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Landmark Commission endorses housing project for National Register

Thursday, January 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission has given its full blessing to an east-side housing project’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.


The nomination is for the Rosewood Courts, located at Chicon Street and Rosewood Avenue. The Texas Historic Commission will take up the issue at its Jan. 18 meeting.


Fred McGhee, who serves on the Board of Adjustment in addition to working in the preservation community, presented the application to the commission, who voted unanimously in its support. Chair Laurie Limbacher was absent, and Commissioner Leslie Wolfenden-Guidry recused herself due to a conflict-of-interest.


“I commend you on this. I’m really glad that this nomination is going forward,” said Commissioner Terri Myers.


The 1937 US Housing Act federally-mandated that the housing in southern states would be segregated, and Rosewood was the housing project constructed for African-Americans in the city. As a result, the housing authority requested funding for three public housing projects in the city.


“This property is of national significance, not just local significance,” said McGhee. “Austin, Texas was a small, regional town in those years. It’s really quite a remarkable achievement on the part of our newly elected Congressman Lyndon Johnson to secure this housing under this new federal law.”


“The construction of that housing utterly revolutionized real estate in Austin. Nothing like it had existed before. People at that time, during the Great Depression, were living in hovels and shacks,” said McGhee.


Giving a history on the property, McGhee explained that Rosewood Courts, built in 1938 or 1939, is one of the oldest housing projects in America.


“Austin, Texas is the location of the oldest public housing in America,” said McGhee. “The oldest three public housing authorities in the United States are in New York City, New Orleans and Austin.”


In his research, McGhee also discovered that Rosewood Courts was built on the site of the long-lost Emancipation Park, which was home to Austin’s first Juneteenth Celebration. He said that this alone would qualify the property as historic.


He also pointed out the importance of the housing, architecturally, as examples of the International Style that “should have been recognized a long time ago.”


Though the support of the Historic Landmark Commission was largely symbolic, the commission will have responsibilities if the application is approved. If the Rosewood Courts is designated a historic district, the Historic Landmark Commission will have the job of reviewing any proposed exterior changes to the buildings, as would be the case for any other historic district.

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