The Austin Club, formerly the Millett Opera House, was built in 1878 by Austin local lumber seller Captain Charles F. Millet and designed by Frederick Ruffini. When it was completed, the building had the second-largest enclosed space in the state. The opera house was not used only for opera and theatre, but was also the setting for many historical events over the years. Since 1980, the building has been the location of the Austin Club and is rented out for social events. Founded in 1949, the club is the oldest in downtown Austin.
As the population of
Austin, Texas grew during the 1870s, the need for entertainment venues
developed. In 1878, lumber and construction businessman Capt. Charles Millett
constructed a new opera house on the site of his lumber yard. The two-story limestone
building was designed by local architect Frederick E. Ruffini, whose works
included buildings all around the state. At the time of its construction, the
Millett Opera House was the second-largest opera house in Texas, next to the
Galveston Opera House, and boasted the largest auditorium in the entire state.
It featured a balcony, private boxes, a hand painted ceiling, and 800 moveable
seats, enough to house 7% of the entire population of Austin.
The Millett Opera House
quickly became the biggest and most popular social center in Austin. It hosted
numerous theatrical performances, concerts, political conventions, lectures,
and even roller skating; it also briefly housed the Texas state legislature while
the new state capitol building was under construction. Some prominent celebrities
who came to the Opera House included actor Edwin Booth and politician William
Jennings Bryan. In 1898, the Hancock Opera House opened, and the Millett Opera
House’s popularity quickly declined. The building was converted into a dancing
hall and a third story was added as well.
After changing hands a
couple times, the Millett Opera House was purchased by the Austin Independent
School District in 1940, which leased out the building to businesses. One of
the most noteworthy tenants was the Maverick-Clarke Office Supply Company,
which came to the building in 1956 and worked to maintain some of its original
features. In 1979, the Austin Independent School District signed a 50-year
lease with the Austin Club. The private membership club was founded in 1949
with 483 original members, including many Texan businessmen and politicians.
Initially the club was housed in the third floor of the Commodore Perry
Building, before moving to the Millett Opera House building in 1980, where it
remains to this day. The Millett Opera House was designated a Texas Historic
Landmark in 1965, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in