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Crowd pleads with HLC to save Pine Street Station

Friday, October 31, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The possible demolition of East Austin’s Pine Street Station drew impassioned pleas to the Historic Landmark Commission this week.

On Monday night, a crowd of Austinites implored the commission to initiate historic zoning for the buildings located at 414 Waller St. and 1101 East Fifth St. Many spoke to the changing character of Austin and the importance of retaining the city’s creative class.

Commissioners responded by postponing the case until their next meeting. Though they held a vote about exploring historic zoning for the properties, the vote was 3-1, which was not enough for the motion to pass. Commissioner Leslie Wolfenden Guidry voted in opposition.

Guidry said she would be happy to support a historic designation if there were additional reasons found other than the work of the current tenant, glass worker and artist Reji Thomas. She agreed that Thomas’ work, which includes glass restoration at the Texas State Capitol Building, is important, but not historic.

“I do empathize with everything you said today,” said Guidry. “The reason I voted no is that Reji is not old enough. We look at things that are 50 years or older. So if you are looking at the 1980s, when Reji moved into the building and started the art scene, it’s 20 years too early.”

Commissioners heard nearly an hour of testimony asking for preservation of the buildings.

“It’s actually shocking that we are actually having to do this. For me, Pine Street is our Alamo,” said Katrina Simpson, who is an artist. “To see Pine Street disappear is a travesty to me. It is, in essence, going to San Antonio and ripping the Alamo down. I don’t know how to say that any clearer. Because when this is done, there is nowhere else.”

A visibly emotional Simpson said the African-American community and culture was disappearing from Austin, and that razing the buildings would help “shut down a community.”

“This is something that represents us,” said Oliver Steck, who identified himself as an entertainer. “Artists of all spectrums come to this place … It represents Austin, and what people came here for — so many people — and it’s now just being tossed because it doesn’t have monetary value.”

Thomas also asked for help keeping the buildings intact.

“I believe there is space and room for the new and the old, and I support Capital Metro, and the entire system, to come up with a plan to do that type of thing,” said Thomas.

A letter from Capital Metro Vice President of Real Estate and Asset Management John Hodges explains that Thomas had been delinquent on rent owed to the transportation authority since last spring, and that it proceeded with eviction in September. The letter states that possession was awarded to Capital Metro by a judge.

Thomas told the commission that she had been at Pine Street Station since 1979.

Hodges also states that the property had been reviewed for historical significance, with the determined that it “did not meet the requirements of a historical building.”

“(T)he Texas Historical Commission determined that Capital Metro’s proposed use of the property would have no effect on historical properties,” wrote Hodges. “As Capital Metro works toward redeveloping the area around Plaza Saltillo, we continue to be mindful of the impact to the neighborhood while looking forward to working with community members to develop the property in a manner that is respectful to East Austin and will serve the community for years to come.”

The Capital Metro board selected the Endeavor Group this summer to redevelop the former East Austin rail yard. Development plans include 800 housing units, parkland and a grocery store on the 10-acre tract that is owned by Capital Metro.

At their previous meeting, commissioners asked Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky for more information about the buildings. His research found that they were constructed in 1925 and had a number of uses over the years. Then, in the 1980s, the buildings became the center of what Sadowsky called the “birth of the arts scene in East Austin.” Since then, it has been home to artists, studios and live music. Over the past several years, the property has been the site of the Fader Fort during South by Southwest.

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