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Landmark commission weighs case for preserving former home of ‘Statesman’ editor

Tuesday, February 8, 2022 by Kali Bramble

A case to preserve the former home of Austin American-Statesman editor Charles E. Green hit the desks of the Historic Landmark Commission this past Monday, and not for the first time.

An application to demolish the building at 1505 Forest Trail came to the commission in 2017, but repeated postponements and posturing toward initiating historic zoning ultimately dissuaded the former owners from pursuing the case further. Now, it has returned to a commission continuing its cautious angling toward preservation, unanimously voting to postpone the case to its next meeting.

The home in question was constructed in 1935 specifically for Green, who exerted considerable influence during his 30-year tenure as editor-in-chief of the Statesman. Green, who was appointed in 1929, led the publication through the Great Depression, World War II and the civil rights movement, forming relationships with Austin Mayor Tom Miller and Texas superstar Lyndon B. Johnson. Serving on a number of municipal and legislative committees, Green remained active in Austin’s political landscape until his death on Christmas Day, 1967.

In addition to his professional roles, Green was a prominent socialite and member of Austin’s Bachelor Club who was known for hosting gatherings at 1505 Forest Trail, then known by its nickname of El Rancho Verde. A gossip column from 1935 announcing a housewarming party offers the following directions to Green’s home: “To find Charlie’s house, just drive out west until you catch the gleam of the little blue shutters, and there you are!”

Staffers also noted the structure’s unique architecture, remarking that it “expresses the personality of Green, for whom it was built.” Features include the aforementioned blue shutters, a chevron-patterned wooden door, wood wall paneling, and bathroom tiling depicting a cowboy smoking a cigarette. The property also retains high integrity in its landscaping features, which include two stone walls and an outdoor fireplace.

Only one detail gave staffers pause about El Rancho Verde. Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Brummett noted that research into Green’s daily column Town Talk revealed a number of passages that engaged in the kind of sexist and racist stereotyping that was not uncommon in that era. The excerpts included some exaggerated physical descriptions of Black cotton farmers Green had met on a trip to Mississippi, and a story about female workers at the Texas Legislature that used an infantilizing tone as it harped on their physical appearances.

“Are we talking about something that was, unfortunately, acceptable discourse of the day, or something more aggressive and demonstratively harmful?” Commissioner Ben Heimsath asked.

Brummett responded that the excerpts were the “most egregious” of anything she had found in the columns. “We’re talking about someone who was writing every single day; you could see it as the equivalent of someone today with a Twitter account,” she said. “So in terms of a percentage of what’s written, we’re talking about a very small subset.”

Given these findings, commissioners agreed it would be wise to exercise some caution with a postponement, while also giving the applicant more time to reevaluate the proposal.

“This is a complicated reference, but (Green’s) endorsement of Lyndon B. Johnson and Johnson’s support of the Civil Rights Act is somewhat telling that this wasn’t someone who was at their core bigoted against minorities,” offered Commissioner Kevin Koch.

The case is slated to return to the landmark commission later this month. In the meantime, city staffers will dig deeper into the story of the man behind El Rancho Verde.

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