Leander’s Historical Preservation Commission and Public Arts Commission are to begin working together to discover options for the future of the Davis House, a historic home built in 1891 located in Old Town Leander.
Leander City Council and members of the community discussed the future of the Davis House during a council meeting March 7, after locals showed up to the meeting concerned the home might be demolished.
After hearing testimonies from community members, council voted unanimously to direct the commissions to look at potential strategies for the home’s future. Options could include grant funding to support the home or finding a new use for the home such as a museum. Council also directed city staff to explore options, which could include bringing the house up to city code or leasing it.
The city has owned the two-story home at 104 N. Brushy St. since 2006, according to city spokesperson Mike Neu. The Leander Planning Department used the home as office space until February 2018, when the department moved across the street to Pat Bryson Municipal Hall.
Council has been discussing the Davis House since January 2018, when they hired Antenora Architects to complete an assessment of the Davis House. The city paid $24,828.21 for Antenora Architects’ assessment, Neu said.
The architects delivered a presentation to City Council in July, saying their initial assessment found the house is significant, since Leander has few remaining historic structures in Old Town. Meeting documents from the architects state the house warranted another report.
During a meeting Sept. 6, council voted unanimously to deny moving forward with any future assessments of the house, citing fear of losing money and directing staff to bring forth ideas for the property.
An agenda item stating “discuss and consider directing staff to obtain quotes for demolishing the Davis House” was placed on the March 7 City Council meeting agenda, encouraging several Leander residents to show up to express concern for the potential removal of the building.
Mayor Troy Hill, who approves the agenda before it is published, said his goal with having the item on the agenda was not to remove the house.
“It was never the intent to take it down,” Hill said. “It was the intent to gather information.”
Hill said he supports keeping the house but was concerned doing so could be costly.
“I fully support whatever we can to keep it,” Hill said. “Then I have a responsibility to every taxpayer in Leander not to just spend money like crazy. Somewhere in between these two things is the right solution.”
Michael Antenora, founding principal for Antenora Architects, said during the March 7 meeting that based on initial studies his company completed, the building is sound. He said studies have not yet been done to look for problems like lead paint and asbestos.
Karen Thompson, chair of the Leander Historical Preservation Commission, said the home is a remarkable survivor of what the city used to look like. Thompson, who has lived in the Greater Austin area more than 50 years, said the Old Town area once had several houses like this one, but they have since been torn down.
“Without the Davis House, you don’t even have an Old Town,” Thompson said. “You’d have some buildings, but you wouldn’t have a flagship.”
The home was named after its former tenants, the Davis family, who owned it from 1949-2006. The family included Jimmie Joe Davis, a fiddle-maker and musician, who owned the house until his death in 2004.
Jerry Davis, son of Jimmie Joe, said he grew up in the house. He said he has done work on the house over the years and thinks it is in good shape despite its age.
Carolyn Bonnet, daughter of Jimmie Joe and Jerry’s sister, said she also lived in the house. Bonnet said her family sold it to the city in 2006, hoping the city would restore it.
“If it was demolished, you would be tearing the heart and soul out of Leander,” Bonnet said.
Scott Calame, a member of the Public Arts Commission, said the house could serve many purposes. He said it could be a place to house art, a civic center or a meeting place for commissions.
“I think we can all agree that it is iconic,” Calame said. “It’s an icon for Old Town Leander and Old Town Leander would be diminished if that building were demolished. I don’t think anyone wants to do that. If we maintain the outside visual appearance, that creates something that can be used by the city and by the residents.”