This complex is an industrial and architectural landmark in Austin. Electric power arrived in the Texas capital in 1895, after the Colorado River was first dammed to generate electricity. The city of Austin has owned its own generation and distribution system ever since, a rarity among large cities.
A growing population and post-World War II demand for new appliances and air conditioning increased the need for electricity. In 1948, the city of Austin commissioned a new power generation plant to be built here, just west of the existing site. Designed by the nationally known Kansas City engineering firm of Burns & McDonnell, the complex developed in two phases in 1950 and 1955. The massive plant included a generator building, which initially housed two Hydrogen-cooled turbine generators but was designed to expand to five as demand increased; outdoor boilers; an oil heating plant; a demineralization building; and a water intake structure. The buildings reflect the Art Moderne style, with site-cast structural concrete, scored concrete panel cladding, metal divided-light windows and glass blocks. The turbine generator building includes distinctive illuminated Moderne graphics in its signage. The buildings are solid concrete construction, although other power plants built by Burns & McDonnell up to that time had utilized structural steel.
On June 2, 1960, the city of Austin posthumously dedicated "Power Plant No. 2" to Walter E. Seaholm (1897-1956), who served the city of Austin for 35 years, including stints as City Manager and Director of Utilities. Seaholm Power Plant remained an active part of the city's power generation system until 1989.