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Early 1900 Refugio home, others marked for demolition

July 17, 2011 at 2:17 a.m.
Updated July 18, 2011 at 2:18 a.m.

The crumbling second story of the house at 904 S. Alamo St.,  is one of 21 houses tagged to be demolished in Refugio.

LAMERT-HYNES-WHITLOW HOUSEThe house was built in 1905 by George Strauch for Rose O'Brien, the daughter of John Thomas O'Brien and Johanna Whelan O'Brien.

The furnishings in 1905 were modern American and in the 1930s and '40s, Rhe house was refurnished with European antiques; one of the pieces was said to be a piano which belonged to Emperor Franz Josef of Austria and hand-painted in 1888 by Anton Lasor. Rose O'Brien's daughter, Jamie Lambert Hynes, occupied the house until her death in 1965. She was interested in the Indian encounter stories told by her great grandfather and grandfather, and she would often regale in these tales. The house was eventually sold in 1969 to Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Whitlow, colonial descendants of the Heard family.

Source: Refugio County Museum

REFUGIO - One of the few historic homes left standing as a landmark for longtime Refugio residents may soon be history.

The Lambert-Hynes-Whitlow house at the intersection of Alamo and Empresario streets is the only historic home on a list of 21 structures up for demolition in early August.

In late June, a contract building inspector hired by the Refugio City Council to survey 31 homes made final recommendations: 21 homes need to be torn down and 10 need to be rehabilitated, said Mayor Ray Jaso.

Notices for demolition or rehabilitation have been sent to each homeowner. Homeowners have one month to appeal the recommendation.

"That's as far as we are, which is a big step for us," Jaso said. "Before, we didn't have any teeth into anything."

The list of homes had been compiled several months ago, but it was not until recently the city began to make headway.

The council toured the city and made a running list of the most dilapidated homes. The council also heard the most complaints from residents about the Rose Lambert-Hynes-Whitlow home and another home in front of the H-E-B grocery store, which has no electricity or sewage.

The home in front of the H-E-B is the only home on the list which has someone living in the house, Jaso said.

A city cannot demolish a home and leave someone on the street, so Jaso has talked to group homes in the area interested in taking in the man, who Jaso said is not mentally capable.

Jaso does not know the man, but Refugio residents have seen him rummaging through trash at the H-E-B.

The Refugio County Appraisal District has the owner listed as Thomas Leo Butler.

Butler could not be reached for comment.

Many of the homes on the list have overgrown lawns, sunken roofs and no doors or windows.

Not only are the houses dilapidated, but some carry asbestos and are subject to illegal activity, Jaso said.

But the Rose Lambert-Hynes-Whitlow hardly needs to be torn down, said Bart Wales, president of the Refugio County Historical Society.

"I think it's a shame to lose more of Refugio's history," Wales said.

The home was built in 1905 by the daughter of one of Refugio's first Irish settles, Thomas O'Brien, Wales said.

The family had built the home, now up for demolition, as well as several other fairly large houses in the area, many which have been torn down.

The home was last on the society's historic homes tour in 1996, but Wales last stepped inside the home about five years ago, and then it had chipping paint and wallpaper.

Rehabilitation is all the home really needs, Wales said.

"It's got a real bad case of skin disease," he said. "But structurally, it was very sound."

The home's current owner, Jack Whitlow, who is the mayor in Port Lavaca, plans to appeal.

"I was surprised," Whitlow said about the notice to demolish. "They need to work more with the owners on them."

The home legally belongs to the Jewel Heard Whitlow estate, and several people are interested in buying and restoring, he said.

Though the Rose Lambert-Hynes-Whitlow home is up for demolishment, Jaso hopes it is appealed and restored.

Jaso's claims his grandmother once worked as a maid in the house, and he clearly remembers spending time there.

"I was in and out of that house growing up," Jaso said. "I know about the history of it all."

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