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Fighting demolitions, Ebony Acres residents hope city will recognize their history

Friday, January 13, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Spurred by a rash of proposed demolitions, several East Austin citizens are hoping to move forward with a historic district for their neighborhood later this month.

Late last year, potential demolitions on Grant Street, E M Franklin Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue caught the attention of Ebony Acres residents. The demolitions were proposed by a single applicant, MX3 Homes, which had 11 demolitions in the neighborhood on the November agenda of the Historic Landmark Commission.

During the December meeting of the commission, nine of those demolitions were approved.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the Austin Monitor that MX3 Homes has since decided to withdraw the three demolitions that are within Ebony Acres, which is the subdivision that some neighbors are hoping will become a local historic district.

Ebony Acres: The area marked in grey is the proposed historic district.

Ebony Acres: The area marked in gray is the proposed historic district.

Ebony Acres is located just south of East 12th Street and east of Airport Boulevard. The district would be a small one at just 12 houses, with nine owners. Of that population, eight (or 89 percent) have signed a petition in support of the zoning, and 11 of the homes would qualify as contributing structures to the district.

Those hoping to preserve the neighborhood explain that when it was settled in the 1950s, it was a place “of survival and resurrection,” where land that was once literally a dump was transformed into a community for African-Americans forced east.

According to the application for historic zoning, “This is a place where the African American Community got refuge, when their houses were torn down in (the) east side, and that is why (it) is called Ebony Acres. … The houses individually may not be architectural wonders but based on the fact they were built on a terrain with (a) 45-degree slope and on the top of a dump together they created a pocket of efficiency where (the) city did not have to do any (capital improvement) projects in 60 years.”

In addition to its unique history, supporters have backed their case for preservation based on the history of its residents and landscape features. The Historic Landmark Commission is scheduled to review the potential historic district at the its next meeting, which will take place on Jan. 23.

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