Nothing makes the radical transformation of this formerly sleepy college town clearer than gazing north up Congress Avenue. This onetime low-rise assemblage of appliance shops, ice cream parlors, and department stores in the shadow of the Capitol dome now does a pretty good imitation of New York’s Madison Avenue.
The Alamo City was Texas’s largest metropolis until oil boosted Dallas’s and Houston’s fortunes. Development has picked up recently, spurred by tourism, the health sector, and the Eagle Ford Shale, but San Antonio still boasts many fewer tall buildings than Austin, its smaller neighbor to the north.
Few cities have been so eager to erect a building, demolish it, and build something taller. As a result, though Dallas’s nighttime skyline glows breathtakingly from a distance, the downtown area can often feel like a province without a past—one that preserves little of its 181-year history.
The Bayou City started off as a port city but repositioned itself as the world’s energy capital after nearby Spindletop gushed in 1901. Shell Oil’s move from Manhattan to Houston’s downtown, in the early seventies, sparked a building spree that continues today, fueled by an increasingly diversified economy.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Our Changing Skylines.” Subscribe today.
Image credits: Dallas Then, Houston Then, San Antonio Then: WBAP-TV/NBC5/KXAS-TV/University of North Texas Libraries/The Portal to Texas History; Dallas Now: Art Wager/Getty; Houston Now: Jon Bilous/Alamy; San Antonio Now: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty; Austin Then: Scott Newton; Austin Now: Al Argueta/Alamy