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Parks department staff occupy and transform a historic home in South Austin

Monday, January 6, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

A rare and intact example of a mid-1860s rural Travis County residence sits at 10140 Old San Antonio Road. After years of neglect, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department has taken over stewardship of the property and installed an administrative office in the building.

Commissioner Terri Myers noted at the Dec. 16 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission that when she surveyed the property in 2014, “I wondered if it was long for this world.”

“I have passed by this house often and worried about its future as well,” agreed Commissioner Beth Valenzuela.

The Parks and Recreation Department purchased the property for $1.25 million in 2014. In September of this year, City Council passed a resolution to rezone the property to a public zoning district. In order to do this and preserve the house on the property in perpetuity, staffers broke the tract into two parts, with the house placed on a section that is intended for historic-public zoning.

The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning request to public and include historic zoning on the portion of land surrounding the homestead property. Commissioners Alex Papavasiliou, Witt Featherston and Kevin Koch were absent.

“There were potential connections to the Pony Express,” Kevin Gomillion, PARD golf division manager, told the commission. According to the case backup, the cottage is located along a historic route blazed by the Spaniards and later used by Mexicans and other regional travelers as they journeyed from Mexico to Texas and as far as Louisiana.

The parks department wants to keep the homestead’s history in mind as it begins to activate the space. Gomillion said the long-term goal is to implement an equestrian trail that traverses the 3.4-acre property and connects the Slaughter Creek Greenbelt with Mary Moore Searight Park.

At the commission meeting, the parks department reported that it had successfully rehabilitated the property, which since November has served as office space for golf administrative staff and members of the parks department safety team. At first, “It was a little bit tough to get folks to raise their hands and occupy the building,” said Gomillion, because of its location in far South Austin. The department solved the conundrum by opening the building as an office to parks staff who live in the region in order to cut down on commute times.

Since the city has established a presence in the area, Gomillion said many prior residents and neighbors have stopped by to express their excitement that the home is now being taken care of. Prior residents, in this case, are people experiencing homelessness.

Gomillion explained that when the department first took over the structure, it was dilapidated but clearly in use as there were traces of indoor fires that had charred the walls from floor to ceiling. There was also a significant amount of vandalism that continued throughout the revitalization process.

Today, pictures of the office depict an administrative-like atmosphere with conference tables and black leather couches sharing space inside the historic walls. Commissioners expressed their thanks to parks department staff for their efforts in cleaning up the structure and keeping it alive for a new generation to use.

Photo courtesy of the Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association.

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