Recently, a study put the kibosh on the idea of suspended gondolas as a means of group transport in Austin. Still, the subject inspired a few of my colleagues to rummage around for remembrances of gondolas past.
“Indeed, it was the aerial gondola scheme that triggered my memory of the guy who wanted Austin City Council approval in the early 2000s to open a gondola-ride concession on Town Lake,” wrote American-Statesman managing editor John Bridges in an email. “I don’t recall whether the guy ever made a business of it, but I did find some photos from (2001) of him tootling around the lake in a gondola. His name is Paul Parma.”
That same online pursuit led Bridges inevitably to tales of the Gondolier Hotel, a white, modernist inn that perched on a crest above the lake at East Riverside Drive and Interstate 35. It went by several names before it was demolished. The Riverview apartment towers stand there now.
Columnist Ben Wear added more about gondolas and the hotel when the idea of aerial gondolas came up. And over the years, gondoliers have given demonstrations to bring attention to various causes.
Somewhere in my personal archives — meaning a disorganized box in the garage — is a postcard from my maternal grandmother who stayed at the Gondolier Hotel.
In Don Martin’s slim volume, “Austin: Postcard History Series,” he explains that the Gondolier, built around 1960, was later a Sheraton Hotel. We can guess that opening date from a promotion that boasted it was five minutes from “Austin’s fabulous new Auditorium and Convention Center.”
Later called Palmer Auditorium and still later remade into the Long Center, it opened in 1959.
“The hotel actually offered simulated gondola rides on Town Lake,” Martin writes. “(It) was later turned into student housing for several years, then a limited-service hotel and was eventually shuttered.”
Wear, who has lived through his share of local history, added in an email: “When that hotel debuted, it was considered quite snazzy for little old Austin.”
You can’t understand New Austin without delving into Old Austin. One digital avenue for that quest is Austin Found, a series of historical images of Austin and Texas published at statesman.com/austinfound. We’ll share samples here regularly.