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Hyde Park loses another historic home

Friday, November 3, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

At their most recent meeting, Historic Landmark Commissioners were dismayed to find a Hyde Park project that they had approved had taken a turn for the extreme.

“This a virtual demolition,” declared Commissioner Terri Myers.

The house at 4207 Ave. H was once a contributing structure in the Hyde Park Historic District. It will no longer be a contributing structure once the currently halted renovations are completed. The city has a stop-work order on the project, and there remains a possibility for fines.

Leland Decker, who is the architect on the project, said that in the midst of a “selective demolition” that was approved by the commission’s Certificate of Appropriateness Committee, the porch roof collapsed. After that, the contractors decided it was best to take the roof and porch down to prevent further damage. He attributed the removal of windows and siding to miscommunication. At the moment, little more than framing remains.

Decker said their goal now was to reconstruct the home maintaining the scale and character “that make Hyde Park a special place.”

“What you are talking about is a replica,” said Myers. “We have lost the historic house.”

Decker said the house was, in fact, lost to 20 years of deferred maintenance that left “no life” in the siding, and almost no life in the structural frame. “This house was ready to collapse long before a crowbar came and took any piece of it apart,” he said.

“A hundred years from now, someone will be standing before another commission talking about goals to keep this structure in place. If it had stayed in the condition it was in, there would have been catastrophic failure, probably within a few years’ time. It’s amazing the house has stood as long as it has.”

Myers said that taking down one wall of the home had been discussed by the Certificate of Appropriateness Committee but that members “had no earthly idea” that the plan was to take down the walls, roof, porch and windows. “This would not have been approved,” she said.

Decker apologized for the misunderstanding, showing drawings that illustrated the change in siding. None of the commissioners seemed to agree with his assertion that plans had been “misinterpreted” by the committee.

Commissioner Kevin Koch said that he understood how the house got to its current state, but it was “not at all” what the commission had expected to happen. He noted there was no mention of replacing windows, and new siding was never to go on the front of the home.

Myers added that once the full condition of the house was discovered, work should have been stopped to review plans with the city or committee again. She said she didn’t know whether the committee had been intentionally misled, but did not think the original plan was a “good faith” effort.

Decker said he always knew the siding would be replaced, and thought that was in the plans presented to the committee, though committee members clearly disagreed. He also explained that he had changed the plans after presenting them to the committee based on his understanding of their comments.

In the end, commissioners opted to extend the stop work order and voted unanimously to send the application back to the committee, for a review of the current state of affairs.

“It’s a shameful situation, sir,” said Chair Mary Jo Galindo.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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