The Waco Historic Landmark Preservation Commission is putting a demolition hold on three red-tagged North Waco houses, hoping to find buyers with the vision and money to rescue them.
The city-appointed commission last Thursday took the rare step of imposing a six-month moratorium on houses that the inspection department had recommended for demolition.
The homes at 514 N. 11th St., 919 N. 11th St. and 1900 Morrow Ave., did not previously have historic designations.
“What we’re hoping is that we can work with the property owners who might be motivated to sell them, even letting the city market them,” City Planning Director Clint Peters told the board.
As the city’s chief historic preservation officer, Peters has the power to put a three-month demolition delay on a property and can ask the commission to extend the delay to six months.
That power has been used only once, when the commission in 2012 halted the demolition of the Shear-Callan mansion on Columbus Avenue in an unsuccessful attempt to find a buyer for it.
Peters said the city can’t permanently stop anyone from demolishing private property, even if it’s deemed a state, local or federal landmark, and it can’t force anyone to sell the property.
But in this case, Peters said the owners have said they do not have the means to repair the homes, and he hopes they would be willing to sell.
Peters said Friday that the three red-tagged houses are “all in pretty bad shape.” Red tags mean they are uninhabitable and infeasible to repair, in the opinion of city inspectors.
Peters said the house at 1900 Morrow Ave. may have the most potential for renovation, despite its dilapidated appearance.
The one-story Victorian house was built by Waco jeweler Jacob Levinski in the late 1880s, according to Kenneth Hafertepe, a Baylor historic preservation expert who had his class research the house. The white clapboard structure has 16-foot ceilings inside and customized millwork in the exterior gables.
The house also has a back hall that extends diagonally to what appears to be a kitchen — an unusual feature, Hafetepe said.
“I can’t think of a parallel for that,” Hafertepe said.
Now the house is in disarray, with some of the 8-foot-tall windows busted out, vines growing inside, and trash and bedding on the floor, suggesting vagrants have been sleeping there.
Don Davis, chairman of the preservation commission and executive director of Historic Waco Foundation, went to take a look at the house Friday morning. Looking at the rain-soaked wood and the doors that open into thickets of bamboo, he said it would take someone special to restore the house.
“Someone with a lot of imagination,” he said.
Still, Davis says he remained hopeful about the house’s potential.
Vicky Weathers, who lives a block away, said the house has unique architectural character and is one of the oldest in the neighborhood. But she said it may be too far gone to save.
“I looked inside the house, and I couldn’t see the potential,” she said. “My husband, who’s an engineer, could. . . . I could kind of go either way on it.”
Weathers said the space isn’t well configured for a private dwelling, but it might make a good art studio, complementing the Art Forum of Waco, which is across the street.
Weathers said the owner of the house, a waiter at a local restaurant, lived in the house until a few years ago but was unable to keep it up because of personal struggles.
“The house has always been like that,” she said.
Weathers said the owner is attached to the house, but she hopes the city can talk him into selling it.
She said she is glad to see the demolition delay for the sake of historic preservation.
“I do think the city is doing a better evaluation of these properties than a few years ago,” she said.
City staff recently came under fire for issuing a demolition permit for an 1870s-era home near Baylor University that had a state historic marker for it.
Peters apologized to the landmark preservation commission last week for the oversight and said the inspection department is now routinely checking with him before issuing demolition permits for older properties.