Fraternity will not immediately demolish house of former UT professor

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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