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New hotel plan for Green Pastures site gets thumbs-up in close vote

Will modern and historic play well together?

Drawing of a modern, three-story boutique hotel with a flat roof, grounds in front with one person walking toward hotel, one-story building to the left with trees half-drawn in foreground and background.
Rendering of Green Pastures hotel
Clayton & Little/Via City of Austin

When the city Historic Landmark Commission gave its blessing to development plans for the grounds of the historic Green Pastures Restaurant in 2016, it was wholeheartedly. As indicated by the 8-0 vote in favor of adding two three-story hotel buildings to the landmarked, five-acre grounds were deemed to be unobtrusive and thought to blend in with current surroundings. Proposed and designed by Clayton and Little Architects, the approved 2016 plans also featured a 39-foot-high parking structure, a two-story laundry/office facility, and a one-story greenhouse.

The project lay fallow until recently and returned to the commission only this year—this time, for some reason, with plans that depart from those that were already approved. Planned stucco exteriors became brick siding, and exterior wall colors are now dark and muted. On what is undoubtedly an upside, the new plan reduces the number of protected trees to be removed from 16 to 6 (there are 210 protected trees, total, on the site).

The new plans didn’t sit well with some commission members, according to a Wednesday Austin Monitor story. Commissioners Terri Myers and Beth Valenzuela, who both voted against the motion, took exception to the new design. Myers said the hotel looks like a “modern office building” with “very cold, hard, clean geometric lines” and is inappropriate to the site, adding that some last-minute tweaks amounted to “phony historic elements.”

Venezuela asserted held that adding any building in the area would disrupt the pastoral setting of the iconic former farm and its elegant Victorian house, built with original-growth pine, cypress, maple, and oak in 1835.

According to the Monitor, some members of the commission’s Certificate of Appropriateness subcommittee also expressed concern about what they perceive to be the proposed hotel’s “commercial appearance” and called for a better transition between the the new and old structures.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath, on the other hand, said he considers the newly proposed hotel a “very artful modern building that is in dialogue with” the historic one and that both represent their respective eras well.

Project architect Emily Little told the commission that the revised design is intended to reference the the original home while at the same time receding into the surrounding landscape, so that it remains “the celebrated queen of Green Pastures.”

Clayton & Little via City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission/
Clayton & Little/Word & Car via City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission

The commission briefly debated removing historic zoning status from the portion of the land that the new hotel will be built on but decided that would erode the remaining historic grounds’s integrity.

In the end, it voted 6-2 to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness for the design. with Myers and Valenzuela voted against. The proposed structures still must work their way through the rest of the city development and permitting process.

The house and grounds at Green Pastures were home to families with deep Austin roots. Most notable of these were Faulks—raconteur, 50s-blacklist battler, and city library namesake John Henry Faulk grew up there—and the Koocks, the family Faulk’s sister Mary married into. Mary converted the home to a restaurant in 1946.

The restaurant, now Mattie’s, was a forerunner in Austin fine-dining (as well as civil rights—it was a place open to all in the deeply segregated South from the day it opened) and soon became an institution and go-to for weddings and other events. It has been designated a landmark by the state Historical Commission and is entered into the National Registry of Historic Places.