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Council OKs landmark status for Red River house

Monday, December 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Those worried that one of Austin’s most beloved houses was destined for demolition could rest easy over the weekend.

Despite the owner’s objections, the Austin City Council voted last week to make the Red River International House a historic landmark. Council voted 6-1 to preserve the house, with only Council Member Mike Martinez voting in opposition to the change.

“I certainly think the house is worth saving, and I certainly support trying to do that wherever we can,” said Martinez. “I just feel like when we have a property owner who is opposed to it, we are imposing a six-figure — and as high as half a million dollar — financial imposition on a family that I think rises to a greater level of concern for me.”

The owner, 90-year-old Gwen Shive, objected to the historic landmark designation of her home at 3805 Red River St. Her daughter, Karen Browning, has explained that though they have no immediate plans to demolish the house, they eventually planned to build something on the lot that used the land better and was farther away from the busy intersection. She also said that repairs to bring the house back into code were costly, and more than her family was willing to spend on a structure for which they had little affection.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky presented cost estimates for repair of the house that ranged from $287,000 to $540,000. Shive has said repairs would cost $476,685. The appraised value of the house and land is $438,560.

Martinez questioned why the city was not working to raise funds and buy the house for preservation, given the fact that Council was so convinced that the house needed to be saved.

“I just think there has to be something done differently moving forward because we are going to see these cases where individual property owners don’t want this imposed upon them,” said Martinez. “If it is that much of a value to us, then I want to see us, in the budget process, create a program.”

Sadowsky called the house “exceptional” and advocated for its historic designation. Previously, he explained that the red and white house — known as the “Boat House” to many Austinites — is one of the city’s best examples of the International Style. Before Shive requested permission to demolish her home, Sadowsky had cited it in presentations about the architecture of the city.

Council Member Chris Riley said he agreed that the city should be cautious about zoning a home historic over the homeowner’s objection, especially given the high cost of restoration. He said that he understood the position Shive was in, and understood that the house was still standing because she had committed to saving it from commercial development in the 1960s.

The owner and her representatives have expressed concern that selling the home could result in its commercialization.

“They are clearly very committed to protecting the neighborhood,” said Riley. “But I am also convinced that there is real value to the house and that there are those out there who would be willing to invest the funds necessary to restore it to an appropriate condition, so that it could remain a house.”

“The house really is extraordinary,” said Riley.



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