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Historic zoning for childhood home of AISD’s first two Hispanic teachers recommended

Tuesday, July 30, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In a unanimous vote, the Historic Landmark Commission is sending a 100-year-old house that was the home of the Austin Independent School District’s first Hispanic teachers to City Council with a recommendation for historic zoning.

When photos failed to depict the condition of the Herrera home at 1805 E. Third St., the Historic Landmark Commission postponed the case last May to gather a better understanding of whether the century-old home was salvageable.

According to the property owner, Rex Bowers, who purchased the home in foreclosure according to the Travis Central Appraisal District website, code enforcement presented him with a four-page list of violations that needed to be corrected before the city’s code department would sign off on the house that it is inhabitable. Due to its current condition, which he said is “not repairable,” Bowers began the demolition process, which brought the case before the commission due to its history.

After two months of investigations, Commissioner Kelly Little told other commissioners at the July 22 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission that the house was fit to be a landmark.

“The house itself has a high degree of integrity,” she said. “(It) truly merits preservation.”

Hector Avila, who was representing Bowers, disagreed with the assessment. According to him, the house is falling apart at the seams and is a health hazard. “I didn’t want to go inside to take pictures of the mold because it’s really hot and I might get sick,” he said, explaining the lack of updated interior photos.

The condition prompted the owner to submit a notarized petition against the historic rezoning of the home. Commissioners, however, felt that the home’s history entitled it to special consideration for preservation.

Many members of the community felt similarly and came to express their hope that the home would be preserved. Bertha Delgado, the vice chair of the Community Development Commission, told commissioners that while the home is in need of restoration, it should be preserved as an important part of the neighborhood’s identity.

“We must honor those legends that we see as heroes,” she said.

Built in 1911, the home was purchased by the parents of Mary Grace Herrera and Consuelo Herrera Mendez in 1914. Years later, the sisters become the first two Mexican American teachers in the Austin Independent School District. Mendez Middle School was named after Consuelo and Mary Grace went on to testify in 1973 as a featured witness in a trial where the federal government brought suit against Austin for failing to desegregate the city schools.

Commissioner Terri Myers noted that if this home were to disappear, “This is something that would be missed.”

Avila told the commission that the owner was willing to put up a plaque in front of the new home to commemorate the history of those who lived on the property in the past.

A plaque, however, would not be the equivalent of retaining the home and its historic character. In a plea to persuade the other commissioners to vote with a supermajority percentage to recommend that Council consider this home for historic zoning, Commissioner Ben Heimsath said that once the decision is made, “We would suddenly lose this with no recourse.”

Texas now requires a supermajority vote to recommend historic zoning against an owner’s wishes at the commission level.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend historic zoning for the property. Commissioners Beth Valenzuela and Kevin Koch were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of a name.

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