, October 2009.
Original encaustic tiles discovered intact under a poured concrete slab.
A piece of original clay roof tile found during site excavation and stamped with the name of the manufacturer.
Ruth Reed and friends on the south porch of the Byrne-Reed House. Courtesy of the Reed family.
The south porch of the restored Byrne-Reed House. Photograph by Casey Dunn. 
The northeast corner of the restored Byrne-Reed House. Photograph by Casey Dunn.