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Commission hopes to save dilapidated Rainey Street home

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The Historic Landmark Commission put off a decision on 83 Rainey Street for an additional 30 days in order to see what, if anything, could be salvaged from the sagging Victorian cottage, built in 1893.

At the heart of the case is the conflict between Rainey’s recent rezoning, to become part of the Central Business District, and its existing status as a National Register District.

Commissioner Joe Arriaga, a retired city building code inspector, asked planner Susan Villarreal for an update on the status of Rainey Street. As of right now, three houses have been moved from 70, 72, and 74 Rainey Street. One of the earliest homes on the street, 90 Rainey, was torn down due to its poor condition, and 83 Rainey does not look much better.

The cottage at 83 Rainey Street, built in 1893, was the home of some of the city’s earliest Teamsters. Small in size, it has a wing and gable porch on the front and a rear shed addition and carport on the back. Iron security bars clearly have done damage to the windows, and the porch is being held up with 2-foot by 6-foot planks in an attempt to prevent even further sag.

Despite the damage, commissioners were loath to part with the building and have encouraged its relocation over its demolition.

“This is a National Register Historic District,” Terri Myers said. “I would like to note when the applicants offer new construction, it doesn’t enhance a historic district… It just contributes to its demise.”

Attorney Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, representing the house’s most recent owner, cited the report of a structural engineer that found extensive water damage, rotting wood and water spots. In some areas of the house, the flooring has rotted completed through to the foundation. In most rooms, the floors are soft and sagging, a sign that that framing elements of the house had been compromised severely.

Icenhauer-Ramirez said restoring the home would require removing and replacing the framing; demolishing and reconstructing walls; and replacing most of the finishes on the interior and exterior. A sag of one inch is acceptable in a home. In the case of this house, some areas sag 10 inches.

“Very little of the original structure would remain intact in trying to make this structure sound,” Icenhauer-Ramirez said. “Most of it would have to be removed and replaced, demolished, in order to make this safe.”

Arriaga agreed the house was in “horrendous shape” – one of the worst the commission had seen in recent months, but Villarreal still wanted a bit more time on the case, if only to study the Rainey Street historic district application and possibly come to some conclusion as to how the elements of the house might be reused in a potential new structure.

At one time, some spoke of Rainey Street having tall skyscrapers. Right now, though, the current trend is one-story cafes and bars. At least two lots on Rainey Street, including 90 Rainey Street, are being proposed for pedestrian-oriented bars. This location at 83 Rainey Street, if reconfigured, would be the third bar on the street, although Icenhauer-Ramirez promised it would be in scale with the street.

Almost a decade ago, developers Robert Knight and Perry Lorenz proposed buying up much of the property in the area and developing a new location for high-density downtown housing that also would include street-level commercial uses.

Today, most of the lots along Rainey Street still are in the hands of individual owners, Villarreal said. And CBD zoning has yet to pique substantial interest.

The case of 83 Rainey Street will return to the Historic Landmark Commission next month.

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