I thought it would be timely to highlight a battle over landmarking a MCM tower in downtown Austin.
The Westgate Tower, perhaps the best example of a mid-century high-rise in Austin, has applied for Historic zoning. The Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) voted to approve their application.
The HLC is of the opinion that the Westgate “…is an excellent example of the New Formalism in the modern movement of architecture in the 1960s…”
Landmarking would cut the property tax bill by nearly 2/3. That money is supposed to be reinvested in the property to upkeep its historic nature.
Many Austinites think that’s baloney and the owners will just pocket the money. HLC’s decision to recommend historic zoning for Westgate Tower to the City set off a public controversy.
Something that is clearly interesting here is the building’s ties to Fehr & Granger.
From the City staff report: “The Westgate Tower was designed by internationally-known New York architect Edward Durell Stone in 1962; the building was completed under the supervision of prominent local architects Fehr and Granger in 1966.”
And continues… “Ed Stone hired the prominent local architectural firm of Fehr and Granger to oversee the construction of the building. Fehr and Granger were locally known for their mid-century modern residential designs, and although Stone designed the exterior, Fehr and Granger were responsible for the details.”
The HLC’s background material is an interesting read (pdf).
So happy to hear this got approved! Not so happy to read the beyond-irritating (and expected ignorance) comments under the various news articles. Hopefully this will continue with all the other amazing MCM we have in Austin. It needs to be protected!
It’s already protected by virtue of being listed in the National Register. Not to mention the significant economic obstacles to redeveloping the property. The only purpose of the designation by the City is to award tax breaks, which aren’t needed to preserve it. The public opposition threatens the City’s historic landmark program. Historic preservationists should oppose this, not cheer it.
Shannon Stanbro says
Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does not confer protection from insensitive alterations, or even demolition. The only way to protect historic architecture is to have it declared historically significant by the appropriate local government agencies.
There is no federal law preserving buildings simply because they are listed in the National Register. But under the Austin City Code, any building or demo permit for a building listed on the National Register is automatically routed to the historic preservation officer and then to the Historic Landmark Commission. No one can demolish or substantially alter such a building in Austin without their acquiescence.