S. Leroy Brown

A fraternity may pay a local private school up to $25,000 to relocate the former home of a UT physics professor to the school’s property.

Phi Gamma Delta would pay between $20,000 and $25,000 to help move the former home of S. Leroy Brown, who in 1915 created WCM, Austin’s first broadcast radio station, a block away to Kirby Hall, a Pre K-12 college preparatory school located north of campus. Kirby Hall must decide by Dec. 15, when the fraternity plans to act on its demolition permit.

The fraternity wants to demolish or relocate the building and build two floors of underground parking, a soundproof room designated for parties and a new facility that would house fraternity members.

Matthew Thomas, director of admissions at Kirby Hall, said the school is still considering whether to adopt the structure and no plans have been confirmed. He said the school is currently asking contractors to provide cost estimates for interior renovation and building a new foundation for the house to sit on.

“There’s significant work to be done,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he does not know how much it would cost for the school to adopt the house, but it would cost about $50,000 to move the house. The fraternity would cover a portion of the moving costs.

The school would likely use the building to house offices or classrooms, Thomas said.

John Donisi, an attorney representing the fraternity, said the fraternity is open to another party adopting the house if Kirby Hall cannot do so by Dec. 15.

“We are hopeful that the arrangement with the Kirby Hall School will be successful, and we will continue to assist them in any way we can,” Donisi said.

In addition to providing partial funds for the relocation of the building, the fraternity said they will also help the school seek permits for the relocation process and prepare all legal documents related to the building’s ownership.

The city’s Historic Preservation Office sought to designate the house with historical status based on its affiliation with Brown and its Dutch Colonial revival-style architecture, as exhibited by its side-gabled roofs and parapets.

The Austin City Council and the Austin Planning Commission denied the office’s recommendation, but members of each supported efforts to relocate the house.

The house, built in 1915, is located behind Phi Gamma Delta’s main house at 2707 Hemphill Park. Brown lived in the house until his death in 1966. The fraternity purchased the property in 1995 after a local business, the Martha Ann Zivley Typing Service, vacated.

WCM, also established in 1915, used the call sign “KUT” during World War I, according to the Texas State Historical Association. However, WCM shares no lineage with the station currently known as KUT. According to KUT, the current incarnation of KUT was established in 1958.

Printed on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 as: Fraternity hopes to relocate home

The Austin City Council voted 5-2 Thursday to deny historical status to the former home of a UT physics professor. The house is located behind Phi Gamma Delta’s main house, and the fraternity will seek alternatives before demolishing the building.
Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

After Austin City Council denied historical status to the former home of a UT physics professor Thursday, the fraternity that owns the house will seek alternatives before it demolishes the building.

The council voted 5-2 Thursday to deny historical status to the former home of S. Leroy Brown, who in 1915 created WCM, Austin’s first broadcast radio station. The house, built in 1915, is located behind Phi Gamma Delta’s main house at 2707 Hemphill Park. The council’s decision follows the Austin Planning Commission’s recommendation in October to deny the house historic status and contradicts the Austin Historic Landmark Commission’s recommendation in June to grant the house historic status.

The fraternity wants to demolish the building and build underground parking, a soundproof room designated for parties and a new facility that would house fraternity members.

However, John Donisi, an attorney representing Phi Gamma Delta, said the fraternity will not execute their demolition permit until Kirby Hall School, a private school a block away from Phi Gamma Delta, decides if it wants to place the house on its property.

“That would be a wonderful thing,” Donisi said. “We really want it to work out.”

Donisi said the fraternity would be willing to pay a portion of moving costs if the school decides to place the house on its property.

The Historic Preservation Office sought to designate historical status to the house based on its association with Brown and its Dutch Colonial Revival-style architecture.

During the meeting, Donisi said the house’s architectural style is exhibited by other houses in Austin and does not distinguish it for historic consideration.

Austin Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said the house’s association with Brown and its architecture were grounds for assigning the building historic status. He said the houses mentioned by Donisi feature similar characteristics, including side-gabled roofs and parapets associated with Dutch Colonial Revival-style architecture, but said they ultimately follow other styles of architecture.

Despite earlier claims that WCM eventually became KUT, Austin’s National Public Radio affiliate, Sadowsky said WCM shares no lineage with the station currently known as KUT. WCM used the call sign “KUT” during World War I, according to the Texas State Historical Association. According to KUT, the current incarnation of KUT was established in 1958.

Brown lived in the house until his death in 1966. The fraternity purchased the property in 1995 after a local business, the Martha Ann Zivley Typing Service, vacated.

Council Member Chris Rileysaid he drove by the house and saw fraternity members’ cars spilling over the sidewalk and into the street because of a lack of parking. He asked how the demolition or removal of the house would affect pedestrians’ ability to use the sidewalk on Hemphill Park.

Kent Collins, a real estate developer working with Phi Gamma Delta and fraternity alumni, said a two-level underground parking garage will prevent cars from obstructing pedestrian traffic.

