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Historic Commission recommends landmark status for Lopez home

Monday, November 21, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Last week, the Historic Landmark Commission voted to recommend landmark status for a house on East 9th Street despite damage the building sustained in a fire and a lingering mystery as to when it was originally built. 


As Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commission, “The house represents a phase in Austin history that has really gone by the wayside. It’s significant for its architecture, for its historical associations, and for its community value — for telling the story of the Mexican-American community in Austin.”


The Routon-Alvarez-Lopez House, a one-story Victorian located at 809 East 9th, is that increasingly rare case where staff recommends historic zoning. According to Sadowsky, after a fire severely damaged the enclosed porch in the rear of the property, the Code Compliance Department came to the Historic Preservation Office seeking a determination of historical significance. 


“The house suffered a major fire to the back, largely an addition to the house,” Sadowsky told the commission. “Code Enforcement was concerned for health and safety reasons and came to us. Staff recommended initiating a historic zoning case.”


The address first appears in the city directory in 1918, but, according to the staff report, “its architectural style indicates an earlier construction date.”


“Look at the house and it looks much older,” said Sadowsky. “The windows, the canted bays, the position of the porch all indicate a house that was probably built closer to 1900 than 1917.”


Commission Member Terri Myers echoed Sadowsky’s skepticism about the dates. “This does not look like a 1917 house, and I think there must be one of those address things in the city directory where it doesn’t show up,” Myers said. “It’s definitely closer to the turn of the century. Still, it is indeed a landmark.”


Sadowsky agreed, telling the commission that the house meets several city criteria for historic designation. On the design front, he said, it is an excellent example of a wind-and-gable vernacular Victorian.


As for historical associations, Sadowsky said, the home has deep roots in the history of the city’s Mexican-American community. The property’s second owners, Jose and Carlotta Alvarez, bought the house around 1928. The house was then purchased by Sabas and Helen Lopez in the mid-Fifties. Mr. Lopez operated Lopez Drug Store, the third, and longest-running, Mexican-owned drugstore in Austin. That’s a history, Sadowsky argued, that deserves to be preserved.


The commission voted unanimously in favor of supporting staff’s recommendation, 6-0, with Commission Member Dan Leary recusing himself.

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