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Historic downtown lodge plan gets pushback

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Plans for landmark Masonic building combine it with a tower that could rise 30 stories or more

A proposed renovation and expansion of the Royal Arch Masonic Lodge, a historic building at Seventh and Lavaca streets in Downtown Austin, evoked an array of criticisms and some soft endorsements from the city Historic Landmark Commission at its regular Tuesday meeting, the Austin Monitor reported Wednesday.

The first pass at a plan involved incorporating the three-story historic building at 311 West Seventh Street into a tower that could reach more than 30 stories. Perspectives and other documents presented at the meeting proposed excavating the existing structure, built in 1926, and incorporating it with a new high-rise, separated at the bottom by a three-story glass atrium.

The Beaux Arts-style building received city historic landmark designation by in 2000 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Local historic architectural specialists Clayton & Little, Rhode Partners, DCI Engineers, and Stone Development Group are credited on the designs presented at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Austin-based Mason Chapter of the York Rite, the city’s Historic Preservation Office ,and several local architecture collaborated on a vision for the design with the goal of allowing the preservation and use of the original lodge building combined with redevelopment needed to ensure the group’s oversight of the property. The group would have a 99-year lease on the building and two floors designated for its use.

Plans for use of the rest of the building haven’t been determined.

Some commissioners, including Terri Myers, weren’t happy with the design plans so far. expressed her displeasure with the designs; she likened it to “a giant foot coming down on top of that building” and called it the “desecration of an actual landmark. Others expressed their concerns about how the new building interacts with the historic one (or doesn’t), and some had tepid praise for the project. A representative of the Masonic Lodge said the organization fully supports a redesign.

In the end, the commission voted to postpone the case until its July meeting to allow time for further development of plans.

What do you think of this kind of mod-on-historic redevelopment? Let us know in the comments.