The 1887 birds-eye view of Austin suggests the rich and varied Victorian resources which made up Austin at that time--neighborhoods full of homes and churches, downtown commercial buildings, educational structures throughout the city, all designed to please and inspire.
Slowly, over the years, neighborhood by neighborhood, building by building fell victim to new construction. In the early 1970s, just as the historic preservation movement was flowering throughout the nation, Austin lost three significant Victorian-style houses in the central downtown area: the Butler House, the Houghton House, and the Hunnicutt House. The struggles to save them stirred strong feelings throughout the community, on both the part of the property owners and the preservationists, feelings remembered very vividly today. It is likely that these very public battles created an increased awareness in Austin's citizens of the importance of preserving the past.
In all three cases, contemporary newspaper accounts trace a seemingly inexorable, sadly predictable sequence of events leading to the houses' demise. First there is the announcement that the house is on the market or has been recently purchased and its fate now uncertain. This is followed by attempts by the local preservation organizations, often joined by prominent citizens, to find a viable contemporary use and then raise the funds to move the house and restore it. Ultimately, the legal and financial maneuverings by the preservationists are played out and the house falls to the demolition crews. Sadly, these houses were not replaced by structures of comparable architectural worth, and today we realize that their losses diminish the urban landscape.
This exhibit, originally displayed in April 1994, was a joint presentation of the Austin History Center and the Heritage Society of Austin. Many thanks go to Heritage Society members Gregory Free and Martha Hartzog for using photographs, newspaper clippings, and personal recollections from the Austin History Center's collections to create this exhibit.