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Landmark Commission backs historic zoning for East Austin church

Thursday, January 31, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Historic Landmark Commission unanimously backed historic zoning in a move even its harshest critics would have trouble criticizing.


Members of the St. Paul Primitive Baptist Church, at 2209 East 14th Street, came to the city looking for the zoning change in an attempt to preserve the church’s history. As a church, the property is already tax exempt, so the zoning would only have preservation benefit for the site, which is located just off of Chestnut Street, south of Martin Luther King Junior Avenue.


The Historic Landmark Commission voted 5-0 to approve the zoning, with Commissioners John Rosato and Andrea Roberts absent.


Chair Laurie Limbacher enthusiastically backed the historic zoning.


“It’s often the case that we are called upon to designate buildings that are really high-style buildings (that are) representative of well-established architectural fineness,” said Limbacher. “I much prefer a vernacular building such as this – a building that has a long history and reflects the dedication and devotion of all the people that come together in this building.”


“We’re very pleased to have this application before us tonight,” said Limbacher.


Though they shied away from speaking at the commission, Mary Carroll and Estelle Brown spoke with In Fact Daily after the hearing. They explained their reasons for spearheading the effort. Brown has been attending the church for about seven years, and Carroll for more than forty. They hope the switch to historic zoning will help preserve the church’s history. Carroll said that in trying to put together an application, she had a considerable amount of trouble – finding a little information here, a little there, with different people picking up the effort along the way. So far, the process has taken them two or three years.


“I hope it will bring more people into the church, and let everybody know where we came from,” said Carroll. “We’ll have a history, so that if anybody else comes and wants to know where we come from – we’ll have that on file.”


The church building was constructed in 1940 by the African-American congregation of David Chapel Baptist Church. In 1959, that church relocated up the street to a new building on Chestnut Street and Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. At that time, the St. Paul Primitive Baptist Church moved in – -and remains there to this day. The history of both congregations in Travis County dates back to the 1920s.


The city’s Historic Preservation Officer, Steve Sadowsky, told the commission that the church was a wonderful example of African-American vernacular design.


“It gives me great pleasure to bring this forward, because it’s the first time in quite a while that we’ve been able to sponsor a project on behalf of the city in celebration of Black History Month,” said Sadowsky.


He explained that two years have passed since the last church was designated by the city was Mount Calvary Baptist Church.


“We’ve had a history of landmarking and recognizing significant African-American churches in the city, especially in February,” said Sadowsky.


“I’m really happy that this is before our commission,” said Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo. “I hope that this is the first of many such projects.”


Though City Council has the final say on historic zoning, Carroll and Brown were happy that the application was finally on its way through the city, and were touched by the kind words from the commission.


“Thank God we were successful this time,” said Carroll.

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