Landmark Commission backs historic status for Clarksville house
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
The house that once belong to a beloved Clarksville activist may be preserved against its owner’s wishes if the Historic Landmark Commission and the neighborhood have their way.
Commission members remained steadfast in their conviction that the Baylor house at 1607 West Tenth Street should have historic zoning, voting 5-0 to move forward with the change. Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioner Andrea Roberts were absent.
The commission previously opposed a request to move the house in another unanimous vote (See Austin Monitor, Feb. 4)
Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commission that staff had been unable to verify how long Mary Freeman Baylor had lived in the house through city records. He told the commission that, contrary to testimony by family and neighbors, it appears that the Baylors moved next door, to 1609 West 10th St. in 1964.
Daughters Cynthia and Linda Baylor both reiterated the fact that they did not move to the next-door house until the 1970s.
“I know where I lived. I know when I lived in 1607,” said Baylor. “I am very, very upset that people are not believing that we know where we lived and how long we lived at 1607 and 1609.”
Sadowsky said the city would be happy to sponsor a designation for the later residence of Baylor’s next door. He said that there would be “no question” that the city would support a historic designation on 1607 West Tenth, if the other house was not still standing.
That suggestion was rejected by the commission, which noted the house next door was unlikely to qualify as historic, based on architectural standards and historical integrity. An earlier survey by the city classified the next-door house as “low integrity,” and unlike the house in question is considered non-contributing to the Clarksville Historic District.
Commissioner Mary Jo Gallindo cautioned against discarding the oral history given by the family.
“As an anthropologist, and someone who does genealogies, when oral history and the evidentiary record don’t match, it’s usually oral history that’s right,” said Gallindo. “I don’t know how accurate Austin’s City Directory is, but I don’t think we should privilege it over oral history when we have such a great oral history record.”
The Historic Designation has the support of the Clarksville Community Development Corporation, a group that Baylor herself founded. Corporation President Mary Reed said they had a hard time believing the family didn’t know when they moved.
“I think that questioning the memories of Mary Baylor’s children about when they moved from 1607 to 1609 is a little bit insulting,” said Reed.
“I question why we should believe why the city’s records are more accurate than the memories of Mary’s children. Remember, we are talking about a city that cared so little about the people in Clarksville that it did not provide them with basic public services, like paved roads, street lights, sewers and sidewalks until the late ‘70s, and only then because they were under duress,” said Reed. “Why should we assume that the city maintained meticulous records of who lived when and where in Clarksville?”
Mary Freeman Baylor was a prominent Clarksville community organizer, and has been credited with spearheading an effort to save the neighborhood when MoPac’s construction threatened to raze it. Baylor Park is named in her honor, for the work that she did saving the neighborhood and bringing basic services that were late to reach to the historically African-American neighborhood.
Commissioner Leslie Wolfenden Guidry noted that because of divides in the city, 1607 West 10th Street served as a de facto City Hall for the community, and recognized that historical association as “huge.”
Sean Kubicek purchased the house last year, and hopes to remove the house in order to build a 2,000 square foot house that would better support an “urban lifestyle.” Kubicek, who is a real estate agent, previously told the commission that he didn’t demolish or remove houses unless it was necessary.
Kubicek was not present at Monday night’s meeting, but the proposed builder Andrew Milem spoke on his behalf. Milem, said that efforts to work with the neighborhood had been unsuccessful, and had started with an aesthetic issue with the neighborhood, who was not happy with the proposed design. He called the fight over historic zoning “a new angle.”
“This has been a cooperative approach, on our part. Unfortunately, the neighborhood has opposed us every step of the way,” said Milem. “Staff has been on our side every time. Unfortunately, the neighborhood has been very formidable.”
“There are plenty of houses along that row that would allow the Baylor’s to honor their mother,” said Milem, who noted the Baylor family owned many of the houses on the street, and had sold 1607 West Tenth to Kubicek a note that “the value of the property is in the land” and that it was “a great opportunity to build in the heart of Clarksville.”
Milem said that putting up a plaque to honor Mary Baylor wouldn’t be an issue, but asked the commission to not move forward with historic zoning.
In his presentation, Sadowsky said that if the commission saw fit to proceed with historic designation for the house, the city wouldn’t fight the effort, saying “this isn’t an open-and-shut case. It’s just a very difficult one.”
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