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Group urges city leaders to save historic home

By Melissa Crowe
July 16, 2013 at 2:16 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2013 at 2:17 a.m.

The Zahn House at 107 S. DeLeon St. has been condemned by the city and is scheduled to be demolished. Historians believe that the house could have been built as early as 1841.

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Although still facing the threat of demolition, the 152-year-old Zahn House is seeing support mount from all corners of the community - including Christian-based nonprofit groups, home restorers and, now, the Victoria City Council.

After a group of 11 residents spoke in support of saving the Zahn House, 107 S. DeLeon St., during Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Mayor Paul Polasek agreed to put it up for consideration at the Aug. 6 meeting.

The group of historians and preservationists hope revitalizing and repurposing the pre-Civil War era home will create a cultural icon in Victoria.

Former County Judge Helen Walker, who championed for the restoration of the historic county courthouse, urged the City Council to consider it.

"Heritage tourism is the best economic development tool we have," she said. "... We just ask for a chance to save this treasure."

The city condemned the house May 28 because it was unsecured. The current owners, Bud and Linda Hankins, pulled a demolition permit June 5.

While Polasek agreed to continue the discussion on the house, he said it is too early to tell how it will unfold.

He sees the city providing some hotel occupancy tax dollars to support the house's restoration.

"I don't think the city needs to be directly involved in moving or rehabbing it, though," Polasek said. "I would be happy to see it restored and used."

Councilman Jeff Bauknight said the best option is for the group of preservationists to come up with a proposal so the city can apply hotel tax dollars.

City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said hotel occupancy tax dollars can be invested in the house so long as it promotes the hotel industry and tourism.

Victoria Main Street Program Executive Director Sara Rodriguez made the case that in other cities, publicly funded historic restorations have become tourist destinations.

The city of Tyler restored an 1865 home with hotel tax dollars in 2010, which now attracts large groups and tour buses to the museum inside and the lush gardens and azalea bushes outside.

The city of Denton has also seen the benefit of historical tourism through two projects - the Bayless-Selby House in the historical park and the African-American Museum in the historic Quakertown House, which was moved near the city's historic downtown square.

Councilman Tom Halepaska said there are questions that need answers before the city commits.

One is "whether this thing has the structural integrity to move," he said. "If the termites stop holding hands, it'll fall apart."

Councilman Andrew Young said his preference is to save the structure.

"From a city standpoint, we need to look at cost and the structure itself," he said. "I'm interested in seeing the proposals."

He said the city can aid in other ways than strictly financial - either by donating land or easing the burden of permits.

Gary Dunnam, the retired director of Victoria Preservation Inc., hopes the city will take part in preserving the building.

"I understand that the feelings toward the city spending money to save something like this is not popular," Dunnam said.

He said he is grateful for the opportunity to preserve the community's history.

"Not everything old is worth saving," Dunnam said. "The Zahn House is an exception to that. It needs to be saved."

Thomas Doyle, representing Restoration House Ministries, said the nonprofit group is interested in restoring the home to provide transitional housing to the women in the program.

He suggested the city invest hotel taxes into the project, which could also be a draw for tourism.

"The city does not have to take ownership of this house to save it," Doyle said. "We can save what is definitely a historic asset to this community."

Councilwoman Josephine Soliz said she supported that suggestion.

"I think that's a great idea," she said.

She said hotel taxes could likely be used in that situation.

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