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Will Austin's Missing Moontowers Return?

Moontower at night
Image courtesy Matthew Rutledge
A moontower at 8th and Rio Grande Streets. Two moontowers downtown were removed for high rise developments, but have yet to be returned.

Two historically significant moonlight towers, or moontowers, were removed to make way for the development of two downtown high-rise buildings, but both structures were completed months and neither moontower has been returned to its original location. One tower was situated next to the newly built Four Seasons at Trinity and Cesar Chavez.  The other was located on the same street as the 360 Condominiums at 4th andNueces.

The moontowers were first installed in 1895, partly due to panic over a serial killer who was terrorizing Austin. Many Americans know them from the Richard Linklater movie Dazed and Confused. At one point in the movie, teenagers daringly climb one tower.  Another becomes the location for a keg party. Austin is believed to be the only city in the world that still operates a system of moontowers.

The moontowers were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.  That doesn't protect them outright, but it does deem them "worthy of protection" and urges the city to prevent the moontowers from being altered or destroyed.

Austin Energy has told KUT News that they can't return the moontower at 4th and Nueces until the Federal Courthouse being built there now is completed. The moontower's original location is across the street from construction. It is also unlikely that people living in the 360 Condominiums want a large flood light next to their ceiling-to-floor windows.

Austin Energy says it is using the opportunity to perform maintenance on the moonlight towers. The public utility says it will launch a maintenance program on all towers next year. That would mean removing the moontower in Zilker Park after the holidays, which is currently the "trunk" of the Zilker Tree.

The City of Austin's Historic Preservation Office told KUT News that real estate developers pay to take down the towers, store them, and put them back up. But an official in the office, Steve Sadowsky, says the city is considering alternative sites close to the original location to reinstall the moontowers.

Listen to this audio report on the moontowers by KUT's Matt Largey. It will also air on KUT 90.5 FM Monday during Morning Edition.

Back in the 60s, few people expected the moontowers to stick around. This 1962 segment from a locally produced TV show called Progress Report Austin advised viewers to "look closely soon, for the day of the artificial moonlight is ending, and this site will one day disappear from our city."

The video comes courtesy of Gordon Wilkison via the Texas Archive of the Moving Image.

Here is a map by the city of all the moontower locations in Austin.

View Austin's Moonlight Towers in a larger map

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.