11 award-winning Austin projects preserving the city's history
Sometimes it feels like Austin has already lost its core character permanently.
No doubt, our material environment is changing every day, as we add more people, buildings and cars to a place that will likely soon join the list of top 10 largest cities in the country. And while Austin has preserved a lot of green space, the new high-rises and mid-rises, some of them legitimate eyesores, blot out our visual horizons, especially if one is on foot.
Several groups in town are dedicated to judiciously preserving our built heritage, none more ardently than Preservation Austin. Accelerated during the first wave of protests against the wholesale demolition of worthy older structures in the 1970s, it has done a lot with few resources and a tiny, though effective, staff.
Every year, this group cheers us up with a dozen or so projects that have received its Preservation Merit Awards. Normally, these would be toasted at a well-attended luncheon in some beautiful old building, but not during a pandemic.
Nevertheless, the group recently released a list of the 2020 award recipients. We offer the 11 winners along with lightly edited excepts from their histories that were provided by Preservation Austin.
Baker School, 3908 Avenue B
This 1911 school building in the Hyde Park Local Historic District served as an elementary school, middle school and high school before becoming administrative offices for Austin school district in the 1990s. Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas purchased the vacant building in 2017. Founded in 1997 by Tim and Karrie League, this Austin-based company worked with Weiss Architecture and Zapalac Reed Construction to transform the Baker School into their corporate headquarters at the heart of this historic neighborhood.
Mary Baylor House, 1607 W. 10th St.
This tiny home stands in Clarksville, a freedom colony established after the Civil War. Residents refused to relocate to East Austin after the city approved a segregation plan in 1928. They went without sewers, paved streets or schools for decades after. Mary Baylor lived here with her family of seven. The lifelong Clarksville advocate was director of the Clarksville Neighborhood Center, fought against the construction of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1), and founded the Clarksville Community Development Corporation in 1978, which continues to preserve history, build community and provide affordable housing today. Thomas Schiefer and Meghann Rosales purchased the home in 2014, saving it from demolition. Rehabbing the house without the aid of architects or contractors was a true labor of love.
BKCW Insurance, 2001 N. Lamar Blvd.
This 1960 branch office for the Southland Life Insurance Company sits above North Lamar Boulevard across from Pease Park. Its sleek modernist form featured banks of windows facing downtown. But by 2016, the building had lost its luster. Serious foundation issues and neglected landscaping threatened its stability and diminished its presence. Dark interiors had been subdivided over the years. Meredith and Tyler Spears, owners of BKCW Insurance, saw something more. They enlisted Mark Odom Studio and Franklin Alan for an office rehabilitation to support their company’s collaborative culture.
The Carpenter Hotel, 400 Josephine St.
Austin Carpenters Local 1266 completed its new union hall on South Lamar Boulevard in 1949. Union members and the ladies auxiliary hosted meetings, dances and barbecues here until 2014. The property’s prime location and spacious lot made it a target for demolition. But the Mighty Union hospitality group embarked on a visionary project with Specht Architects and DPR, translating Carpenter Hall’s history and character into the Carpenter Hotel. The historic building serves as the hotel’s reception, restaurant and coffee shop. Steel casement windows were lovingly restored, and “Carpenter’s Hall” signage left in place. The project preserved pecan trees wherever possible and milled damaged trees for use in the gorgeous interiors.
Central Machine Works, 4824 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Capitol Machine Works opened in 1940. The East Austin firm crafted airplane parts and transport trailers during World War II. Later renamed Central Machine Works, its longtime owner fabricated custom parts here until 2015. Rosa Santis and John Scott along with Aaron and Andrew Ashmore fell in love with the building and opened Central Machine Works Brewery and Beer Hall here in 2019. This project with Maker Architects, Kartwheel Studio and IE Squared construction embraces the shop’s industrial aesthetic and celebrates its legacy as a place of creation, where things are made. The site includes a brewery, beer hall, tap room, beer garden and gallery space.
The Perch, 805 W. 16th St.
