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Faux Victorian windows prompt Historic Landmark Commission to reconsider historic zoning

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

After initiating a case for historic zoning for the home at 1903 New York Ave., investigations by the city’s Historic Preservation Office revealed at the June 24 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission that significant alterations in the 1980s compromised the integrity of the historic structure.

New windows, replaced siding and a remodeled porch, although constructed in a Victorian style to match the home, have modified the home to such a degree that Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky recommended against rezoning the house historic.

Last month, Sadowsky advocated for the historic zoning of this home. The property was also in the East Austin Historic Resources Survey, which identified it as a candidate for historic zoning.

Commissioners expressed their concern that few Victorian wing-and-gable frame houses are left in East Austin, but in light of the modern-era alterations to the home, they voted 8-1 to recommend not zoning the home historic and instead issue a demolition permit.

“This would have been a substantial house in this neighborhood,” said Commissioner Terri Myers, who voted against releasing the demolition permit for the house.

The major point of concern was the home’s distinctive front windows. While the fixed-sash windows with diamond-paned transoms appear to be Victorian, research revealed that the windows were installed without a permit in the ’80s.

Myers pointed out that although the windows were replaced about 40 years ago, their age puts them nearly in the running for a historic structure. (A building may be eligible for historic zoning in Austin if it is at least 50 years old.)

However, other commissioners felt that the compromised integrity of the windows, in combination with 37 percent of the original siding and the porch having been replaced, was sufficient not to zone the home historic.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath explained that the home does retain enough integrity that should the owner have been willing to invest in materials to bring the house in line with historic preservation standards, it would be achievable. As it stands, “in its modified condition, it doesn’t meet that requirement,” he said.

Even with apparent modifications, the commission was hesitant to recommend the issuance of a demolition permit. As Commissioner Kevin Koch pointed out, different preservationists would have different opinions as to the viability of historic restoration for the home.

Several commissioners agreed that had only one of the three major alterations taken place, there would be stronger grounds to consider historic zoning.

Sadowsky noted that it was with a heavy heart that the state of the home compelled him to recommend against historic zoning. The loss of this home has prompted the Historic Preservation Office to search for more houses from the late Victorian era in East Austin that can be preserved.

“I think that the importance of the house of this era in good condition really can’t be overstated,” Heimsath said.

Commissioners Emily Hibbs and Kelly Little were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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