Historic building could be renamed after freed slave Rev. Jacob Fontaine
At their most recent meeting, Planning commissioners were briefed on a proposed name change of a historic building at 2402 San Gabriel St. near the University of Texas. The building was most recently known as home to Freedmen’s barbecue restaurant, but the building has served many purposes since it was built in 1870.
The Historic Landmark Commission hopes to rename the building as the Jacob Fontaine Gold Dollar Building, after freed slave Rev. Jacob Fontaine.
“This was where he published the Gold Dollar, which was the first-ever African-American newspaper in Austin – and perhaps the entire state of Texas,” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said.
According to Sadowsky, Fontaine was a slave of Rev. Edward Fontaine, who was the personal secretary to the second president of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar. After emancipation in 1865, Jacob Fontaine founded the first African-American Baptist church in Austin along with two others, all of which are still active today.
Jacob Fontaine moved into the house on San Gabriel Street in 1875, and he lived and worked in the house from 1875 until his death in 1898.
The building is currently known as the Franzetti building, after an Italian family that ran a grocery store there.
In 1977 the city landmarked the site as part of the historic Wheatville community. Though the site is zoned historic, the Historic Landmark Commission still feels that the African-American heritage of the site has been underappreciated.
“It’s time we rectify that,” said Sadowsky.
The buildings surrounding the West Campus house have been recently demolished to build new student housing, and Freedmen’s barbecue has permanently closed. But according to Sadowsky the house will be undergoing renovations, including restoring the second-story porch to its original appearance.
The name change was recommended for approval by the Historic Landmark Commission last month, and it will go before City Council on Nov. 1. The Planning Commission had no action to take on the matter at its Oct. 23 meeting, but it’s possible it will see the house again if a change to the historic zoning is requested because of the upcoming surrounding development.
Photo from Google Maps.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.