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City Historic Officer reports on survey of warehouse district

Monday, November 24, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky updated the Downtown Commission on his ongoing historic survey of downtown’s warehouse district, one of the proactive measures Sadowsky’s office has initiated in recent months.

 

The Historic Preservation Office often receives demolition permits on potentially historic buildings, ones where the owner frequently claims he was unaware of the historic nature of a structure. With so much interest in the smaller buildings around the warehouse district, Sadowsky is cutting those claims off at the pass.

 

Sadowksy’s main tool in this endeavor is shoe leather. He is spending his nights and weekends walking the area, which spans from West Avenue to East Avenue and Second to Fifth streets. At Wednesday’s Downtown Commission meeting, Sadowksy said it was his intention to complete as much research as possible on the 125 addresses in the area, both taking pictures of and documenting the various buildings.

 

Members of the Downtown Commission praised Sadowsky’s work. The city’s historic preservation officer – whom Commissioner Richard Halpin nicknamed “Officer Steve” – said the intention of his work was to educate developers and property owners. Sadowsky also might possibly create a walking tour, in order to raise awareness that will help promote downtown preservation.

 

So what has Sadowsky seen on his walks through downtown that surprised him?

 

“One of the things that has struck me is how many automobile-related businesses we see in that area, especially along Fifth Street,” Sadowsky said. “We see a lot of auto dealerships, auto repair shops, especially along Fifth Street, in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s.”

 

Many of the places where restaurants are now used to be auto repair space, indicating a rather untraditional path in the changing personality of downtown Austin and what purposes various buildings now serve.

 

Sadowsky intends to put his assessment on the Web. He told the commissioners he intended to know enough about the buildings to help a buyer or owner decide whether the site could or should be adaptively reused or, even, whether the façade could be adaptively incorporated into a future development.

 

Commissioner Mandy Dealey was skeptical.

 

“Preserving the façade of buildings is sort of like saying you’re saving tigers by making tiger skin rugs,” Dealey said.

 

The efforts Sadowsky is making to document downtown are some of the first recent proactive efforts of the historic preservation office. Sadowsky also recently completed an inventory of the buildings around the Saltillo transit-oriented development proposal. A number of the buildings, Sadowsky said, easily would qualify for landmark status.

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