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Houghton House
Photo: Houghton House
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307 West 12th Street
built: 1886
demolished: Sept. 1973
Replaced by: Stokes Parking Garage

navigation Butler House Hunnicutt House What We Have Learned Lost Victorian Austin Home Houghton House

Quote: We take no note of time/But from its loss

Photo: dining room fireplace
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John Henry Houghton built this handsome house around 1886. His family had been wealthy, but lost it all during the Civil War. The son started over again as a teamster, hauling goods from Hempstead to Austin and Georgetown. When he reached the pinnacle of his success, he asked noted Central Texas architect James Wahrenberger to design a house for his family. Wahrenberger had lately been a finalist for the design of the new State Capitol, placing second in the competition.

When driving south on Guadalupe Street it was impossible not to notice the round turret and stately central tower of the Houghton House. Over the years, as many of its fellows disappeared, the Houghton House became a striking landmark. Its roof exhibited all the features of a mature Victorian residence. An Historic American Buildings Survey completed just before its destruction notes that it had a "complex form with ridged and hipped projections and numerous dormers…. The central square tower over the entrance has a flared pyramidal steep roof with dormers on each of the four sides. The corner circular tower is topped with a steep-roofed conical tower with a single dormer. There were decorative metal finials on these towers" (HABS, p.11). The Stokes Parking Garage that replaced it is a study in contrast, a modern box which bears no visual relationship to the street or its neighbors.

Photo: stained glass window
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A visitor entered the house via an entrance foyer under the main tower. On the left was the stairhall, then the library, then a large ballroom. To the right of the hall was the parlor with wide folding doors opening to an octagonal dining room. Like many great houses of the period, its detailing was an eclectic mix: like stained glass windows, Classically inspired mantelpieces, and fanciful woodwork.

On March 15, 1973, San Marcos contractor John Stokes purchased the house from Johnson Properties of Austin. Apparently Stokes was obligated to build a parking garage on the site under the terms of a pre-existing mortgage. Two months later, on May 8, 1973, "Mansion's Fate Dims" reported the Austin Statesman. Stokes, who was kept very busy during Austin's building boom of the 1970s, was quoted in the article as saying "I am not going to preserve that house. If someone wants to restore it, they can buy it for $250,000." It was the beginning of a protracted struggle.

The Travis County Historical Survey Committee (now called the Travis County Historical Commission) tried to save the house, its efforts endorsed by the Austin City Council. State Representative Sarah Weddington suggested that the house be used as state office space. She kept the public informed on a provision in the State Appropriations bill being considered that session to provide funds for restoration of historic buildings in Austin from excess Texas Park and Wildlife monies, which, alas, did not materialize.

Photo: demolition of Houghton House
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Meanwhile, the tenants exited and Stokes had his workers begin removing items from the house piece by piece. Stokes was further quoted as saying that the house was "nothing but a damn shack inside," and that only "a bunch of old ladies" wanted to save it Austin Statesman, May 8, 1973. A week later Stokes had softened, offering to give the structure and $10,000 to any responsible organization that could move it within 120 days. Two months later, in July, the City of Austin issued Stokes a demolition permit.

Stokes had time to partially tear down the house before the City Council persuaded him to wait two weeks to see if a proposed solution would work, including substantial financial pledges from prominent citizens. It did not and on the weekend of September 8th to 9th, the house was razed. It was replaced by an eight-story parking garage.

Photo: Stokes parking garage
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