Mary Ingle, North University Neighborhood Association officer, said she supports moving the house to another site and does not think it merits historical status.

“I don’t think it is a landmark, but I do think it’s kind of cute and unique, and it could provide somebody a great structure,” Ingle said.

Printed on Friday, November 2, 2012 as: Frat pursues alternatives to destroying old buildings

The Austin Planning Commission recently voted to deny the house of former UT Professor S. Leroy Brown historical landmark status that would have prevented the home from being demolished. The home is currently property of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and is located directly behind the fraternity house on Hemphill Park.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin Planning Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to recommend denying historical status to the former home of a UT physics professor.

This decision contradicts the Austin Historic Landmark Commission’s June recommendation to grant the house historical status and deny UT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta permission to demolish the house. The fraternity wants to demolish the building and build underground parking, a sound-proofed room designated for celebrations and a new facility that would house fraternity members.

In a telephone interview, finance junior Charles Branch, who is president of UT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, said he was excited to hear that the commission agreed with the fraternity’s position.

“We hope that the City Council agrees with [the Planning Commission],” he said.

On Nov. 1 the recommendation will go before the Austin City Council, which will consider the Planning Commission and Landmark Commission’s conflicting recommendations before it offically decides the
house’s status.

Planning Commission member Jean Stevens said although she considers herself a preservationist, she does not believe there is a substantial case supporting the designation of historical status.

“I was trying to figure out ways I could call in sick tonight so I wouldn’t have to vote on it,” Stevens said.

She said she would support relocating the house to avoid demolition.

The house, built in 1915 and located behind the fraternity’s main house at 2707 Hemphill Park, is the former residence of UT professor S. Leroy Brown, who created WCM, Austin’s first broadcast radio station.

The station eventually became KUT, Austin’s National Public Radio affiliate.

Brown is also credited with the invention of a device considered an early analog computer, according to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

“This was a huge achievement by Dr. Brown and led the way to digital computing,” Austin Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said. “One might even say that Dr. Brown established Austin as a center for the digital age and the digital industry that eventually took hold here.”

Brown lived in the house until his death in 1966. The fraternity purchased the property in 1995 after a local business, the Martha Ann Zivley Typing Service, vacated.

Sadowsky said the house’s association with Brown and Dutch Colonial Revival-style architecture were grounds for assigning the building historic status.

John Donisi, an attorney representing Phi Gamma Delta, said KUT recognizes Bob Schenkkan as KUT’s founder, not Brown. He referred the commission to a notice of Schenkkan’s memorial service published on KUT’s website in 2011 that acknowledges Schenkkan as the founder.

He said other houses in the area exhibit the same type of architecture and have been designated historical landmarks, which contradicts the claim that the house needs to be preserved for architectural purposes.

“We’re not at a loss for this type of architecture,” Donisi said.

Donisi said the fraternity also supports relocation over demolition, but the fraternity has not found property to accommodate the house or a property owner willing to use their property for relocation.

Mary Ingle, North University Neighborhood Association officer, said she also supports relocating the house and allowing the fraternity to pursue their construction plans.

“It is rather unusual and it is kind of cute, but it is not for the neighborhood,” she said.

Printed on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 as: City council to vote on frat's demolition project

Commission to rule on historical status of former professor's residence

The Austin Planning Commission will vote on granting historical status to the former home of a UT physics professor.

If the commission approves the recommendation, it would deny UT's chapter of Phi Gamma Delta permission to demolish the house in order to build a parking lot and a new facility that would house fraternity members.

The house, located behind the fraternity's main house at 2707 Hemphill Park, is the former residence of Professor S. Leroy Brown, who created WCM, Austin's first broadcast radio station. The station eventually became KUT, Austin's National Public Radio affiliate.

Brown also invented the mechanical harmonic synthesizer, which is considered an early analog computer, according to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History's website.

In August, the Austin Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to recommend granting historical status to the house.

The house was built in 1915. The fraternity purchased the property in 1995 after Martha Ann Zivley's Typing Service vacated.

Steve Sadowsky, Historic Preservation Office director, said the recommendation will go before the City Council, who could officially declare the house a historic landmark and prevent its demolition. He said the commission does not have to approve the recommendation for the City Council to vote on it.

The Austin Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to deny UT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta permission to demolish the former home of a UT physics professor.

At its meeting Monday, the commission recommended granting historical status to the house of S. Leroy Brown, who created WCM, Austin’s first broadcast radio station. WCM eventually became KUT, Austin’s National Public Radio affiliate.

According to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History’s website, Brown invented the mechanical harmonic synthesizer, which is considered an early analog computer.

The fraternity’s main house at 2707 Hemphill Park, known as Buen Retiro, was granted historic status in 1972. Professor Brown’s former residence was built in 1915, and stands behind Buen Retiro.

The chapter purchased the property in 1995 after Martha Ann Zivley’s Typing Service vacated.

