Debate over East Austin homes may be over


by TINA SHIVELY / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @TinaS_KVUE

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 6:24 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 16 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The latest battle between the past and present is underway in East Austin. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas want to build a new museum, but before they can, the city has to give the green light.

For the last month, four homes on San Marcos Street have been the topic of the hot debate. The owner and the city both want to preserve part of Austin's history and following a meeting between both sides Tuesday afternoon, they may have found a solution.
John McCollum has rented his East Austin house for three years. It was built in 1904. Soon, it may have to be demolished -- a fact he's not too happy about.

"It's important to the future of Austin to keep what's old around as much as we could," McCollum said.

His home and the three next door may not seem like anything out of the ordinary as individual properties, but the city's historic preservation officer says together they tell a tale that started a century ago.

"They were built by Anglos. Anglos lived there for a little while. African-Americans, Mexican-Americans also lived there, so it really tells the story of the development of that section of Austin, and collectively as a group, they really tell an interesting chapter of our history," Steve Sadowsky said.
The Daughters of the Republic of Texas bought the homes last December. They want to build a museum complex next door to the French Legation where the Daughters are custodians.

Just last month, six years into their planning process, the Daughters filed their demolition permits. That's when the Historic Preservation Commission began looking into whether or not the homes should be considered "historic." They asked the Daughters to try to renovate or relocate the homes instead.

Nancy Shurtleff is chair of the Republic Village Project. She says to start from scratch with new construction rather than renovating the homes would be a more cost-effective option. Building one, big museum would be too costly, so they would like to build several smaller ones on the site. She estimates the Daughters could rebuild the sites with almost twice the square footage and a vault for $101 a square foot.

She estimates it would cost $161 a square foot to refurbish the current homes. That's because they would need to install museum-style lighting and reinforce the walls to hang art and artifacts.

So, moving the homes and building new ones would be a better option. 

"Now that we're getting down to the permitting, they discovered that they're not as put together as we thought they were. So now we want to tear them down or move them off. We'd be happy to do that," Shurtleff said.
Tuesday afternoon, a representative for the Daughters told the city they found a taker to move three of the four houses. The oldest one will likely be demolished.

Sadowsky says if it is properly documented by photos, he will approve the demolition and relocation.

McCollum says he's sad to see it go. "It's not just the history of the city. It's the history of the U.S.," he said.

The Daughters agree. Preserving history is a concept they are all too familiar with. While the group is pleased by this development, they know Sadowsky does not have the final say.

Austin's Landmark Commission will have to approve the Daughters' plan to move the homes just outside the city at their next meeting on July 22.