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Callan-Boswell saga finally over after Council rejects historic status

Monday, October 4, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The long, contentious debate over the status of the Callan-Boswell House on East 33rd Street ended last Thursday, with Council unanimously approving staff’s recommendation to not grant the house historic landmark status. The vote came as a relief to the property’s owners, Charles and Christine Boes, who had filed an application to demolish the house back in March, raising the ire of both neighbors and preservationists in the process.


On March 11, the Boes family filed a demolition permit with the city. On April 26, the Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to initiate the historic zoning process on the home, after which the owner filed a valid petition opposing the historic zoning designation. What followed was another trip to the Historic Landmark Commission, which again voted in favor of historic-designation status; three trips to the Planning Commission, which voted each time in favor of the owners and against historic status; and three trips to City Council, the most recent of which resulted in the denial of historic zoning and an end to the process.


According to Steve Sadowsky, the city’s chief historic preservation officer, staff’s recommendation to deny historic zoning for the Callan-Boswell House was based in large part on a lack of available information about it. Sadowsky said that the house was moved to its current location in 1945, and that it’s probably considerably older than that, but beyond that, not much information is available.


“It’s obviously an older house but we don’t know where it came from,” Sadowsky told Council. “It’s unclear whether the house that’s there right now was always there and simply moved forward (or) came from another site. We just don’t know. And for that reason, staff still cannot recommend the house for historic zoning. We need to have a full history of the house.”


The Grooms Addition Historic District Committee disagreed with Sadowsky’s assessment. In a letter written to the city, the group argued that the home merits historic designation based on three criteria: In terms of architectural significance, it is the “only extant example of board and batten house in (the) neighborhood”; it has historical associations with working class – and therefore “underrepresented” — types of people, “specifically John Boswell, a U.S. Army veteran of WWII, who worked at UT for nearly 30 years with Buildings and Grounds”; and it has community value for members of the North University Neighborhood Association (NUNA).


In his own letter to city staff, NUNA President Laurence Miller said that his group was taking no official position on the historic designation question, though it did officially oppose the owners’ request for a demolition permit.


Despite her enthusiasm for saving the Callan-Boswell House, Grooms Addition Historic District Committee Co-Chair Mary Ingle seemed resigned to losing the debate at Thursday’s hearing; she even held up a placard with the word “uncle” written on it to make light of her group’s situation. However, she said, she was heartened by the thought that all the research she and her colleagues had done on the house during the process wouldn’t go to waste. Instead, she said, it will be included on the UT Department of Architecture’s online historical database.


“That makes me happy,” Ingle told Council. “No one can remove, relocate, demolish that history … And the best part is no permit is required.”


Ingle also said she hoped the house would be relocated, which is what the Boes family has said they want as well. According to city documents, they have agreed to move the house once the city review is completed. “We’re very conservation-oriented. We want this structure to be used appropriately,” said Charles Boes. “We’ve said many times that we’re in favor of repurposing this structure.”


Boes went on to say that he and his wife are looking to “gift” the house now that the city permitting process is through and that several parties have already expressed interest.

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