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Can the Dry Creek Café be saved?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021 by Andrew Logan

Austin realtor Sherry LeBlanc was devastated when she found out the Dry Creek Café & Boat Dock was set to close its doors on Oct. 31. The historic watering hole was “more of a community than a bar” for her and her husband, who bartends and books the live music.

Longtime owner Jay “Buddy” Reynolds recently sold the Dry Creek Café, which caught the bar’s staff and frequent patrons by surprise. LeBlanc mounted a campaign to preserve the bar, but she soon discovered how complicated her crusade would be. 

LeBlanc contacted the city’s Historic Preservation Office to see what, if anything, could be done to save the building. “You see people coming in and buying (properties in Austin) and tearing them down, and I just thought it would be a shame,” LeBlanc said. “There’s a lot of history in that building.”

In order to get the building designated a historic landmark, the Historic Preservation Office told LeBlanc she needed an owner’s signature on the application.

Reynolds said he did not think it was necessary to have the building designated a historic landmark.

He purchased the property in 1984 from his mother Sarah Ransom, who was known as “the meanest bartender in Austin.” 

Reynolds sold the cafe after a property dispute. The buyer, who purchased the adjacent property, made Reynolds “an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he explained. 

 At 84 years old, and with no children interested in taking over the running of a bar, Reynolds felt he had no choice but to sell.

Although the bar will close, Reynolds sold the Dry Creek Café with the belief that the new owners are going to keep the building open and use it as a day camp for orphans. “They want to keep it just like it is,” Reynolds said. “They’re going to let all those kids come up here and use it as a meeting place and enjoy the history of it.”

Some of the Dry Creek Café regulars were skeptical of the new owner’s intentions at first, including Walker Forrester. However, he soon warmed to the idea that the Dry Creek Café will continue to have a positive impact on others, even if it’s not a bar. “It sounds like they’re going to actually utilize the property for a very beneficial children aspect,” Forrester said. “In my opinion, it’s going to be a really good thing.”

“They’re good people,” Reynolds insisted.

LeBlanc reached out to the new owners directly about her campaign to save the building, but they didn’t respond. Neither LeBlanc nor Reynolds would disclose the identity of the new owners.

The Historic Preservation Office looks at all demolitions for buildings over 45 years of age. “We don’t want to release a demolition permit and then find out later that a property was more significant than (we) realized,” said Elizabeth Brummett, development services manager of the Historic Preservation Office. 

If a permit was submitted to demolish the Dry Creek Café, the Historic Preservation Office would automatically investigate it before giving approval. Part of that investigation would include a hearing where members of the public could advocate to save the building. 

A supermajority at both City Council and Historic Landmark Commission is required in order to receive a landmark designation on a property without the owner’s consent. A minimum of nine votes out of 11 in each body would reach a supermajority.

“It’s exceedingly difficult to landmark a property over the owner’s objection,” Brummett said. However, it is not unprecedented. The last time it happened was in 2014 for the white stucco house at 38th Street and Red River, which is Preservation Austin’s headquarters. However, that landmark designation went through before the supermajority requirement was in place, Brummett noted. 

The Historic Preservation Office advised LeBlanc to collect stories about the bar in case there was a permit submitted for demolition and a public hearing was scheduled. 

LeBlanc and her husband created a Save the Dry Creek Café Instagram page and website. Dozens of people have submitted stories and the Instagram account has accumulated over 1,800 followers. 

“If nothing else, I thought starting this cause would raise awareness to the new owners about how much of a beloved place it was,” LeBlanc said.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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