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Clarksville demolition forestalled for now

Friday, July 1, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Yet another Clarksville home is up for demolition. And, once again, the neighborhood isn’t willing to let it go without a fight.

This time, developers hope to scrap the modest home at 1926 West 10th St. to make way for a new home. But a majority of those on the Historic Landmark Commission hope that another month might lead to a compromise that would preserve the house.

Commissioner Blake Tollett urged the developers to work in earnest with neighbors.

“Once these things are gone, they are gone forever,” said Tollett. “With a good heart, go into this, and see if there is something that can be done.”

The Clarksville Historic District preserves the freedomtown founded by freedman Charles Clark in 1871. It was established in 1976, in recognition that the area is the oldest post-Civil War settlement founded by former slaves.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that the house at 1926 West 10th St. has been in the Bouldin family for the past 115 years. He recommended postponing the case in order to figure out exactly where Daniel Bouldin, who built the home in 1910, fits into his locally famous family tree as a prominent member of the African-American community in Clarksville.

In addition, Sadowsky noted that the home has architectural significance for the neighborhood and contributes to the historic district. Even without the additional research, Sadowsky said, he would be recommending historic zoning for the home.

“I know people will say, ‘Well, he bought this property. He’s entitled to do what he wants with it,” said Sadowsky. “I think people have a much greater responsibility to the community in general (than) to go into a neighborhood like Clarksville, of all places, and request demolition without fully evaluating every single alternative.”

Ed Stevens, who was representing applicant Kevin Brown, said he truly did appreciate the significance of the family but that the house was in “very terrible condition.”

“I just don’t feel the structure itself should be saved. The memory of the family and the significance of the family is the most important issue here, I think,” said Stevens. “If somehow we can honor that, I think that would be a good thing.”

That didn’t sit well with Kim O’Brien, who is a member of the Clarksville Community Development Corporation.

“To tear it down as some sort of memorial to the Bouldin family is really very, very sad,” she said.

Brown, who is seeking the demolition permit, told the commission he was unfamiliar with the concept of historic preservation. After looking up the definition, which he read aloud, he came to some conclusions.

“Just like in a junkyard, I think we all know we don’t crush a ’57 Chevy body. There are some we do, and this is not a ’65 Mustang,” said Brown.

“We want to sell a house that blends in with the neighborhood. … We don’t want to come in and build a contemporary structure that doesn’t fit. We want porches. We want the neighborhood to be happy, and we want the people who buy it to feel like they are part of the community.”

Clarksville Community Development Corporation President Mary Reed spoke against the demolition because the house is a contributing structure in the nationally registered historic district. She said that she understood why the current owner saw it as a teardown but reassured all present that personal experience informed her that the home could be rehabilitated. She also noted that the plans she had seen for the new home were “in no way appropriate for Clarksville” in terms of scale, mass, height, architecture and building materials.

Commissioner Arif Panju moved to release the demolition permit. Though he did allow that the Clarksville CDC was doing what it should be doing, he disagreed with the notion that the commission should be a part of attempts to coerce the property owner into retaining the home. He compared the coercion to Austin’s 1928 Master Plan, which forced minorities to move to the east side of Austin, and encouraged the neighborhood to continue with its efforts of persuasion, without influence from the city commission.

Tollett said he was offended by the comparison, as did Chair Mary Jo Galindo. She said she was charged with protecting historic resources and noted there was a “fundamental perspective” that she did not share with Panju.

“I’m not coercing anybody. I’m looking out for the resource,” said Galindo. “I would really encourage the owner to work with the community on this one. It’s bigger than just one house, and it’s bigger than just one neighborhood. Please consider that.”

Panju’s motion was not seconded. A move to initiate historic zoning failed in a vote of 5-2-1, with commissioners David Whitworth and Panju voting in opposition and Alexander Papavasiliou abstaining. Eventually, the commission voted 7-1 to postpone the case to July, with Panju voting in opposition. Commissioners Michelle Trevino and Tiffany Osburn were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin

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