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Demolition ahead for Pressler Street bungalow

Friday, August 4, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

The West Line Historic District will be losing a Pressler Street bungalow to demolition. A bid for historic preservation against the wishes of the owner fell flat at the most recent meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission.

Commissioners voted 8-0 to allow the demolition of the 1930 home at 802 Pressler St., taking a moment to encourage a nascent effort to create a local historic district in the neighborhood. Commissioners Emily Hibbs and Terri Myers were absent.

“National register is nothing,” said Commissioner Kevin Koch. “We’re just advisory and it’s honorific. Without a local historic district all we can do is kind of create some friction.”

The home that is now slated for demolition is a contributing structure to the West Line Historic District, but city staff did not find it met the criteria for individual landmarking. That landmarking – which would zone the house as historic – would have been the only way for the commission to effectively thwart its demolition. Though staff did not feel it met the criteria for individual landmarking, the Historic Preservation Office did recommend that every effort be made to preserve the house – and strongly encouraged relocation over demolition.

The owner, Pablo Pedro Elizondo, submitted a petition objecting to historic zoning. His objection means that a supermajority of the commission would have to recommend historic zoning for it to move forward, or a unanimous vote of the eight members present at the July 24 meeting.

Neighbor Denise Younger spoke against the demolition of the house. She asked that the owners try to figure out a design solution that would incorporate the main house, building on the rear of the home, as many others in the historic district have already done.

Younger said she had begun researching the possibility of a local historic district in the area. A local historic district, which is a neighborhood-driven action ultimately approved by the city, allows the city to have more power over what homes are preserved and what is built in a neighborhood than they would otherwise have for homes that do not reach the relatively high bar of individual landmark status. Currently, Austin has four such districts.

In the meantime, Younger advocated for preservation of the Pressler home because of its architectural merit, community value and historic association, based on its representation of “the evolution of West Austin as it grew.”

“These were homesteads. Cows roamed Pressler Street at one point and you can still see the chicken coops. These were almost farms. As the city of Austin grew, and the West Line Trolley was coming out, houses started coming up in the area,” she said. “I think it is representative of a way of life.”

Koch said he appreciated all of the work that Younger had put into her bid for preservation, but he could not make the argument that the house alone “rises to the level of landmark.”

No one spoke on behalf of the owner or in favor of the demolition.

Because the West Line Historic District is a national register district, the Historic Landmark Commission will review the plans for new construction on the site prior to any permits being issued, though they can only make recommendations on what is ultimately built.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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