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Commission stalls demolition permit in favor of relocating house

Thursday, December 5, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

A dramatic back story failed to earn an initiation of historic zoning at the Historic Landmark Commission last month, much to the relief of an East Austin couple hoping to sell off their property.


The commission voted 4-0 to release the demolition permit for 1110 Tillery Street and allow staff to work with the applicant to potentially relocate the house. Commissioners John Rosato, Mary Jo Galindo and Andrea Roberts were absent.


“I can see what moved the staff and what moved commissioners, as it is a distinctive and unusual property,” said Chair Laurie Limbacher. “If the circumstances were different, I know there would be enthusiastic support for a potential designation of some kind. But also it does appear that the research that staff has been able to do to date indicates that there are glimmers of significance through historical associations, but those have yet to be fully sussed out.”


The first known owner of the house was Joseph Breck. Breck worked as Vice President of the Austin Ice and Bottling Works and died at the age of 44 in his home. When he died in 1903, the Austin Daily Statesman reported he was killed while cleaning his gun.


“It does present a unique example of a house that was built in the country for somebody that was basically commuting into Austin every day, and then would return to his rural retreat at the end of the day,” said Historic Officer Steve Sadowsky. “Until one day, he went to clean his gun, and that was the end of his commute.”


Bobbie Arnold, who owns the house with her husband Allan, told the commission that they needed to demolish the house in order to retire. Though they have a current buyer lined up, he or she will not buy the property unless it is cleared. The Arnolds have operated a day care out of the house for years.


“(If) we are not able to sell this property, it means we will not be able to retire,” said Arnold. “I ask that you consider, seriously, allowing us to demolish this property. Because if we don’t, I don’t know what we’ll do for money.”


Though they released a demolition permit, staff will continue to work toward relocating the house. They currently have a couple of proposals for that relocation, though nothing has been finalized.


Robert Kleiman of H2i LLC spoke on behalf of the Arnolds, and explained that the house did not merit historic designation. He criticized the significance of former residents’ pallbearers who included Mayor A.P. Wooldridge, Henry E. Wattinger and Henry Wunderlich.


“There are two people who are noted in there. I am going to apologize… but it has to be said. Regarding Mayor Wooldridge, he has a mixed history in this city. He clearly was a significant mayor for the city, but he also has an unfortunate side, and that deals with his racist attitudes,” said Kleiman, who noted that Wooldridge is known for organizing a Ku Klux Klan march on Congress Avenue.


“We don’t think that a person whose history has that blight on it should be in any way connected to this house or the owners,” said Kleiman.


Terri Myers disagreed with the assertion the house lacked historic significance.


“I know representatives of the applicants have said this is not of historic importance, but the building itself is really something fairly rare, and I hate to see it go away. I just wonder if it can be advertised or something as a historic building that needs to be relocated,” said Myers.

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