A popular community project that has languished for decades just got a big shot in the arm, thanks to the Austin Parks Foundation. That advocacy group is donating $250,000 to the Norwood Park Foundation to help transform the historic Norwood bungalow on East Riverside Drive into a sustainable events center in a parks setting with a rare skyline view.
Neighbors in Travis Heights and other older communities have lobbied for years to restore the bungalow built by the prosperous Norwood family in 1922.
In 2014, what remained of the home, dubbed “Norcliff” by its first owners, Ollie and Calie Norwood, was moved across Edgecliff Terrace to its original site above what is now the Norwood Estate Dog Park, where one can detect the remains of the family’s former spring-fed swimming pool, now filled in.
While stabilized, the bungalow — which reflects influences from California and Asia, as well as the Arts and Crafts design movement — remains mostly framing and plywood, although the floor is in fairly good condition. Backers hope that the Parks Foundation donation will accelerate the project into the construction phase soon.
“This is a stunning property that serves everybody, no matter what district you live in,” said Colleen Theriot, president of the Norwood Park Foundation. “We have carefully crafted the Norwood project in response to the public input process conducted by Austin Parks and Recreation in 2011, and we’re putting forth an inspired vision that everyone can enjoy and donors can believe in.”
Much local history was made on the estate. For instance, after a major flood on the Colorado River in 1935, South Austin was cut off from the city’s water supply. The Norwood’s pool — along with Big Stacy Pool on Blunn Creek — provided residents with basic water needs during a boil-notice period.
According to an historical marker onsite, Ollie Norwood was a native of Macune in East Texas and moved with his wife to Austin after serving in France during World War I. He was an investor and municipal bonds broker who is remembered for the construction of the 16-story Norwood Tower in downtown Austin in 1929.
Norwood lost most of his wealth during the Depression and, in 1953, the eastern slice of the estate was taken for the construction of what became Interstate 35. The Norwoods sold the remaining estate in 1961 when Ollie died.
In 1985, the city of Austin purchased it for public parkland, but there was no money to fix it up, nor was there a clear plan as to how to do so. During the 1990s, the Austin Women’s Chamber of Commerce campaigned to prevent demolition of the house.
The Norwood Park Foundation was founded in 2012 to manage the rehabilitation of the house and park and to raise the necessary dollars fix and maintain them. When completely restored, the foundation expects operate the place in a self-sustaining manner. It will be available, for instance, to rent for meetings, games and other gatherings, such as weddings.
“We are dedicated to partnering with our community to improve our treasured public green spaces,” said Colin Wallis, CEO of the Austin Parks Foundation about the donation. “Norwood House and the surrounding parkland is truly a natural and cultural treasure for Austin. The restoration of this public space will be such an enriching gift to our community, a valuable asset that everyone will be able to enjoy. We are thrilled to be able to support this project.”
The area’s grounds and its old oaks have already been revitalized, but much must be done to restore the Norwoods’ elegant gardens. A schematic design is available and an historical marker has been raised.
More money is needed before the entire park project, estimated at one point to cost more than $5 million in total, is completed. If the Parks Foundation’s grant is matched by other private donations, however, the house part of the project will become “shovel-ready.”