Moonlight Towers

By Austin Explorer

The tower at Eastside and Leland in south Austin lies on the Blunn Creek Greenbelt.
The tower at Eastside and Leland in south Austin lies on the Blunn Creek Greenbelt.
Austin, Texas was for the most part a backwater in the 1890's. In an effort to help move Austin forward towards the upcoming 20th Century the city awarded a contract for the installation of 31 lighting towers to be placed around town. At this time electricity was still a novelty few could fathom the changes it would bring. Ignorance of electricity led many to fear that the eternal light made possible by the towers would wreck havoc with farmer's animals and crops. Despite the concerns, the towers were erected and turned on for the first time on May 6, 1895.

A close up view of the tower at 11th & Trinity.
A close up view of the tower at 11th & Trinity.
Each tower stands 165 feet tall, weighing in at 2 tons. Most of the structure consists of a triangular metal lattice, commonly used for radio antenna supports today. The lattice sits on top of a single 15-foot pole and so must be secured by guy wires attached to each of the three corners of the lattice and strung outward away from the structure.

Unlike the most common street lighting of today, the Moonlight Towers were meant to provide a minimum of light over as wide an area as possible. The lights were designed to cover a circle of 3,000 feet, supposedly providing enough illumination for the reading of pocket watches.

Today, only 17 of the original 31 towers remain and they are one of the few, if not the only, such lighting system still in use today. In 1976 the towers were added to the US National Register of Historic Places.

Since 1965 the Moonlight Tower in Zilker Park has served as Austin's Christmas Tree. The normal guy wires are supplemented by additional strands that contain over 3,300 lights that form a conical "tree" for the entire city. A favorite past-time of young and old alike is to spin under the tree while looking up at the lights, then trying to stand upright and fight off the resulting dizzying sensation.


1st & Trinity 1st & Trinity (Photo by Austin Explorer) 4th & Nueces 4th & Nueces (Photo by Austin Explorer) 15th & San Antonio 15th & San Antonio (Photo by Austin Explorer)
12th & Blanco The tower at 12th & Blanco in west Austin overlooks Lamar Blvd. (Photo by Austin Explorer) 12th & Rio Grande 12th & Rio Grande in front of the old Austin High School. (Photo by Austin Explorer) 22nd & Nueces 22nd & Nueces (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Zilker Park Moonlight Tower The Moonlight in Zilker Park is probably not an initial placement and some sources claim it to be a reproduction. (Photo by Austin Explorer) 11th & Lydia 11th & Lydia (Photo by Austin Explorer) Lights A closeup of the lights at the top of the tower. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
41st & Speedway 41st & Speedway (Photo by Austin Explorer) MLK & Chicon MLK & Chicon (Photo by Austin Explorer) South 1st & Monroe South 1st & Monroe (Photo by Austin Explorer)
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