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Neighbors oppose East Austin demolition case

Monday, November 8, 2021 by Kali Bramble

The Historic Landmark Commission reviewed an application to demolish another East Austin home at its Oct. 25 meeting. 

The proposed demolition of the home, at 1601 Cedar Ave., garnered a significant amount of interest from the surrounding neighborhood. Citing potential historical and architectural significance, the commission voted to initiate historic zoning of the circa-1915 property, which it will explore further at its next meeting.

“This is a wonderful example of a transitional house, which means it combines elements of earlier Victorian styles … with the beginnings of bungalow styles,” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowksy said. “This house is an anomaly in East Austin … much grander than you’d expect, and right on the corner of 16th and Cedar, so it has a very prominent location within the community.”

Only two families have occupied the house since its construction in the early 20th century. First was Mack Blocker and his wife, Gertrude Parker, whose father owned the lot across the street. Both worked blue-collar jobs and lived in the home until their deaths, with Mack dying prematurely from a stroke and Gertrude maintaining the property until the 1990s.

Applicant Garrett Hill, who purchased the home from the Guerra family this past summer, cited the size and structural integrity of the home in his appeal to the commission.

“I purchased this property with the intention of building my house here with my fiancé. We love the neighborhood and need a bigger house, as we’re planning to have a family.” Hill said. He mentioned a “strong sewage smell” as well as the home’s “dilapidated state,” providing a report from Third Coast Home Inspection as evidence.

While only two neighbors spoke in opposition to demolition, six more emailed opposing statements to staff, expressing fears over the rapidly disappearing character of East Austin and the influence of real estate developers. Commission Chair Terri Myers also noted that “63 people had weighed in overwhelmingly to support preservation” via the neighborhood’s listserv.

Myers put forth a motion to initiate historic zoning, arguing that the preservation of 1601 Cedar Ave. would be “a testament to the African American community of the time, and their building of a strong neighborhood.”

Commissioner Ben Heimsath seconded the motion, urging the applicant to consider restoration. “Whether you were aware of it or not, you and your family have purchased a much bigger opportunity, because this wouldn’t just be an average renovation. You would actually have a landmark property, already having associations with deep history … by your surrounding neighbors.”

“The configuration of this house is well-suited to a sensitive addition,” Commissioner Kevin Koch added. “I think there could be room for massive amounts of square footage while retaining the integrity of the original home.”

With these statements, the commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning, inviting the applicant to attend an architectural review to discuss alternatives to demolition. The commission will continue its discussion of the case later this month.

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