Bryker Woods is more than a neighborhood convenient to downtown with good schools. It is a neighborhood recognized on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior for its historic significance. While most homes in Bryker Woods are not noted for their singular architectural contribution, there is a delightful commonality that combines to create an attractive, vibrant neighborhood. It is no coincidence that many find Bryker Woods a charming neighborhood. Aspects that can be attributed to this perception are invariably associated with qualities that foster a connection with community. Some of these common features are:
- modest scale of home
- inviting front porches
- open front yards (no privacy fencing/walls)
- garages placed in back of the home
- large mature trees
BrykerWoods is one of three residential neighborhoods comprising the Old West Austin Historic District (OWAHD) Along with Enfield and Pemberton Heights, these neighborhoods have been designated significant for their contributions to a style of community development recognized by the United States Department of Interior for their historic value.
Citing the 2003 National Register of Historic Places application, “the Old West Austin Historic District posesses 1574 dwellings, garages and other properties that contribute to the integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and feeling of historic significance.” The homes of Old West Austin and BrykerWoods are historically significant for their contribution to the fabric of the neighborhood as a whole more than for their stylistic or architectural distinction.
This brings to mind the question often addressed by prospective homebuyers and preservations alike, “What is BrykerWoods style?”
The development of BrykerWoods occurred most intensively between 1936 and 1940. The long rectangular blocks with a few street ovals remain intact today. Numerous old trees, groomed lawns and park like flowering plantings still remain. It is a fine example of a pre-war automobile subdivision still remaining substantially intact.
Most homes in BrykerWoods are architecturally classified by scholars to be of bungalow or cottage design with “asymmetrical Colonial Revival” as the dominant named style. There was a revival in Colonial architecture during the 1930’s largely inspired by the renovation of Williamsburg Virginia around that time. However, most BrykerWoods homes lost the formality of their east coast ancestors during the transformation west. Additionally, the feeble economy of the late 1930’s did not support unnecessary extravagance or ornament.
While Colonial Revival homes were most common to the district, an almost equal number of houses of “unassignable style” also remain. Many homes in BrykerWoods are considered “vernacular” with few examples of architect-designed dwellings. Some homes in the area (mine included) were kits brought on railroad from Louisiana and sold by the Calcascieu Lumber Company. They tended to be standardized kit (windows, trim and cabinets included) with slight modifying touches added by local carpenters. Porch columns, front door design and tile work vary widely but most homes shared a similar scale and level of detail. Many local builders worked from plan books opting for sound construction over stylistic adherence.
BrykerWoods is a neighborhood recognized on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of Interior for its historic significance. While most homes in Bryker Woods are not noted for their singular architectural contribution, there is a delightful commonality that combine to create an attractive vibrant neighborhood. Some of those common features are:
COMMUNITY: Walkable streets, front porches and cars in back seemed ideal to the pre-war planners and builders of BrykerWoods. In some ways, they were harkening back to the village of Williamsburg Virginia where people, not cars dominated the streets. Unfortunately, changes in automobile use have changed the aesthetic patterns of the original Bryker Woods but not the spirit. This spirit of community still thrives today as residents show their support for a small local school, slow streets, and neighborhood gatherings such as the Fourth of July parade and the National Night Out.
SCALE: Most original homes in Bryker Woods are similar in size and height on similar sized lots. While originally economically driven, that size and scale are protected and valued today by a number of City development guidelines including the so-called McMansion ordinance. There is attractiveness to the scale of Bryker Woods and homebuyers are drawn to it. Speculators are not.
SHAPE: Most homes in our neighborhood have roofs that are pyramidal (hipped) or gabled (long central ridge). Often, the underlying geometry is delightfully masked by the asymmetrical inclusion of dormers. This architecture of similarity layered with years of personalization reflects the mindset of our residents as much as it does the building trends of our City. Many neighborhoods are removed and rebuilt but Bryker Woods houses tend to be reused and adapted.
MATERIALS: Most of the homes in BrykerWoods are wood construction with brick or wood drop-siding exterior walls. The windows are mostly wood double hung with Neo-Colonial division of “six pane over six panes” or “eight over eight”. Most windows are set symmetrically in the center of walls on front facades with looser organization along the sides. Most BrykerWoods homes are pier and beam giving them a slight elevation from the street. Today, well done additions, remodels and new construction tend to have that same sense of materiality.
DETAILS: Most home in BrykerWoods are modest but there is a tradition of adding detail and accentuation around the front doorway. While windows and cornices are well trimmed, there is very little excessive or unique ornamentation on other parts of the house. It is the front door, the most welcoming part of the house, where residents show their personality. Next time you knock at a neighbors, check it out.
So again, “What is BrykerWoods style?” It is a collection of similarly sized homes placed on their lots in a similar fashion. Equally sized lots and 25’ foot front setbacks dominate the area. The buildings are knit together by their similar shape, size, method of construction, detail and sense of community. That sense of community can be seen in the front porches of Bryker Woods. Varied in style but similar in scale, they encourage a walkable neighborhood where you should not be surprised to hear a hello as you pass by.