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Last-minute info can’t save West Austin home

Thursday, September 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans to demolish a house in West Austin divided neighbors at the most recent Historic Landmark Commission meeting, but it did not split the commission, which voted unanimously to approve the demolition.

The new owners of the house at 4604 Ridge Oak Drive were seeking a demolition permit for the 1949 house. Staff recommended the demolition permit be allowed to move forward, and asked that the owners complete a documentation package. Though staff was unable to determine who had been the architect of the house, a neighbor provided that information at the hearing.

Bill Gaston, who lives two doors down from the house, said it was one of the more attractive homes on the street and told commissioners he was disappointed to see plans to replace the house with a modern home. Still, he spoke in support of the demolition, which he understood was intended to make way for a lower-maintenance home suitable for a couple in their 60s.

“They decided the best they could do was to bulldoze it and build a new home … I was dismayed to see the plans for this proposed new home, and that it is going to be a modern home, rather than a traditional home,” said Gaston. “However, I feel like the owner of this home has a right to do what he wishes to do with the property, realizing that all up and down our street there have been other homes bulldozed and new homes built.”

Heather McKinney of McKinney York Architects spoke on behalf of the homeowners. She said they planned to build a “low-scale” home that would be similar in size to the current home. McKinney argued that the most significant aspect of the property were the trees on the lot, which would remain.

“I don’t think there is any architectural legacy to the house that is there now, in terms of the architecture, or the architect that designed it,” said McKinney.

Barbara Alford, who lives across the street from the house, said that in her opinion, it was “the neatest house on the whole street.” She said she had tried to buy the house but couldn’t afford it. Alford provided the name of the architect: Howard R. Barr, who was part of the Brooks and Barr and Brooks, Barr, Graeber & White architectural firm and helped design the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, among other buildings.

Alford said the house had been recently remodeled, and doubted it was currently in a poor state of repair.

“It’s hard for me to believe that these people that have houses in Massachusetts and Houston can’t afford to redo the plumbing and take care of whatever insect damage there is,” said Alford. “I would much rather see this house back on the market for somebody who is willing to do whatever maintenance is called for, because it is such an exceptional house, and such a charming house on our street.”

“I would very much be sad to see this house go,” said Alford.

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