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Historic Landmarks Commission votes

Tuesday, September 26, 2000 by

To allow Tips Warehouse demolition

Commissioners want to get in on process earlier

The Historic Landmark Commission voted 4-3 Monday night to allow AMLI Residential and Bonner Carrington to demolish the 1927 Tips Warehouse at 200 W. 2nd Street. Commissioner Dan Leary made a motion to allow demolition so that developers can construct the cornerstone of a downtown retail district across the street from the new City Hall.

Joining Leary on the vote were Commissioners Teresa Rabago, Patti Hall and Laurie Limbacher. Voting against demolition were Commission Chair Lauretta Dowd and Commissioners Lisa Laky and Teresa O’Connell. Commissioners Jim Fowler and Julia Bunton were absent. Two other commissioners have resigned.

Last month, the commission postponed a hearing on the demolition permit.(See In Fact Daily, Aug. 29, 2000) This month, AMLI and Bonner Carrington brought two architects, drawings and an apology for failing to figure the Historic Landmark Commission into their planning. Stuart Shaw of Bonner Carrington explained that his company had tried to find an adaptive re-use for the building, even trying to give the warehouse away. He said, “We didn’t know. We were never asked to go before the Historic Landmark Commission,” even though city staff directed the developer to go before the Downtown Commission and the Design Commission—which both approved the new mixed-use building and its underground parking plan.

Charlie Betts, executive directive of the Downtown Austin Alliance, asked the commission not to “further delay a quality project that will contribute much to the quality of our downtown.” Betts said, “It (the project) is consistent with everything we want our downtown to be.”

Sinclair Black, the principal architect on the project, told the commission that recovered tile and brick would be used as accents in the new building. He also said a warehouse scale and signs from the Tips building would be on display. Developers have hired a historian to document the building to what are known as HABS Level I.

O’Connell was particularly upset that city staff and officials had been working with Bonner Carrington for so long without contacting the commission. She was told that the new building scored very high marks on the Smart Growth grid and wondered why—since historic preservation is a factor in Smart Growth. Barbara Stocklin, the city’s historic preservation officer explained that no deduction is made for failure to preserve a historic building.

“It’s just a head-banging experience and I’m tired of this. I don’t understand how this happened. It is probably the last intact warehouse downtown,” O’Connell said. She then said she would like to make sure that the panel has “a greater interface with other commissions.”

Limbacher said she agreed that the situation should not occur again. For this building, however, “It really is too late. I really feel strongly that something needs to be changed.”

When Leary made his motion, he said, “If this building were capable of being cycled into a new project, these people (architects and developers) would’ve done it.”

Laky said, “I’m weary of this conflict.” But she said the job of the commission is “to protect historic resources…regardless of how unadaptable the current structure is.” She noted that none of the speakers said the building lacked historic value. She said one reason for keeping and reusing historic buildings, “is so we don’t turn into a city that looks like every other city.”

Historic Dickinson-Hannig house

Looking for temporary home

Developer plans to rebuild home inside Hilton lobby

The historic home of a survivor of the Alamo was within a month of being demolished by the wrecking balls to make way for the new Hilton Convention Center Hotel. But a chance remembrance of its location by a local member of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission saved the structure, which will now be preserved in the lobby of the hotel.

Susanna Dickinson, who survived the battle of the Alamo with her young daughter and was released by Mexican soldiers, occupied the home with the man she later married, Joseph W. Hannig. Hannig built their home in 1869 at the site, now 505 E. 5th St. However, years of different uses and additions resulted in the home being used as the Pit Barbecue for last couple of decades, and much of it was literally hidden behind the modern restaurant's walls. Hannig, a furniture and cabinetmaker, also carried historical importance as an early-Austin merchant and city alderman. Thus, the house is known as the Dickinson-Hannig House.

Historic Landmark Commissioner Jim Fowler said the location of Dickinson's home was a well-known rumor and that when he heard about the hotel construction in June, he notified Barbara Stocklin, the city's historic preservation officer. “I said, 'Let's investigate this and see what we have.'" The commission then initiated historic zoning to stave off demolition.

