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Historic Landmark Commission Approves Moving Contested Downtown Houses

Move will preserve structures in the shadow of Convention Center and new hotel

Austinites of a certain age might remember the small cluster of houses on Red River and East Third streets downtown as a sort of punk-rock row; broke or just cheap musicians and their friends rented the places for a pittance with the tacit agreement that they wouldn't ask the landlords to fix anything.

Things have changed, of course, and between the Rainey Street explosion, a possible Convention Center expansion, and the current construction of the Fairmont Hotel, the small, older homes became the center—and almost textbook example—of the kind of historic preservation fight that some find essential and others find absurd.

For months, developers and the city Historic Landmark Commission discussed options for the houses at 606 and 608 East Third Street, which are basically in the way of all that sweet development and tax revenue progress. Arguments were made for their demolition, landmarking, or relocation—the latter option often referred to as creating an "architectural petting zoo" by taking the buildings out of their historic context and thus missing the point of their preservation.

On Monday, the Austin Monitor reported that an agreement has finally been reached: at its April meeting, the Landmark Commission voted unanimously in favor of relocating the two downtown houses to the south side of the street they're currently on.

The Monitor further reported that he approval was conditional on the Fairmont Developer, Manchester Financial Group, completing a state-required archaeological study and providing for the homes' preservation through either through historic landmarking or a restrictive covenant.

The commission also stipulated that the relocation of the historically zoned Wedding House, at 604 East Third Street, also be approved, according to the story, and most of the involved parties seemed to agree it was a good solution.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky rejected the idea that it would create a "petting zoo," the Monitor reported, as moving the homes from one side of the street to the other didn't remove them from their original context. He also said that landmarking would not have been a good option for preserving them, the site's story added, because they weren't architecturally appropriate for the designation.

Additionally, the Monitor reported, Preservation Austin board president Alyson McGee spoke in favor of the plan, noting that though the organization doesn't generally support such relocations, the move was the best solution in this case. She said this would especially be the case if the Castleman-Bull and Trask houses, already located on the the side of Third Street where the homes will be moved, could be preserved.

According to the Monitor, the proposal also contains a long-term strategy for preservation of the homes and revitalization of the area in tandem with construction of the Fairmont Hotel.

Why would two homes cross the street? Preservation. [Austin Monitor]