July 31, 2014
Thousands of Mueller visitors have spent time under the arched wooden bow trusses of the Browning Hangar, the historic structure adjacent to the Mueller Central information center at Lake Park. The Browning Hangar plays host to the weekly Mueller Farmers’ Market and numerous community events as a popular open-air venue. In this second of three articles about Mueller’s historic airport structures, we take a look back at the Browning Hangar’s evolution from Austin’s first airplane hangar to community gathering place, and look ahead to its future.
The Browning family moved to Austin in 1939 and began operating the Browning Aerial Service, which served as an airplane sales and service business along with training for young pilots during World War II. Built in 1943, and named after Texas aviation pioneer Robert Browning, the Browning Hangar was one of two original hangars built at the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport.
Due to a steel shortage during World War II, the hangar was built with a series of glue-laminated wooden trusses. For more than 50 years the hangar housed a variety of airport activities. However, over time, termites damaged the arch bases and the roof began to sag, prompting the addition of steel-tie rods during a 1983 renovation. The structure continued to decline with age and was vacated when the airport closed in 1999.
In 2005, Catellus selected Architectural Engineers Collaborative to investigate what needed to be done in order to preserve the historic building and make it serviceable for the future.
After two years of extensive research and engineering studies, the sides and doors were removed, along with any materials containing lead, asbestos or termite damage. Board by board, new curved wood was laid and stabilized in order to maintain the original structure’s design. Finally, a protective roof cover and decomposed granite flooring were added for temporary improvements.
In 2007 the first event, a fundraising walk, was held in the hangar and the level of community use has continued to grow since. Eventually, the plan is to redevelop the Browning Hangar for commercial activity, while maintaining its historic design. If you stand under the hangar you can see original wood (painted white) and the new additions from the 2007 stabilization (left natural).
Today, the bow truss wooden hangar still stands strong as one of the three remaining structures from the former airport at Mueller —including the former control tower next to Wildflower Terrace and a former administration building now home to Mueller Central. The Browning Hangar continues to serve as a proud reminder of Austin’s aviation history and as an iconic structure along Mueller’s Lake Park.
Come on out and get to know Mueller. To get acquainted with the full vision for Mueller, please visit our information center, Mueller Central, located at 4550 Mueller Blvd. Click here for address and operating hours.
To download your copy of the Mueller Development Plan, click here.
For more information regarding Mueller's Design Book, click here.