Monday, February 1, 2016

The Garrett House

From the Kerrville Daily Times website.
photo by Tom Holden/Times Photo Editor, photo@daily
This past week saw a kerfuffle over the razing of an old Kerrville house; the Garrett house was built in 1912 by a prominent Kerrville family, and torn down last week by another prominent family.
The house stood at the intersection of Main and Broadway streets, pointing toward town. According to research by my friend Deborah Gaudier, "The San Antonio Express for Feb. 12, 1912, reported on the construction of this house. Described as a 'five-room cottage at the junction of Broadway and Main Street,' this lovely house was erected for Mary and William Gray Garrett, Jr. in advance of their marriage June 9, 1912. At the time of his death, Garrett was treasurer of the Schreiner Company. He was a brother of Earl Garrett for whom the street is named. The contractor was W. L. Council, a prominent businessman, builder, and developer in Kerrville. The Garrett and Council families live in Kerrville today."
The property is owned by the Cailloux Foundation, which had the house torn down. I exchanged emails with a member of the foundation prior to the house coming down, and was told moving the house was not feasible (it was too tall to pass through town unless the roof was removed), and, after "extensive asbestos remediation," the structure was no longer safe.
I replied that I certainly understand, because I do. My family owns an old structure in town with similar problems, and I inquired about the person doing the demolition work for them, thinking they might be a resource for my family.
What happened this week demonstrates a dilemma many property owners face, especially when faced with the special challenges of old structures: when is it feasible to maintain and restore a building, and when is it best to knock it down? And what constitutes a historic structure?
The fate of any building is in the hands of its owners. In Texas we believe (rather strongly) in property rights. Many of us also believe in historic preservation, when possible. I certainly don't fault the foundation for exercising its rights as owner of the Garrett house, and they did look into the feasibility of moving the house from the site. It sounds to me like they investigated preserving the old home.
But it's still a dilemma.
Take, for example, the property owned by my family at the eastern corner of Francisco Lemos and Herzog streets, a green building of four apartments.
These were built in 1935, and called the "Rose Garden Apartments." They were built by George and Clara Neuschafer. Clara was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Herzog; Mr. Herzog was a long-time employee of Captain Charles Schreiner, and served on the very first Kerrville City Council. Clara was also the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Dietert, one of the first families to settle in Kerrville.
George and Clara were interesting folks: they met in New York, and after a six year acquaintance, they were married in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Clara graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music; George, a native of Worms, Germany, was a chemical engineer, spoke several languages, and was an avid photographer. They moved to Kerrville from South America in the late 1920s, and developed some of the land owned by the Herzog family, including the construction of the "Rose Garden Apartments."
By the time my family purchased the land in the late 1980s, the apartments were in structural decay, and the wisest course would be to have them torn down.
But twice we've contracted with individuals who indicated a desire to move the buildings or at least repurpose the materials elsewhere. We offered the structure at no cost in both cases, provided it was moved off of our lot.
In both cases the individuals were not able to complete the contract for reasons having nothing to do with the work. And so the old apartments are still standing there. (Our offer still stands, by the way.)
Historic preservation must be coupled with feasibility. And there are degrees of historic value; not all old buildings are equally historic.
While it would be easy to blame the foundation (in this case), or the city government (in general), for the lack of historic preservation, in truth the problem is more nuanced than it seems. Until the community agrees on what constitutes historic preservation, and governments and organizations can provide incentives for appropriate preservation without penalizing property owners, more such kerfuffles will occur.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who first heard the heartbeats of each of his children in the Garrett house, back when it was a physician's office in the mid-1980s. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 30, 2016

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