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Former Long Estate granted demolition permit after March fire

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Last month, the Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to issue a demolition permit for 2308 Woodlawn Blvd., a property located in the Old West Austin National Register Historic District.

Unlike many demolition permit requests that the landmark commission hears, this one was not the result of dilapidation or part of a process to drastically redesign the property. This demolition permit request was due to a fire that started while remodeling was being done on the property on March 12.

Courtesy of the city of Austin

Although nobody was in the home at the time and no injuries were reported, the nearly 12,000-square-foot property sustained substantial damage. According to city staffers, the fire “burned through the floor structure on multiple levels, and resulted in extensive fire, smoke and water damage.”

Because the home is a contributing structure to a historic district, there would normally be much discussion about a demolition request, but the significant damage caused by the fire has rendered the property a public safety concern.

Another factor that helped with the commission’s unanimous decision was the homeowners’ dedication to historic preservation. Before the fire, Todd and Laura Wallace were pursuing a historic designation for the home itself.

Todd Wallace told the commission that what they “witnessed on March 12th is something (they’ll) never forget … watching your dream burn up is something I can’t wish on anyone.”

Originally constructed in 1940, the property has long been associated with some of the most iconic figures in Austin. The home was originally built for Frank and Olivia Woolsey. In 1921, Frank Woolsey helped found Austin Mutual Life Insurance Company and later served as president of the Austin Lion’s Club. Olivia Woolsey was an active member of a number of prominent women’s organizations like the Junior League of Austin and Women’s Symphony League.

The house was designed by Louis Page Jr., the architect behind some of the city’s most noteworthy structures like Rosewood Courts, Brackenridge Hospital and Palmer Events Center.

In 1992, the house was acquired by Austin philanthropists Joe and Teresa Lozano Long, the namesakes of the Long Center for the Performing Arts, to which they contributed around $20 million. The Longs donated an estimated $100 million to arts and education in the state of Texas before Teresa Long died in March at the age of 92. The couple had sold the home last year while downsizing to move to a retirement community.

Amanda Swor, who is representing the current homeowners, made clear that the demolition permit is part of a larger effort to preserve the historic nature of the Greek Revival-style home. She told commissioners that “their intent is to rebuild the home and inhabit the home of their dreams as their permanent residence.”

Todd Wallace told the commissioners that he and his wife are intent on getting the home landmark designated “because we want to honor what it is, what it was and what it will be.”

The commission was receptive to the homeowners’ efforts.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath told the other commissioners, “We have a willing owner who’s willing to do everything they can to replace and put back, and in some cases actually preserve, whatever they can of this landmark, and I think we should encourage and support that.”

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