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Tarrytown home officially a ‘tear-down’ now

Monday, July 10, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Austin will say goodbye to another Fehr and Granger home after a short-handed Historic Landmark Commission failed to move forward with a recommendation for historic zoning at its most recent meeting.

Unlike most cases where the Historic Preservation Office weighs in on one side or the other, in this case staff was “neutral” about the plan due to “severe foundation issues” and the fact that the home did not meet the criteria for individual landmarking beyond the extraordinary architectural significance.

Arthur Fehr, of the architectural firm Fehr and Granger, designed the 1951 home at 2614 Delwood Place. Fehr and Granger was one of the preeminent firms specializing in International Style and midcentury modern design, and was responsible for a number of historic landmarks in town.

“Despite conversations between our office and the Realtor that this was not a tear-down, it still was advertised and purchased as a tear-down,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “I’ve been to the house and met with the property owners. They’re very sensitive to midcentury modern design. I think they truly feel that if there were a way to reasonably and feasibly preserve this house and improve the foundation … they would do it.”

Commissioner Terri Myers wasn’t neutral. She made a motion to move forward with historic zoning. Myers argued that the exceptional nature of the architectural significance overrode the need for the home to meet two of the five criteria for landmarking.

“It is an exceptional example of the International Style (and) midcentury modern in Austin,” she said. “It’s unique. I can’t think of any one like it anywhere near like this house.”

Sadowsky acknowledged that, in the past, the city had moved forward with historic zoning based on a structure meeting only one criterion, but said that was in cases where historic associations with people or events were strong enough to justify preservation, not just its architecture.

Myers pointed out that Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater would meet architectural criteria, not historic associations, and, under that system, the commission would have to turn down its landmarking.

“I think we’ve got a similar case here,” said Myers, “for our community.”

Owner David Weibel spoke against historic zoning. He said that the lot itself is unique and he plans to build in the footprint of the existing home to highlight the trees on the property. He explained that the home had been on the market for three years, starting in 2014, but the structural integrity and other problems had thwarted its sale.

“They didn’t actually do structural engineering on parts of the house,” he said. “They just laid concrete.”

A similar argument was made for demolition of another International Style house in 2014. However, the proposed demolition of Red River Street’s “Boat House” ended with City Council taking the unusual step of zoning the home historic over the homeowner’s wishes.

In this case, however, commissioners voted 6-2 to recommend historic zoning to Council, with Commissioners Kevin Koch and Alex Papavasiliou voting in opposition. Because it would have required a unanimous vote to move forward, due to the absence of commissioners Tiffany Osburn and Andrew Brown, that wasn’t enough for the initiation of historic zoning to pass, and demolition will move forward. There is currently one vacancy on the commission, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan’s appointment.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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