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Commission OKs historic zoning for homes

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Bucking the trend of requests for demolition permits in East Austin, two property owners requested historic zoning for their homes last week, winning an enthusiastic endorsement from the Historic Landmark Commission.

The commission voted to approve historic zoning for the Callpart-Bannerman-Castro House at 1207 East Eighth Street and the Majors-Butler-Thomas House at 1119 East 11th Street.

In addition to their similar locations, the houses also are involved with what Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky termed “intrafamily murders.”

The Queen Anne-style Callpart-Bannerman-Castro House was built in 1897, by Emile E. Clappart. In 1906, Clappart’s brother Charles shot and killed his sister’s husband, Ernest Bannerman, in Houston.

Sadowsky praised the recent restoration of the house by its current owner, Sharon Wang McKinney. The house was decaying and in disrepair until the restoration, which Sadowsky called masterful. He explained that the house represented a “wave of middle class building” in East Austin, during a time that the neighborhood was primarily Anglo-American. Later, in the 1930s the house was at the heart of what became a Mexican-American community, becoming a family home of Mexican-American immigrants for more than 50 years.

“This was a labor of love,” said McKinney, who explained the house was covered with graffiti when her family purchased it, and after a year and half of restoration, a lot of money and “digging through so many architectural salvage yards I can’t even see straight,” they completed the restoration. She said the preservation had already had an impact on her daughter, who has learned about the history of the house and shared it with her friends.

“It was an amazing transformation that we lived through,” said McKinney. “We just got to understand the Texas history so much more … At that time, East Austin was changing so much. And right now, as you know what East Austin is like, there is so much transition going on.”

In contrast, the Majors-Butler-Thomas house has been in the family since 1945. Since they took ownership, the Thomas family has used the house as an educational and cultural base for East Austin’s African-American community.

“Here is a family that wants to save their house,” said Sadowsky.

Sadowsky noted the significance of the house, which is one of the last left undeveloped on that section of East 11th street. The house has CS (Commercial Services) zoning that would allow liquor sales, making it a valuable parcel for redevelopment. That will be off the table with historic zoning.

George Thomas, who is one of nine Thomas children, explained the history of his family in the house. His father was an entrepreneur and carpenter, and eventually became one of the first African-Americans to thrive in the carpet businesses. His wife, Eva, was a teacher and college graduate. All nine of her children attended college, and four went on to earn masters degrees.

A written report from the family explains that, at “a time when the image of Eleventh Street was economically challenged and many engaged in unlawful acts, the family remained influential in the African-American community and forged through many barriers. Our hope is that others will understand the cultural and educational experiences of a prominent black family in Austin.”

Robert H. and Alberta Majors built the house in 1905. Sadowsky explained that it is a great example of classical revival style architecture with Queen Anne details. The murder associated with this house took place in 1915, when a relative of Alberta Majors (perhaps her father) shot her husband, Robert Majors, to death.

The commission voted 5-0 to approve historic zoning for the homes. Commissioners John Rosato and Dan Leary were absent.

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