An exterior look at Austin's landmark Driskill Hotel, possibly during the late 1950s or early 1960s when demolition seemed imminent.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades - during the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents.
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas.
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.
The Driskill Hotel was opened by cattle baron Jesse Lincoln Driskill in 1886 as a showpiece for the emerging capital city of Austin. A luxurious building with arched entryways and limestone features, the grand hotel was reminiscent of the palaces in New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. It quickly became the place to throw lavish Governor’s balls and host international dignitaries. Jesse Driskill was forced to sell the hotel in 1888 due to a severe drought that cost him his fortune. After years of being traded and sold, the Driskill’s fifth owner, Major George W. Littlefield, vowed the hotel would never close again and initiated a $60,000 renovation in 1895.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson had his first date with his future wife, Lady Bird, in the downstairs dining room of the Driskill in 1934. This marked the beginning of the Johnsons’ lifelong love for the hotel. In the 1950s, the Johnsons rented suites at the Driskill to serve as the offices of their news station, KTBC. It was also the site of Lyndon’s campaign headquarters, where they awaited election results for both the vice-presidential and presidential elections, and the couple frequented their own presidential suite during his presidency.
After a planned rennovation falling through, the Driskill Hotel faced demolition in 1969. The Heritage Society of Austin strived to get the building recognized as a historic landmark and succeeded. A series of fundraising campaigns amounting to over $700,000 allowed for the hotel to reopen in 1972, and it has been in operation since that time. Known as one of the most haunted hotels in the country, ghostly spirits have been reported roaming the old hallways, including Jesse Driskill himself!