Once Stocklin and other historians confirmed that the Pit's structure undoubtedly included the Dickinson-Hannig House, commission members lobbied for the structure to be moved and preserved. However, city officials and the Hilton developer, the Landmark Organization, Inc., believed that any construction delays would seriously impact the project's financing and possibly kill the deal. The plans call for an 800-room hotel with 700 underground parking spaces. City officials felt the Hilton project could not be jeopardized, since it was important to provide much-needed lodging in conjunction with the Convention Center expansion.

On June 29, several City Council Members also questioned others who knew about the home's location after Juan Cotera, the lead architect for the project, said he was aware of the structure. Cotera, of Cotera Kolar & Negrete, said the developer could save pieces of the home for a display in the hotel. However, Fowler and others urged the Council to preserve the entire house.

Ultimately, the parties agreed to create a special Dickinson House Committee, which would explore the feasibility of a unique compromise–taking down the historic house and rebuilding it inside the lobby of the new Hilton.

The committee–made up of preservation officials, consultants and the development team–quickly began plans for a selective demolition to try and separate sections of more recent construction from the original house. On July 10, the Historic Landmark Commission stopped the historic zoning process, partly because of the committee's work and partly because city code does not allow for historic zoning of "buildings inside of buildings." It's likely the commission will give the building a special historical designation allowed by code for structures that aren't permanently attached. Officials at the Texas Historical Commission have noted that the home also is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

By early September, the Pit Barbecue sections had been removed; leaving the fragile remnant's of the Dickinson-Hannig House still standing. The committee toured the house and met three times to determine the best strategy for removing the structure, which will likely include the removal of three complete walls. Other walls too fragile to move intact will be pieced together later.

Ron Turner, senior superintendent for Landmark, told In Fact Daily he is anxious to find a place to temporarily re-locate the house, noting that empty downtown blocks are almost non-existent.

Committee members said adding new construction would be necessary to make the house whole. New materials would be subtlety different in texture or color to differentiate them from the original house. Tentative plans call for making the house a usable structure in the Hilton lobby, possibly a bar. The house had served as a saloon (the General S. Hamley and Julius Alexander saloons) from 1909-1918. Later it also housed a used auto parts store during 1932-33.

Archeological investigations are accompanying the demolition and move, but archeologists say that they haven't found any significant artifacts yet. The curious can see the structure on East 5th Street, standing alone amidst the rubble of the block.

Fowler said the city is now working on a process to prevent "last minute notices" of historic buildings in danger. "We don't have a good process in this city to let the Landmark Commission know what big projects are going on in the old town area," he said. "They think that everyone knows about (projects), but we didn't know about this one."

Fowler said it's likely that city planners and Development Review and Inspection Department workers would more closely review downtown area properties to ensure no historic buildings are impacted.

As for the Dickinson-Hannig house, it promises to tell visitors a remarkable story. In addition to surviving the Alamo, Dickinson faced a harsh life with five successive husbands–some abusive–as well as questions about her own reputation. She was rumored to have been a prostitute to earn a meager living for herself and her daughter, Angelina. She played an important role in later years by testifying about soldiers killed in the Alamo, when state boards granting compensation to family members of the dead began investigating claims. In her later years, she married Hannig, 20 years her junior, and became a respected and well-known member of the Austin community. Dickinson died in Austin in 1883.

Crestview-Wooten neighborhood

loses battle to keep light rail out

Other options for area too expensive

A campaign to keep light rail out of the Crestview-Wooten neighborhood all but died yesterday as the Capital Metro board openly admitted an alternate route along Highway 183 was unlikely.

With the light rail referendum only six weeks away, the Capital Metro board met in a special called session yesterday to raise the comfort level of voters by removing some alignment options for the rail line. It was with some apparent regret that board members all but rejected a proposal by the Crestview-Wooten neighborhood to put the light rail line along Highway 183 North to Lamar and then past the North Lamar Transit Center.

