Cambridge Tower is a landmark of modern architecture and urban living in Austin, Texas. The 15-story building, located at 1801 Lavaca Street, was designed by renowned Dallas architect Thomas E. Stanley and opened in 1965 as a luxury apartment tower. It was the tallest privately owned building between Houston and Dallas at the time, and featured innovative design elements such as brise soleil columns, breeze blocks, and wraparound balconies. The tower was also a symbol of Austin’s cultural and political scene, attracting prominent residents such as politicians, professors, artists, and musicians. Today, Cambridge Tower operates as a condominium and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance.
The origins of Cambridge Tower can be traced back to the early 1960s, when Austin was undergoing rapid growth and development. The city’s population had increased from 132,459 in 1950 to 224,000 in 1965, and the University of Texas had expanded its enrollment and campus. The demand for housing was high, especially for young professionals and students who wanted to live close to downtown and the university. Several high-rise apartment buildings were constructed in this period, such as Westgate Tower (1962), Penthouse Condominiums (1964), and Towers of Town Lake (1965). However, none of them matched the scale and sophistication of Cambridge Tower.
The project was initiated by L.L. McCandless, a local developer who envisioned a luxury apartment complex on a prime site near the state capitol and the university. He hired Thomas E. Stanley, a rising star in the architectural field, to design the building. Stanley had established his reputation with projects such as the Statler Hilton Hotel in Dallas (1956), the Southland Center in Dallas (1959), and the Sheraton Dallas Hotel (1960). He was known for his mastery of New Formalism, a style that combined classical elements with modern materials and techniques. Stanley’s design for Cambridge Tower reflected his signature features: a symmetrical facade with a central entrance, a circular driveway with a fountain, a recessed ground floor with arcades, and a roof garden with a pool.
However, McCandless ran into financial difficulties and sold the project to Mayflower Investments, a Dallas-based company that specialized in high-rise apartments. Mayflower retained Stanley as the architect and hired Thomas J. Hayman of Dallas as the main contractor. The construction began in 1964 and was completed in February 1965 at a cost of $4.5 million. The building had 169 units ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, each with floor-to-ceiling windows, central air conditioning, wall-to-wall carpeting, and intercom systems. The amenities included a lobby with marble floors and crystal chandeliers, a lounge with a fireplace and a bar, a restaurant with a panoramic view of the city, a fitness center with saunas and massage rooms, a laundry room with coin-operated machines, and a garage with valet parking.
Cambridge Tower opened to great fanfare on May 1, 1965. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by state and local officials who praised the building as a symbol of Austin’s progress and prosperity. The media coverage was extensive and favorable, highlighting the tower’s elegance and convenience. The marketing campaign was also aggressive and effective, using slogans such as “Cambridge Tower: Austin’s Landmark of Luxury” and “Live Above It All at Cambridge Tower”. The target audience was affluent and sophisticated professionals who wanted to enjoy urban living without sacrificing comfort and privacy.
The tower soon became one of the most desirable addresses in Austin, attracting tenants from various backgrounds and occupations. Some of them were prominent figures in politics, academia, arts, and entertainment. For example,
– Ben Barnes: Lieutenant Governor of Texas from 1969 to 1973
– John Connally: Governor of Texas from 1963 to 1969
– John Henry Faulk: Radio personality and civil rights activist
– John Graves: Author of Goodbye to a River
– Jody Conradt: Women’s basketball coach at UT
– Willie Nelson: Country music singer-songwriter
– Janis Joplin: Rock music singer-songwriter
Cambridge Tower also became a hub of social and cultural activities in Austin. The residents hosted parties, receptions, fundraisers, concerts, lectures, and exhibitions in their apartments or in the common areas. The tower’s restaurant was a popular spot for dining and dancing, featuring live music by local bands such as Shiva’s Head