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Panel considers a maybe-historic home in Old West Austin

Friday, March 17, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

In a somewhat unusual turn of events, the Historic Landmark Commission did not seem convinced that a 1939 home in the Old West Austin Historic District is all that historic, but it is open to hearing more about the house, following a postponement at its most recent meeting.

The house, which is located at 1409 Westover Road, is now slated for demolition, but Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky argued that it could be a candidate for historic landmarking, despite its humble appearance.

“It’s a surprisingly modest house, given the history of the people who occupied the house,” he said.

The home’s first occupants were James and Jo Marie Knight. James Knight was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and served as the director of the Extension Teaching and Field Service Bureau of the Division of Education. In addition, said Sadowsky, James Knight was “a very close confidant” of President Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson. “In fact,” he said, “his name is featured in many of the books and articles written about Johnson’s presidency and was head of their radio empire here in Austin.”

Sadowsky told the commission that the home had historic significance due to its history and was recommending either initiating historic zoning or postponing the case to explore alternatives to demolition.

Daniel Soteldo, who owns the home, moved back to Texas three years ago. He told the commission that he was looking to build a new house but hoped to incorporate “some of the historic attributes of the neighborhood.”

“We do love living here in Austin. We have made it our home. We plan to be here for a very long time,” said Soteldo, who added that he was interested in learning more about the home. “We are present, and we are obviously interested in the process here.”

That process is now underway. Now that the case has been postponed, city staff will further research the history of the home to see whether it merits historic landmarking. If it does, the zoning change that will prevent its demolition and preserve the house as a landmark will ultimately have to be approved by City Council.

The case will return to the commission at its March 27 meeting, and commissioners have requested more information about the builder and architect of the home. Commissioner Terri Myers said she was also interested in learning more about the house.

“On the surface of it, I don’t see that it rises to the level of landmark status,” said Myers. “But I want to allow staff to investigate this further.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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