The board made no formal motion to pass on the option. All three alternatives for that segment of the light rail route– Highway 183 to Lamar Boulevard down to Airport Boulevard; down the freight rail line alongside the Crestview and Wooten neighborhoods; and down the freight rail line, but below street level–are still officially under consideration. But board members candidly admitted the freight line option at street level was the likely choice given Cap Metro's preliminary analysis.

"If an option isn't going to be realistic, let's not tell the neighborhood it might be," City Council Member Beverly Griffith told her colleagues at the Cap Metro board table. She said honesty and openness is important. City Council Member Daryl Slusher also expressed regret, but added he felt better after hearing consultant Jim Lammie's presentation on Monday regarding mitigation options for local neighborhoods.

Federal funding protocol requires the transit authority to continue its study of all alternatives. That study means the final route will not be decided until well after the light rail referendum in November. Board Chair Lee Walker said the Highway 183 option was not only more expensive–$165 million, compared to $62 million to use the railroad line–but also scored poorly on a number of criteria intended to choose alignment options.

Rob Smith, director of strategic planning and development for Capital Metro, made a presentation of the pros and cons on rail alignment options for the 21-mile starter line. A preliminary study suggested the Highway 183 route would yield fewer riders, take longer and displace low- and moderate-income housing by the North Lamar Transit Center.

Lowering the line along the edge of the Crestview-Wooten neighborhood would cost $180 million, according to Capital Metro estimates. In a round of discussion, one board member after another announced support for the railroad right-of-way option, most with regret.

The board also rejected a light rail route past Highland Mall. An analysis showed the route's return to Lamar Boulevard by Reilly Elementary School and across land owned by the Department of Public Safety was fraught with issues. A spur over to Highland Mall will ultimately be a part of the full 52-mile light rail line.

A number of options for the route past the University of Texas and the Central Business District still remain under discussion. The preferred routes past UT would use Guadalupe or Nueces, rather than a combination of the two streets. Board members appeared to lean toward Guadalupe because of its high pedestrian traffic and lack of parking for local merchants, but a rail route will mean significant re-routing of car traffic, board members agreed. Board members acknowledged the route could not go forward without the cooperation of city officials.

Cap Metro staffers are also grappling with the route through downtown, calculating the cost-benefit analysis of using a combination of Guadalupe, Lavaca, Congress, San Jacinto and possibly even Colorado as the route passes from Martin Luther King to Cesar Chavez. State staffers have expressed concern about the proximity of the rail line to the Governor's Mansion.

Griffith stressed the need to keep the three most important ridership audiences in mind: the University of Texas; the State Capitol; and the Central Business District. Smith said the rail line, regardless of route, would likely have a stop for UT at either 23rd or 24th Street. At least four stops are planned for the CBD between Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez.

During discussions, Slusher also emphasized there would be no bait and switch on the South Congress route. Rumors that the route through South Austin would be shuffled from South Congress to South First Street after the November were completely untrue, Slusher said. South First is too narrow and too complicated to carry rail traffic, Slusher said.

The Cap Metro board unanimously approved the staff's recommendation on the preferred alignment choices with no changes, although Board Member John Trevino asked staffers to consider extending the East Austin spur from Martin Luther King Boulevard up to Manor Road. County Commissioner Margaret Gomez was absent from the meeting.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fundraising resumes… Municipal Court Judge Karrie Key, who wants to move up to the 390th District Court, will have a fundraiser Wednesday from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Clay Pit, 1601 Guadalupe. Musical guest will be Susanna Sharpe. Key, a Democrat, is running against Republican Judge Julie Kocurek… Former Gov. Ann Richards is making it plain she’s supporting her friend Ann Kitchen for the House of Representatives District 48 seat being vacated by Sherri Greenberg. Richards’ picture is on the cover of an invitation to Kitchen’s fundraiser. The event will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Caswell House, 1404 West Avenue. Kitchen will face Jill Warren on the November ballot… More telecom for Austin… The City Council Committee for telecommunications infrastructure will meet Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Room 304 of City Hall. The committee will consider a recommendation to the Council on granting a license agreement to El Paso Global Networks Co. and renewal of a license agreement for AT&T for rights of way for long distance transmission.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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