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Hancock home to Tom Miller and Emma Long to become historic landmark

Wednesday, July 20, 2022 by Kali Bramble

In a brief respite from demolition cases, the Historic Landmark Commission is celebrating a likely contender for landmark designation at 803 Park Blvd. in North Central Austin.

The Miller-Long house was built in 1929 in the heyday of the early Hancock neighborhood boom, eventually serving as residence to formative civic leaders Tom Miller and, later, Emma Long. Commissioners unanimously voted to recommend historic zoning, citing the property’s historical associations and Tudor revival architecture.

“It’s nice to see a high-quality landmark come before us from an owner, but its integrity, its prominence along a major road and commercial center … its impeccable historic association with progressive leaders … all of those really make this application stand out,” Commissioner Kevin Koch said at the commission’s July 6 meeting. “It lifts my spirit on nights that are sometimes depressing.”

The lot at 803 Park Blvd. was originally part of the neighboring Commodore Perry Estate, but was purchased in 1929 by cotton and produce businessman Tom Miller and his wife, Nellie May. Miller would go on to serve two separate terms as mayor, totaling 22 years in civic leadership.

As leader during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, Miller leveraged federal funding from the New Deal program into a host of city projects, including City Park on Lake Austin, Deep Eddy, Hancock Golf Course and the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Miller also collaborated with then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson to develop Santa Rita Courts, the first federally funded housing project in the United States.

In 1950, the Millers sold the Hancock home to Emma Long, who had been the first woman elected to Austin’s City Council just two years prior. Like Miller, Long was tenacious in civic politics, though her uncompromising approach to issues like racial and economic equity was often more polarizing. Still, Long accomplished much in her tenure, including the desegregation of city parks and libraries, expansion of housing, and improvements to city infrastructure, specifically in Austin’s underfunded Black and Latino neighborhoods.

While the home has been unoccupied since 1986, its present owners (who purchased the property in 2020) say they are committed to restoration and preservation. With the help of O’Connell Architecture, the owners plan to make sensitive restorations to a number of deteriorating features. Present owners will also steward the secondary garage, notable for its unusually refined style that takes inspiration from the home’s steeply roofed, fairy-tale aesthetic.

“In comparison to so much of what we have on our agenda, it’s thrilling to have an owner come forward making full use of the tools we have to pass on important buildings,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said.

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