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Historic Landmark Commission contemplates bending rules for influential Mexican American activist

Friday, September 27, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Sometimes a house is more than a home. In the case of Edward Rendon Sr., his home served as a community center that some say is as meaningful to the neighborhood today as it was 40 years ago.

Rendon was an activist who fought for the East Austin Latino community and helped, among other things, clean up Festival Beach and reduce the noise pollution that was rampant from the drag boat races of the 1970s. In 2007, the park at Festival Beach was renamed Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in his honor.

His home played as much of a role in his activism as he did. During his political years, he hosted many community meetings at his house, which, according to neighbors, was continually bustling with activity and ideas.

Rendon died last year at the age of 91. In a show of solidarity, Mexican American community leaders, activists and East Austin residents came to the Sept. 23 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission to request historic zoning for his home at 1705 Haskell St.

“This is where we first discussed what improvements we wanted for this area of town,” Hortensia Palomares recalled.

Bertha Delgado, Rendon’s grandaughter and the president of East Town Lake Citizens Neighborhood Association, told the commission that while she cannot save all of the historic houses in her community, when it comes to this house, she was determined to “try my hardest to save it because he is my grandfather.”

People on both sides of the historic designation issue acknowledged Edward Rendon Sr.’s significance to East Austin. Still,  there were questions about whether or not his home’s period of significance fell within the proper timeline to make it eligible for a historic designation.

A house needs to be at least 50 years old to be considered for historic designation. That would make structures built in 1969 or before eligible.

The house on Haskell Street was built in 1931 and the Rendon family moved into it in 1960. But in 1971, the family did major exterior modifications to the home and covered the facade in limestone. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said those alterations would normally disqualify a structure from receiving a designation. In this case, however, the modifications are what intimately associate the house with Rendon.

“This is the house that represents the person being commemorated,” Sadowsky said. “The changes to the house should be considered an exception.”

Victoria Haase of Thrower Design, who was representing the property owner, noted that the exterior changes are outside of the qualification period and are therefore not eligible for historic zoning. She added, “We do not find that the structure meets community value” due to its lack of unique location or characteristics that contribute to the character, image or cultural identity of the neighborhood. “It is most pertinent that the rules be adhered to,” she explained to the commissioners.

Despite code explicitly stating that a structure is required to be older than half a century in order to be considered as a landmark, both city staff and several of the commissioners voiced their opinion that an exception should be made in this case to push the window for the period of significance by two years.

As for whether or not the home has community value, Delgado noted that “just because an attorney or a landscape designer … comes up here and doesn’t feel that it has community value – it does.”

Though the commissioners agreed that the house was worth further consideration for historic zoning, they unanimously postponed the case until their October meeting in order to have enough members present to achieve a supermajority vote of 9. Commissioners Emily Reed, Terri Myers, Emily Hibbs and Mathew Jacob were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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