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Commission says goodbye to would-be east side landmark

Monday, January 9, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Days after City Council adopted the East Austin Historic Resources study in December, the Historic Landmark Commission sent an east side home recommended for historic designation on its way to be demolished.

The city’s Historic Preservation Office supported historic zoning for the Cherico-Franzetti-Arriaga House, which is located at 1403 E. Sixth St. It was recommended as a historic landmark in the survey adopted by Council in December, and Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said that his own research confirmed that the house was special.

“Architecturally, staff believes that this house has great significance,” said Sadowsky. “But, really, the significance of this house is its ability to tell the story of East Austin in a way that no other building in the area can do.”

Because the historic zoning was initiated by the commission – which acted in response to a request for a demolition permit in October – and is opposed by owner Franklin Hall, it would require a supermajority of the commission (or eight votes) in order to move forward. That didn’t happen – commissioners voted 7-2-1 in favor of the rezoning, with commissioners Arif Panju and Alex Papavasiliou voting in opposition and David Whitworth abstaining. Commissioner Michelle Trevino was absent.

Though both Whitworth and Panju were appointed by former Council members Don Zimmerman and Sheri Gallo, the commission will not meet again until Jan. 23, which is past the deadline for a postponement.

Sadowsky explained that the house was built in the 1890s by Italian immigrants – the Cherico family – who set up a grocery business next to this house, where they lived. (That grocery was cleared for demolition by the commission two months ago.) In about 1921, they rented the house to the Franzettis, who took over the grocery and ran it before relocating to South Austin. The last renters, he said, were the Arriagas, who opened their grocery and bought the property in the 1940s, before opening El Jalisco on East Sixth Street.

Sadowsky said that he was sympathetic to the plight of Hall – who is looking for a demolition permit – but noted the condition of the house and the fact that it reflected settlement patterns in the city as a way to advocate for its preservation. The house, Sadowsky said, “represents an obvious landmark.”

John Nyfeler, an architect hired by Hall, questioned whether the home was as intact and unchanged as the code required and said that it had lost its architectural integrity due to alterations throughout the years. However, Commissioner Terri Myers disagreed, saying that things like replacing the wood-shingled roof was common and that other changes – such as the addition of gutters – were minor.

“This property is exceptionally intact. It retains its architectural and historic integrity to an outstanding degree, and it could be listed in the national register with no questions,” said Myers.

South Llano Strategies’ Glen Coleman spoke on behalf of Hall. He noted that the home was in the Plaza Saltillo transit-oriented development – an area that he explained was designated for high-density development and commerce, as it had traditionally been.

“It’s been an area for commerce; it’s been an area for grit; it’s been an area for grocery; it’s been an area for rail; it’s been an area for retail (and) for hard work,” said Coleman.

He explained that Hall was trying to sell the property to remain in East Austin and continue to operate his family business by developing the land. “I think this house tells a story, and I think the worst thing you could do would be to freeze that story in amber and encase it forever,” said Coleman.

Hall told the commission that his father had purchased the property in 1981 but that it was “time to move on.” Moving on in this case involves trading the property for land in Southeast Austin, where their business will be able to continue to grow.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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