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Landmark commission OKs Stenger demolition

Monday, September 26, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

An A.D. Stenger-designed home in South Austin is headed for demolition with the unanimous consent of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission.

Normally, this would be an unusual move by the city commission entrusted with evaluating the city’s historic buildings. However, changes to the building in the 1990s and resistance to historic preservation by the owner made the case for preservation a tough fight. 

“I think the association with Stenger is absolutely very important,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said. “I think the additions really do mean this has been compromised to the point where it would be wonderful if the owner changed their mind, but I don’t think it’s something we, as a commission, are going to be able to go to bat for.”

Stenger was a renowned local architect active in Austin from the 1940s through the 1980s who tended to build in the Barton Hills neighborhood. 

According to a staff presentation, the home at 1810 Dexter St. was constructed by Stenger and the Austin Home Builders Association. At one time, it served as an “educational home” for the South Lund Park neighborhood. Potential homebuyers were invited to see its construction and design by the home builders association, which advertised it as “similar to the grand prize winner of a recent architectural competition sponsored by Carrier Air Conditioning Manufacturers,” according to the staff report.

Palm Beach society photographer Lucien H. Capehart, Jr. also once lived in the home.

Nic Andreani, who spoke in opposition to the preservation and in favor of demolition, told the commission that the home was no longer in its model condition. He explained that the street facade is now a new addition and that front and rear additions had distressed the building, which is currently unoccupied and “really uninhabitable.”  

Andreani described significant cracking and shifting of the slab foundation and sloping frames and floors. Not only did the additions change the home’s architectural significance, he argued, they pose a threat to health and safety currently.

“We bought it distressed. When we bought it, it was not occupied and, I might add, below market value as well,” Andreani said.

Commissioners voted to allow the demolition to move forward. As part of the demolition, the owners will compile a documentation package to preserve photos and a history of the home for the Austin History Center.

“Over an owner’s objections, the bar is very high,” noted Heimsath, who made the motion to allow the demolition to move forward. In order for the city to preserve a structure against an owner’s wishes, a supermajority of the Historic Landmark Commission must vote in favor or Planning Commission and City Council must vote to make it a historic landmark. 

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