Charles Granger, of the renowned Fehr & Granger, was one of Austin’s architectural greats. The Perch, completed in 1938, remains one of his most personal works. This international style garage apartment stands amongst massive live oaks in Judges Hill. The Grangers lived here before building a larger house for their family, at the front of the site, in 1951. Jeff Harper and Mark Seeger restored the Granger House in 1999. Their meticulous restoration of the Perch, completed in 2019 with architect Jay Farrell and 22 Construction, brings their stewardship full circle. The project patched exterior stucco and returned its 1938 texture. The original front door, with its classic porthole window, was found in the garage and reinstalled.
Commodore Perry Estate, 4100 Red River St.
Edgar and Lutie Perry built this gracious villa along Waller Creek at the height of the Roaring Twenties. They later sold the home in 1944, stating that it was “a great place to throw a party, but too big to live in.” A long series of schools operated here thereafter. Clark Lyda fell in love with the estate as a child and attended high school here in the 1970s. In 2015, he partnered with the Marchbanks Company on a rehabilitation of the Italian Renaissance revival house and grounds into the Commodore Perry Estate, a private club and hotel operated by Auberge Resorts. The Gothic revival chapel, built in 1949, now serves as event space. New buildings house guest rooms and a restaurant. Clayton & Little Architects oversaw preservation work with Rogers O’Brian. Ten Eyck was the landscape architect and the interiors are by Ken Fulk.
Rosewood, 1209 Rosewood Ave.
This Queen Anne home dates to 1890. Dr. Thomas DeLashwah, a Black pharmacist, moved here in 1917. He owned a popular soda fountain, sponsored Negro League baseball and organized the popular “La Palm” orchestra. The home’s prominent location and whimsical architecture has made it a beloved East Austin landmark. In 2016, Chas and Laura Spence purchased the property with chef Jesse DeLeon, seeing an exciting opportunity to create welcoming spaces to gather and dine. Rosewood Gulf Coast Chophouse opened two years later. This adaptive reuse project with Mark Odom Studio and Fine Line Construction preserved the home’s residential feel to create intimate spaces steeped in history.
Shipe Park Shelter House, 4400 Avenue G
Shipe Park stands in the Hyde Park Local Historic District and opened after the city’s 1928 plan called for a new parks system. Early shelter houses supported athletics, dancing and crafts. The Shipe Park Shelter House is one of just four that remain today. Completed in 1930, its unusual design takes inspiration from 19th century dogtrot cabins. A conditions assessment by Limbacher & Godfrey Architects showed serious deterioration throughout the building. City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department architects worked with Phoenix Restoration and Construction Ltd. for for a careful rehabilitation, with support from the Austin Parks Foundation and the Friends of Shipe Park.
Old Austin Neighborhood Association
The Old Austin Neighborhood Association represents the western side of downtown. OANA advocates, protects and enhances values such as historic preservation, environmental conservation and improving the pedestrian experience of this dense urban neighborhood. In 2019, OANA’s board decided to sponsor a historic resource survey. HHM & Associates implemented the survey, supplementing efforts with pro bono services and OANA volunteers. The survey area generally spans Colorado Street to North Lamar Boulevard and West 15th to West Fifth streets. Historic resources span two centuries, including the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse, a civil rights landmark; Republic Square, home to Austin’s early 20th century Mexico neighborhood; and the former Austin High School, now home to ACC’s Rio Grande Campus.
The EastLink urban trail connects Bartholomew Park with Lady Bird Lake. Completed by the Austin Parks Foundation with the City of Austin and the Mueller Foundation, it provides accessible recreation and works to foster pride in Central East Austin’s culture and history. The trail connects such important African American and Mexican American heritage sites as Downs Field and Parque Zaragoza. In 2019, partners enlisted Public City, a culture-driven public engagement and activation studio, to lead community engagement on an interpretive placemaking plan. Public City co-designed the project’s themes in conversation with neighbors. Two trail explorations brought residents together through art, recreation, activism and economic empowerment.