Post-War Boom: Preservation Austin's 2016 Historic Homes Tour

Before you go home touring, you need to fortify yourself with Taco Energy!

Fifty years is the threshold for a structure becoming historic-aged, at least 'round these parts. And while some historic preservation societies and cities have struggled with accepting Mid-Century Modern structures as historic, Austin doesn't seem to be one. Along those lines, Preservation Austin held it's annual historic homes tour up in our neck of the woods this year in Crestview, Brentwood, and Allandale (we live right at the crossroads of these three neighborhoods at Justin and Burnet).

We've been long-time (>20 years) members of Preservation Austin and even had our previous house, built in the 1880s, in one of their home tours (article I wrote about it is at the end of this post). The premise of this tour is somewhat unusual in that they wanted to hi-light architecturally sensitive additions to existing homes in the hopes of inspiring folks to remodel and expand rather than scrape and rebuild (although we didn't scrape, Preservation Austin would consider our house incompatible with the neighborhood). The original houses, although cute, are not in and of themselves of particular architectural interest. What's interesting is how they've been modified to meet today's needs while retaining most of the original architectural character. Our neighborhoods are undergoing a rash of scrapes and rebuilds (just last week a cute little MCM-influenced house down the street from us was scraped), so the tour is timely to show people what's possible.

The tour featured eight homes: two in Brentwood, three in Crestview, and three in Allandale. One of the ones in Brentwood is owned by a work friend who's a Modernist, so it was cool to see the fantastic results of her remodel. Most of the remodels were of a Modernist bent, and almost everyone seemed to be a musician! The coolest historical detail we learned was how the group of houses down the street from us were part of a national study on using air-conditioning in American homes. I'll be blogging about that cool little story shortly.

Preservation Austin doesn't allow interior photography, so the photos below (and the tacos above!) were taken with my iPhone. Interior photos are lifted from Preservation Austin.

Two young ladies in era clothes were touring in this era Dodge. Looks restored from this distance, but it's all original! Wished Preservation Austin would team up with a local car club to get era vehicles in front of the homes on the tour (maybe I can help them out with that...).

My friend's fantastic house!

image from here

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Homeowner is a landscape architect. It showed.

photo from here

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Seen walking in neighborhood.

Seen walking in neighborhood.

The house at Morrow was interesting in that from the street, it didn't appear any work had been done on the house. However, once inside, it was clear that something magical had happened! This photo (taken from here) is from the back of the house. The panels to the left hide the TV to the left and bookshelves to the right. The black beneath holds an inset fireplace to the left and is clad in blackened steel. 

The front of the Morrow house while under renovation (via Google streetview)

Home owned by the architect Christy Seals (who also remodeled the house on Daugherty that appears later in the tour). Christy's work has a fun, updated 50s feel.

Christy added the double-butterfly roof to the house, which feeds a 2,000-gallon rainwater tank.

A clever fencepost aqueduct that carries rainwater from the house to the storage tank at the back of the property.

Neat little set-up!

photo from here

One of the houses that was among the first to have air conditioning in the U.S.

image from here

The other house (also remodeled by Christy Seals).

image from here

When the bride and I heard that the Heritage Society's Homes Tour would be in our neighborhood, we were instantly excited. We have been members of the Society for some years and had enjoyed and been inspired by several of the previous tours—and now the tour was coming to our neighborhood! We were surprised to have our tiny purple house considered for a potential tour stop. "Our house is more hysterical than historical," l explained to the nice ladies that screened our humble adobe for the tour. "People like to have things to look at on these tours, " they explained, "And your house has plenty to look at!"

We learned that a house undergoes an instant transformation after one agrees to place it on a tour. One moment, it's your beautiful home, and the next, it's a poorly decorated shack ready to collapse. Little imperfections that we had learned to live with suddenly became fatal flaws, unfinished tasks suddenly demanded to be completed, and long-planned but unfulfilled projects became matters of life and death. "Hmmmm," l hmmmm'd to myself after the Heritage screeners left our house, "1 really should finish that bathroom remodel l started 10 years ago …”

And like a grackle screeching into the hot blue sky, a circular saw screeched into wood in a frantic race against the clock to get ready for the tour. For me, this was a good thing. If given the choice between building a gate in the backyard and drinking a beer, well, that beer's gonna get warm if we don' t drink it now ... But with a deadline, I'm a man possessed. The tour prompted us to finish several projects we had placed on the back burner. One project was to get sofas for the living room (a transition into adulthood we had delayed for the past 15 years by owning futons ... ). Another project was to get the floors refinished ("Shouldn't you be doing that AFTER hundreds of people tromp through your house," a friend asked.). Yet another project was to build that gate and finish some landscaping. And yes now was the time to finally finish that 10-year bathroom remodel!

The week before the tour,

Here's a last minute project recipe used by some homeowners: (1) find large box, (2) stuff all loose items into large box, (3) stash large box somewhere where no one will see it. A famous author once said that you never finish writing a book, you merely abandon it. And this is true for homes on tours as well. At 9:30 AM, the last task I could accomplish completed, we released our house to our "house mother" and her docents and went to breakfast. After breakfast (and after voting), we went on the tour. It was neat to feel the energy in the neighborhood, people walking around with their tour fans discussing the houses. The homes and gardens we saw were fabulous (We were so excited to visit the Heritage House, a structure we'd admired since moving into the neighborhood). Halfway through the tour, we started hearing people talking about our house: "Have you been to the purple house yet?" "Their refrigerator has legs!" "That cat was amazing. She just sat there!" "Did you see that tile in the back yard?"

After going through the entire tour except for our house, we decided to

So if you get asked to include your home on the Heritage homes tour, we would recommend your answer be an emphatic "YES!" Your house will look stunning, you will learn a lot of history, you will get to meet so many neat people, and you will be helping a good cause-preserving historic Austin

(slightly edited from the original version because, well, I can't help myself!)

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