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Landmark Commission approves demo permit for Paramount Avenue home

Thursday, March 28, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission will allow a structure at 1912 Paramount Avenue in South Austin to be demolished despite a great deal of confusion surrounding its history.


The home, which is thought to have been built sometime in the 1950s, has an unclear history. In his presentation to the commission, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky conflated the Paramount Avenue house with a nearby Rabb Road residence that once shared the address, leading to concern from both homeowners.


The commission voted 4-3 to approve release of the demolition permit, with Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioners John Rosato and Terri Myers voting against.


Billy Kuykendall, who is the son of the long-time homeowners, explained that the “cistern house” referenced by staff had nothing to do with the property he hoped to demolish. That house, which was built around an old ranch cistern, is up the street from his property. After the presentation which confused the two, commissioners wondered aloud about the archeological value of the site, and whether that might help qualify the property for historic landmark designation.


“There is no cistern on this property. There’s no well. There’s a couple of buried pets – that’s the only thing archeological to dig up,” said Kuykendall.


Kuykendall said that his parents purchased the house in the 1960s, with an intent to tear it down. But following his father’s heart attack soon after, they decided to just live with the house as is. Kuykendall explained that his parents were laid back about the high-maintenance property, but he “hated” the house. He explained that he was left responsible for cleaning up the aftermath of a dozen or so floods that subsequently overwhelmed the structure.


Though they have tried to engineer around the floods, none of the attempted solutions have worked. 


“You cannot keep water out of this house,” said Kuykendall.


“It is a doomed house. It was a homemade house, and it was ill-conceived from the day it was put up,” said Kuykendall. “I think that other than it being quirky, it has no real value as a historic property.”


It seemed that most of the “historic value” of the house was mis-attributed by a change in addresses over time. Vicki Totten lives in the actual “cistern house” which was once 1912 Paramount Avenue. She told the commission that some of the research done referenced her house, which does have a 24-foot round, solid stone cistern for a kitchen and dining room.


“My concern is in how some of the research is written. It sounds like they are going to approve a demolition permit for our home,” said Totten. “I would like to not have it demolished.”


Despite the eventual distinction between the two properties, some members of the board felt that the site might still hold some archeological historic value to the house, which is located on what was once the Wright Farm.


“I think what we have in our packet is historic information, gathered by staff, on the wrong house,” said Myers. “I don’t think we should just let this house go without getting some of these questions answered.”


Sadowsky reminded the commission that the city had no resources to do any archeological investigation.


Commissioner Leslie Wolfenden Guidry said that she assumed staff would iron out the problems in the compilation of the documentation package, and bring back any “miraculous” findings, if necessary.

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