Finance junior Charles Branch, president of UT’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, said the fraternity planned to demolish the house in order to build a parking lot and a new facility that would provide living and study spaces for the fraternity’s expanding membership.

He said 50 members live in Buen Retiro’s 25 rooms, which he said strains the house’s bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Branch said he respects the commission’s decision, but said tearing down the smaller building will help preserve Buen Retiro.

“We’re doing this in part to save a historical landmark,” he said.

In addition to being Brown’s former residence, the commission recommended granting historical status because it exhibits Dutch Colonial Revival-style architecture and is one of the few houses in Austin that does so, according to the agenda item from Monday’s meeting.

Branch said the commission did not consider the fact that the house’s roof is caving and rodents live inside because Steve Sadowsky, Historic Preservation Office director, did not include that information in his report to the commission.

“He never stepped inside of the house,” Branch said.

Sadowsky said that the commission does not have jurisdiction over inspecting the interior of buildings.

According to the city of Austin’s webpage, the Fire Marshal’s office conducts fire and life safety inspections for multi-family residencies, fraternities and sororities. The office may also conduct investigations for single-family residencies.

Sadowsky said the recommendation to recognize the house as a historic landmark will go before the Austin Planning Commission, but he does not know when.

If the commission approves the recommendation, it will go before the City Council, who have the power to officially declare the house a historic landmark and prevent its demolition. Sadowsky said if the council approves the recommendation, the fraternity could appeal the decision in district court.

Branch said the fraternity has no current plans to contest or protest the commission’s recommendation, because it must first consult its alumni and lawyers.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Fiji construction paused by ruling

A demolition permit for a house owned by the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity was halted late last month by the Austin Historic Landmark Commission after claiming that the house could be designated a historic landmark.

Austin’s Historic Preservation Office was asked to further research the North Campus house located on 2707 Hemphill Park, a 97-year-old year bungalow-style house purchased by the fraternity in the late ‘90s. The building is located behind Buen Retiro, the fraternity’s main house, which was designated a historical property in 1972.

Steve Sadowsky, director of the Historic Preservation Office said he will recommend to the Historic Landmark Commission on July 30 that the house be designated a historic landmark because of its unique architecture and historical associations. The Historic Landmark Commission released a statement about the need to preserve the house because it “is one of a handful of houses remaining in Austin demonstrating the shaped parapets of the early Dutch Colonial Revival.”

The building was once home to UT physicist S. Leroy Brown, who created WCM, Austin’s first broadcast station — the station would go on to become KUT, according to a 1966 obituary written by UT faculty. And according to the Austin Historic Landmark Commission documents, Brown invented the mechanical multi-harmonograph, an early form of calculator that predated digital computing.

Kent Collins, the redevelopment project’s real estate developer and Texas Phi Gamma Delta alumnus, said he believes the HLC has done a poor job of researching the house. He said according to the City’s records, the building is not unique for Austin and does not need to be preserved.

“Austin has structures in our historic inventory that preserve the architecture — both Dutch Colonial Revival and the use of unique shaped parapets in residential structures,” Collins said. “Austin has structures in our historic inventory recognizing the history of KUT ... the true history of KUT occurred after Dr. Brown’s two-year association with radio at UT, and our landmarks portray that.”

Collins said the goal of the new building is to relieve pressure from the main house, which at times holds more than 200 people. It will be a bigger, more modern version of the previous house, needed to accommodate the growing needs of the fraternity, Collins said.

“If the demolition permit for the house does pass,” Collins said, “then the building we build in its place will be used as an extension of the main house with bedrooms, study rooms, social space, computer rooms and a house mother’s apartment.”

Sadowsky said the HLC will work with Collins and his company, Centro Development to reach a compromise if the building is demolished, but options other than demolition are not economically feasibly, Collins said.

“If the HLC does not recommend historic zoning, then we will release the demolition permit. We are asking the fraternity to consider alternatives to demolition, including incorporating it into the proposed addition, building around it, or moving it within a specified area that would retain its context with UT.” Sadowsky said. “If the house is demolished, we will require a documentation package, which does include photographs, a narrative history and a dimensioned sketch plan.”

According to a statement from the Office of the Dean of Students, the HLC findings will determine the exact significance of the building.

“The fact that the house was once owned by a UT Austin professor certainly links it to the University,” the statement read. “The fact that this professor, S. Leroy Brown, made important contributions to the creation of KUT radio and even the computer is definitely important.”

After Brown died in 1966, the house became home to Martha Ann Zivley’s Typing Service.

Collins said the business and buildings around campus are bound to change over time.

“Sure, I remember going there when I went to UT, but since then many popular UT-centric businesses have closed or moved,” Collins said. “I remember getting a great breakfast at 1 a.m. at The Frisco, which has been replaced by a Schlotzsky’s. That place had been there for over 50 years. Time doesn’t stand still, that’s just not how things work.”