By Daniel Jenkins, Shelby Custer, Jonny Cramer and Helen Fernandez
While strolling through the tree-lined streets of South Austin’s Zilker neighborhood, just south of Zilker Park and Barton Springs Road, old, quaint homes contrast modern, lavish homes. The striking incongruence prompts an internal uneasiness. The scene shares similarities across many other historic neighborhoods in Austin, Texas.
According to Politifact.com, the population of Austin increases by about 40 to 60 people each day, so a change in landscape is inevitable. Thus, old homes are demolished almost daily. But, for some, it’s important to maintain the historical integrity and culture of Austin’s original neighborhoods.
On October 27, a 1926 home on 811 Kinney Ave. went before the local historical commission to be deemed worthy of preservation or its opposite, destruction. In the end, the board ruled the home historically insignificant.
The owner of 811, Alice Parrish, age 68, grew up in the Zilker neighborhood. She rode her bike by 811 as a young child and purchased the house in 2006.
“I love to save things,” said Parrish. “And I end up thinking the little house and I will just grow old together.”
Her neighbor, Ben Livingston equally hopes to save the old home from demolition. He’s resided in the Zilker neighborhood for 17 years.
“These walls [of 811] are like old people; the walls have stories,” said Livingston. “Can you imagine what stories these walls have seen after 80 years? This house has a lot to talk about.”
He describes trinkets of history found within the home. There’s an old wooden board that’s imprinted with the words, “Calcasieu Lumber.” Owned by two brothers, “the company employed builders and became a one-stop shop for those looking for a new home. During Austin’s residential building boom in the 1920s Calcasieu built many of the homes that created the subdivisions surrounding downtown Austin,” wrote the Austin History Center.
In the home built with redwood flooring, Livingston discovered other memorabilia including old marbles underneath the house and a newspaper dating back to 1958, which had been rolled up and stuffed into a chimney hidden behind a wall.
Parrish and Livingston paired-up to preserve the home’s history. With the help Brown and Sons House Movers, Livingston mounted the house on a tractor-trailer and carefully transported the home to its new abode, 36 miles away in Wimberley, Texas.
In a note written and tacked to the wall of 811, Parrish wrote in the voice of the old home:
“I’m so thrilled and excited that I’m going to my new land and sanctuary in Wimberley. I know that you will take great, gracious pride in my well-being.”
811 – The Little House.”
One old home was saved from its demise, but many more are turned into rubble and replaced by “McMansions” in the South Austin neighborhood.
Another neighbor, Susan Willis, who’s lived in her home that was built in the 1950s for 38 years, said, “I feel like I’m losing my sky due to McMansions and mega-condos. I feel claustrophobic; we’re getting closed-in on.”
Like many others in the neighborhood, including Livingston and his wife, Willis doesn’t necessarily appreciate the change in her neighborhood’s environment and landscape.
“It was once a friendly neighborhood, but many of the new homeowners are shut-off. There’s a fence around their house; the gate shuts automatically when they drive in. We never see the families; they want nothing to do with us,” said Willis.
Livingston adds, “We were once able to just show up at neighbors’ houses. We didn’t have to call or text before coming over.”
The new, modern architecture also annoys many long-standing neighborhood inhabitants. Willis describes some recent homes constructed of cinder blocks as resembling “prisons” and some utilize the look of “cheap metal.” Meanwhile, they “all look alike and have little architectural value.” Willis dislikes the design and architecture company, Moore-Tate, and their distinct style of stark white siding and dark jutting roofs.
Developments are unavoidable in the city of Austin. Nonetheless, the neighbors in Zilker will do their best to maintain their beloved history and culture among the homes they reside in.