Photo by city of Austin
Thursday, July 1, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Landmark commission reverses course, grants demolition for Scenic Drive home

Last month, a demolition permit request for the property at 2708 Scenic Drive came in front of the Historic Landmark Commission. The home, which was built in 1952, has fallen into disrepair, but instead of granting the permit, city staffers and the commission initiated the historic zoning process – a process that came to a halt this Monday.

At this week’s meeting, the commission changed its mind and granted the demolition permit, siding with the applicants in the opinion that the property has fallen too far into disrepair.

According to city documents from May, the push for historic status came from the building’s age and structure, as well as its historic association. Originally built for attorney Robert McGinnis and philanthropist Ethel Clift McGinnis, the home was designed by Roland Gommel Roessner, a professor at the University of Texas and an influential architect of the 20th century.

Speaking in May, applicant Linda Sullivan made the case for demolition by noting the house had not been well-maintained over the past 30 years. She pointed to the overgrowth of trees on the property, a lack of gutter maintenance, water damage, rodent and insect damage, and a rancid smell throughout the property.

Sullivan told the commission that during an inspection she “walked through the house with a mask on and still had a pretty severe headache” by the time she left. Still, the commission took up city staffers on their recommendation, unanimously voting to initiate the historic zoning process instead of granting the owner’s request for a demolition permit.

Commissioner Carl Larosche, who motioned to initiate the process, said the home represented “very unique architecture for its time. In looking at the property, I’m encouraged by the potential for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.”

This month, however, both city staffers and the commission reversed course and ended up granting the demolition permit.

Speaking to the commissioners on Monday, Historic Preservation Officer Kalan Contreras said that, “despite our early optimism, further research showed staff enough inconsistencies in building integrity that we unfortunately cannot recommend further action towards historic zoning at this time.”

Another development that’s taken place since May is increased community support for the demolition. Last month, one citizen comment was submitted in favor of the demolition. For the meeting Monday, there were petitions, letters from community groups and submissions from individual citizens in favor of releasing the permit.

Peter Pfeiffer of Barley Pfeiffer Architecture sent a letter to the commission giving his opinion as a licensed architect. He noted that, while he’s familiar with the work of Roland Gommel Roessner, the Scenic Drive home isn’t a great representation of his work due to its deterioration and low construction standards.

Pfeiffer’s letter goes on to say that the home “has been an eyesore” for the community and assures the commission that “neighbors would have no concerns should this home be replaced.”

Before officially releasing the demolition permit, the commissioners provided more insight as to why they initiated the historic zoning process in the first place, saying it was more a precautionary measure in the broader mission of historic preservation.

Chair Terri Myers told the commission, “We didn’t want to just eliminate a Roessner design without some consideration.”

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said he felt the commission had a thoughtful “discussion about the condition of the house and what its merits might be,” but it wasn’t worth pursuing historic status any further, especially if the owners would rather demolish the property.

With little more discussion, the commission voted unanimously to release the demolition permit with the completion of the documentation package.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Historic Landmark Commission: The city’s Historic Landmark Commission promotes historic preservation of buildings and structures. The commission also reviews applications and permits for historic zoning and historic grants.

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