Giving Something Back to Austin


Historic Charm Or a Monster?

In 1978 the first project of the new Austin Community Foundation was to raise funds to restore the old fireman’s practice tower, a 6-story brick Italianate structure located just south of downtown on the banks of the Colorado River.

Built in 1930, the tower had been routinely burned and flooded to train firefighters for more than 40 years. But when a new tower was built, the structure was unused except by pigeons. The transformation of “Town Lake” into a landscaped hike-and-bike trail, inspired by Lady Bird Johnson and executed by Ann and Roy Butler, led to the tower’s proposed demolition.

In fact, a July 1970 article called it: “A perpendicular monster on the banks of Town Lake.”

Yet, some Austinites saw its historical value. Designed by the prominent architectural firm of Hugo Franz Kuehne (founder of the school of architecture at the University of Texas), the tower reflects the Beaux-Arts style that defines historic downtown Austin.

An Opportunity to Honor Two Men

The project would be a memorial to the late Rex D. Kitchens, building contractor, rancher and civic leader, whose firm built much of downtown Austin as well as Highland Mall and Capital Plaza, the city’s first suburban shopping centers. Mrs. Kitchens contributed $30,000 to help restore the tower and give it a new function as a carillon tower. Women in Construction, a service group of women working in the construction industry, raised additional funds for the project.

The tower was named for veteran Austin Fire Department Captain James L. Buford who died in 1972 during a Shoal Creek flood rescue.

“[Building the tower] was my husband’s first job when he first went into business during Depression days,” Effie Kitchens said in 1978. “I love Austin, he loved Austin. Austin did a lot for us and I wanted to give something back.”

The restored Buford Tower and Kitchens Memorial Chimes, an electronic carillon which marks the time and plays holiday music in season, was dedicated in August 1979. For her leadership and generosity, Mrs. Kitchens was named Austin Community Foundation’s first benefactor.

--Robin Bradford

Read Statesman article about the Buford Tower

Learn more about the Buford Tower