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Photo by city of Austin

West Austin neighborhood bands together to save lakefront estate

Friday, June 10, 2022 by Kali Bramble

An application to demolish an idiosyncratic estate at 2002 Scenic Drive has been put on hold, as the Historic Landmark Commission elected to initiate historic zoning last Wednesday.

The residence first appeared on the commission’s agenda last month, inspiring an outpouring of neighborhood opposition and a community-led effort to research the property’s origins. Last week their work paid off, with photographic and archival evidence making a strong case for preservation.

2002 Scenic Drive houses a two-story Spanish eclectic dwelling and secondary Gothic revival cottage, both situated atop a sprawling estate with terrace gardens, stone bridges and stairs carved into the surrounding hillside. The primary residence was built in the early 1920s by optician and architect Raymond Maurice Delisle, but found its longest steward in the Slator family, which purchased the property in 1945 and enlisted architects Fehr and Granger to design the adjacent cottage.

Known to neighbors as the Rock House, 2002 Scenic Drive bears unique displays of stone craftsmanship, including carvings of animals, clowns, skulls, shamrocks and faces throughout both interior and exterior masonry. Stone steps cascading from the front door to a dock suggest a waterfront entrance, with guests perhaps originally arriving via boat. 

“I have no money in the game, other than a respect for workmanship,” said neighbor Ila Falvey. “The property and its grounds are magnificent … it’s a treasure that should not be destroyed.”

Neighbors also pointed out the property’s exemplification of early West Austin settlement patterns, noting its similarities to a quickly disappearing set of nearby rock fishing cabins.

“(2002 Scenic) is a unique surviving element of a small 1930s neighborhood anchored around what is today the corner of Scenic and Stevenson. While some of the early buildings are now gone or heavily remodeled, portions still remain of this once vibrant little block of dwellings,” said archaeologist David O Brown in a written statement. “The houses of that early era in West Austin had a warm, charming and almost magical feel to them … that will be lost when 2002 Scenic and its surviving neighbors are removed.”

Others reminisced about the house’s lively parties, where neighbors were invited to socialize and enjoy the whimsical atmosphere.

“It was at this location in 1997 or so that I had a conversation with Tito Beveridge about his plans for the future,” said neighbor Birgit Enstrom. “He said, ‘I’m starting a vodka company.’ I said ‘Good luck with that!’ The rest is history.”

On behalf of the new owners, attorney Michael Whellan of Armbrust & Brown questioned the case’s meeting of criteria for historical significance, arguing that the Delisle and Slator families made a limited impact on their community. Yet without a counter to the property’s unique architectural and landscape features, the commission had little trouble defending historic zoning.

Still, the battle over 2002 Scenic Drive is far from over. Assuming the commission’s recommendation passes via supermajority at next month’s reading, the case will need approval from both Planning Commission and City Council, a process that has historically gone in the property owner’s favor.

Those curious about the Rock House may draw their own conclusions with photos available here and here.

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