Photo by city of Austin
Historic Landmark Commission initiates historic zoning for ‘Air Temp’ home
Monday, August 10, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns
In an effort to avoid the loss of one of the first homes in Austin to feature air conditioning, the Historic Landmark Commission voted at its July 27 meeting to initiate the historic zoning process for the “Air Temp” home at 2502 Park View Drive.
The vote in favor was based on research from Historic Preservation Office staff that found the house in North Austin’s Air-Conditioned Village to be “remarkably intact” and an important resource for the city.
“Austin would not have grown into the city it is if it had not been for A/C,” Commissioner Terri Myers said.
However, Barry Williamson, the applicant for the property, presented the Historic Landmark Commission with a structural engineering report, including associated cost estimates, showing the restoration of the house was an economic hardship. The report deemed the possibility of renovating the 1,220-square-foot home the “least feasible option” as it would result in “a catastrophic loss to our company at $218,000.”
The property owners want to demolish the home and erect a 3,500-square-foot, midcentury-modern new build, for a sale price of $590,000-$650,000.
Commissioner Ben Heimsath noted, “Our job is not to make a developer money.” He said that the engineering report was selective and gave precedence to the new build option. “I really do think they’re taking the wrong approach,” he said.
The aptly named Air Temp house is a midcentury home constructed in 1954 featuring a Chrysler AirTemp air-conditioning system. Each house in the Air-Conditioned Village was constructed with different A/C systems from a variety of manufacturers in order to gauge the feasibility of installing air conditioning in moderately priced homes. Prior to this experiment, commercial buildings and high-end residential architecture were the primary recipients of air-conditioning technology.
Several residents sent emails of support for the historic designation, calling the home significant to Austin’s history and culture.
A National Register Historic District application effort is underway for the Austin Air-Conditioned Village and “the best example of this project should be preserved,” neighbor Carolyn Croom wrote in an email.
Commissioner Kelly Little similarly noted that the residents are actively endeavoring to historically zone the neighborhood and preserve the remaining homes that were a part of the national experiment. The majority of the homes remain standing today.
In order to fully understand the significance of this structure to Austin’s history, the commission voted to start the historic zoning process. “I would like us to begin that research so we can get into the process effectively,” Heimsath said.
Commissioners Alex Papavasiliou and Mathew Jacob opposed the motion and Commissioner Trey McWhorter abstained.
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