What's the history behind the ACC Pinnacle campus?
Austin Community College’s Pinnacle building is almost 200 feet tall. Looking out from the roof, everything else seems tiny. It dwarfs the nearby apartment buildings and stores.
For ACC professor Emily Anderson, this out-of-place highrise begged some questions.
“What’s the history behind the ACC pinnacle campus?” Anderson wrote to our ATXplained project. “I heard some wealthy dude built it in the 80s and lived on the top story. Who was he?”
Anderson learned a bit about the Pinnacle’s history when she toured the campus, but “nothing too detailed.” She was curious about the developer and wondered why he would build such a big building in the middle of Oak Hill.
Oak Hill in the '80s
The year was 1980. The ACC Pinnacle campus wasn’t the ACC Pinnacle campus yet. It was just a 10-acre piece of land nestled in a sleepy area of Oak Hill in Southwest Austin. The land was mostly fields where people went to hunt.
Oak Hill’s population at the time was just 425 people – smaller than most elementary schools today. The area had a single stop sign. Many of the residents traveled half an hour each day to get to work in downtown Austin.
Things started to change over the next few years. Motorola (now Freescale) built a semiconductor manufacturing facility in Oak Hill. A stoplight replaced the stop sign. Construction crews were building houses that already had people waiting to move into them. Oak Hill was growing.
Jerry Angerman, a local entrepreneur, began construction of the 10-story highrise in 1983 and finished it a year later.
It wasn’t his first project in Oak Hill.
“He was known as the mayor of Oak Hill,” said Ann Fowler, a reporter for the now-closed Oak Hill Gazette newspaper. “Oak Hill never had a mayor. But you kind of got the sense that he had these ideas.”
Angerman held a stake in multiple companies in the area.
“He had several different types of businesses,” his daughter, Dina Angerman Smith, said. “He had a hardware store [and] a rental center. He started the Y weekly newspaper. He had a savings and loan mortgage company.”
Marble and gold
Angerman originally developed the building to be an office tower. His idea was for the people of Oak Hill to have their own center of business instead of having to go downtown. At the time, there were plans for a new highway that would loop around the city, going through Oak Hill and letting out right in front of the Pinnacle.
Angerman built the building on one of the highest plots in Travis County – 985 feet above sea level. Soon after finishing the building, he began to lease out its space.
“Half of the floor was our offices and the other half was leased to Davis and Davis Law Firm,” said Smith, who worked for her father at the time.
He put in marble floors, a fireplace, a golden arch and a bar. He’d frequently hire musicians to play in the Pinnacle.
“I would go to various Oak Hill meetings, and a lot of times, they'd be held at the Pinnacle,” Fowler said. “It was just beautiful.”
The building was Angerman’s passion project. It became his baby.
“He did a lot of special things inside of the building. He had really nice finishes,” Smith said. “He started the Pinnacle Pub, which was on the ninth floor, which was just a small little bar area with a fantastic view of downtown Austin.”
Angerman never lived in the Pinnacle, as some rumors suggest. But he did have something special on the roof: a helicopter pad.
A trained pilot, he would fly back and forth to his house about 4 miles away in Scenic Brook Estates. The helicopter was one of nine he owned at the time.
“He talked about [how] his dream would be that's how we get to work,” Fowler said. “You know, forget the car, I'm just going to take my helicopter.”
The economy in Austin was doing well while Angerman built the Pinnacle. But then it wasn’t.
“Almost as soon as it had opened, then everything kind of tanked with the real estate,” Smith said.
Even at its peak, the Pinnacle was at less than 40% of its capacity.
“He has this beautiful building, and no tenants, because it was just a bad time for that to happen,” Fowler said. “I felt really bad for him. ”
Angerman knew the economy couldn’t be in a bust forever, so he tried to wait it out. He began selling his other possessions so he could afford to keep the Pinnacle afloat.
“He was very proud of it [the Pinnacle],” Fowler said. “He hung on as long as he could.”
Hanging on to the Pinnacle included giving up the things he loved most. Fowler remembers him telling her about having to sell his last helicopter.
“In one sense, he was happy that he found a buyer for it. But he reminded me a bit of my dad – who passed many years ago – but I remember [my dad] telling me he had sold this truck, this pickup truck that he just loved, And he said, ‘You know, I felt like crying when the guy drove that away,” Fowler said. “I got that sense from Jerry when he was talking about his helicopter. Just watching it go away was so sad.”
It wasn’t enough. Eventually, Angerman agreed to sell his building to Austin Community College.
He reportedly spent $6 million to build The Pinnacle. ACC bought it for less than half of that. Now it’s valued at about $20 million.
What happens now?
In 1996, Angerman moved to Dallas and later to Arizona, where he died last year at the age of 81.
“I put my heart and soul into Oak Hill. It means something to me,” he said in an interview with the Oak Hill Gazette in 2006. “I can’t drive to my daughter’s and look at Pinnacle and not have thoughts. It’s emotional.”
“Not many people can say that they individually have built a 10-story building, all by himself. And that's exactly what he did. He passed away with no regret."Dina Angerman Smith
While the Pinnacle didn’t end up the way Angerman envisioned it, he didn’t see it as a failure.
“Not many people can say that they individually have built a 10-story building, all by himself. And that's exactly what he did,” Smith said. “He passed away with no regret. He put everything he had into whatever he did. … That was a big thing for him. Make something happen … that was kind of his mantra.”
So, that’s the history behind the Pinnacle building. And that’s the story behind the wealthy dude who built it in the ’80s – but did not live on the top story.
ACC closed the Pinnacle building in 2018 to evaluate needed repairs. In 2019, the board of trustees decided the building would cost too much to repair or renovate.
Now the college is debating whether to build an entirely new campus on the property. That will likely involve tearing down or drastically changing the Pinnacle building as it stands now.
Until then, people driving by the Pinnacle may consider it a symbol of failure or success. It could mean holding on or knowing when to let go. Or it could just be a big building.