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Landmark Commission OKs Crestview demo

Monday, November 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

At its most recent meeting, the Historic Landmark Commission was asked to consider 14 demolitions, which is on the low end of normal this year.

One of the few demolitions that didn’t pass on consent was the demolition of 1208 Stobaugh St. in Crestview. Commissioners voted unanimously to release that demolition permit, with Commissioners Terri Myers and Emily Reed absent.

For Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, the case spoke to a larger issue, and he delivered what he termed a “doomsday message” about the long-range impact that demolition after demolition is having on the city.

“This is not the city it was five years ago, never mind 20 years ago,” said Sadowsky. “I wish I could say everything was for the better, but it’s becoming unrecognizable. Unless we encourage people to think about alternatives to demolition, we are going to lose everything.”

Though the permit allows for demolition, Stephanie Wyatt with Casa Rio Builders said that the company has a contract to relocate the home to Del Valle. However, it has had trouble finding a home mover, so it pursued a demolition permit that “could be transferred to relocation” instead.

Sadowsky told the commissioners that the case presented a conundrum to him, because the long-term owner, Paul B. Williams, was the son of T.H. Williams, who had a ladies clothing store at Fifth Street and Congress Avenue for many years and “was one of Austin’s leading merchants.” Following his death, a younger son took over the business, however, and “Paul doesn’t seem to have had much involvement in the operation of the business until the late ’50s,” said Sadowsky, who noted that even Paul’s involvement appears to have been short-lived. Sadowsky also found that when Paul B. Williams passed away in 1987, there was a death notice rather than an obituary. “Death notices are for people who don’t pay for the full obituaries,” he noted.

“It’s weird to me,” said Sadowsky. “This is obviously someone from a very, very prominent family. … He’s living, at the time, out in the country in a very small house, much smaller, in comparison, than any of his siblings or his parents. So, it just makes you wonder: What was this guy really like? Truthfully, I don’t know what to make of this story.”

Though Sadowsky called the 1947 home a “lovely example of its type,” he opined that there was no reason to initiate historic zoning on it. He said that if the city were to preserve a vernacular, mass-produced house, it should be a “pristine example, one that really represents that style of the house, rather than just anything that’s threatened with demolition.”

Though Sadowsky couldn’t recommend landmark designation for the house, he took the opportunity to encourage people to look at using existing homes, both for environmental reasons as well as for preserving the character of the city.

“Stop throwing perfectly good houses in our landfills,” said Sadowsky. “We are just seeing an absolute frenzy of houses being torn down when people haven’t even considered whether they can use what they’ve got.”

Commissioner David Whitworth said he hoped the city would be able to “save the really good (houses).”

“We are going to lose a lot of houses as the city turns over. Part of it, I think, is because we have a flawed zoning and code within this city. All these years we’ve kind of had too large of a lot size. Now we have areas where the land is worth four times, five times the structure, or more. That’s a problem we aren’t really going to solve from here,” said Whitworth. “Let’s save the really important houses. This one is turning over as part of a bigger picture.”

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