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Commission hears group’s plan for new Mount Bonnell monument

Monday, May 6, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Proponents of a plan to renovate Mount Bonnell Park finally got a chance to present their case at the Historic Landmark Commission last month, after years of stalled plans.


The West Point Society, who adopted the park as part of a city program, would like to install a new marker where the current one now stands, replacing the original limestone with granite, which they hope will better withstand the elements. As part of the plan, they have proposed restoration and relocation of the original 1938 monument.


The current marker has been badly broken for years. While some of the pieces have been in parks and recreation storage for several years, a central piece that recently fell off is missing. Despite this, the Parks and Recreation Department is hopeful that the original marker can be restored.


Assistant Director Kimberly McKnight explained that while the department had not been able to hire someone to restore the monument, assessments by several parties indicated “there is still feasibility that it could be restored.”


“That is a possibility that seems to remain,” said McKnight. “There’s been some additional deterioration in the last year, while we’ve been trying to determine what to do, and that additional deterioration may make restoration more difficult, but… we have not taken the step to hire somebody to come and perform a full feasibility assessment.”


With that mystery still on the table, the Historic Landmark Commission nonetheless opted to unanimously approve a certificate of appropriateness to “pursue restoration of the monument” in its current location. Commissioners Dan Leary and Leslie Wolfenden Guidry were absent.


Though the West Point Society remains committed to the commission of a more-permanent granite marker, they have attempted to compromise with those who hope to preserve the 1938 limestone marker.


Former Mayor Bruce Todd told the commission that he was very much in support of the proposal brought forward by the West Point group, and pointed to a recent offer of $15,000 for preservation of the marker as evidence of willingness to compromise.


However, the placement of the markers, whether restored or new, seems a compromise too far for either group. Though both sides may be at last reconciled with the idea of two markers, each wants their preferred monument in the same spot, which is a practical impossibility.


West Point Society of Central Texas Member Fred Bothwell told In Fact Daily that an appeal to the city’s Planning Commission was already underway.


“I think (the Planning Commission) might be responsive to the practical reality that the last estimate for restoration was $35,000, and there is no money appropriated for that. And it will be temporary, they will have to continue in perpetuity as long as this thing is exposed to the elements,” said Bothwell. “It’s a lose-lose proposition. At the same time they are going to lose the benefits of the $120,000 worth of improvements that we are trying to implement.”


“It will also discourage private funding of other projects, which is something, ostensibly, that the city was interested in doing,” said Bothwell.


Though the marker is, in theory, just a small part of a larger plan for Mount Bonnell Park, the Historic Landmark Commission was only asked to consider the monument last month. Any other proposed work at the park will come before the commission in a separate application.


The society has explained that seed money for the renovation project is dependent on the marker being replaced.


The initial pledge of $20,000 is from the Covert family, who donated the park, as commemorated on the marker in question. That gift is contingent on a more permanent marker being installed. That money, along with in-kind contributions and a grant from the Austin Parks Foundation, will pay for the project without using any city funds. The project is expected to cost about $150,000 overall.


Bothwell explained that the Covert family is “deeply upset that the monument was allowed to deteriorate, do not want the remnants and are eager to fund a more-permanent granite replica to be sited in a place of prominence.”

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