Historians campaign to save pre-Civil War home from demolition

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 10, 2013 at 2:10 a.m.

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

ABOVE: The Zahn house at 107 DeLeon St. has been condemned by the city and is scheduled to be demolished. Historians believe the house could have been built as early as 1841.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

Considered one of the oldest structures in Victoria, the squat, unassuming house at 107 DeLeon St. faces a future bound for the landfill as a heap of discarded history.

With less than a month left on the demolition moratorium required for historic buildings, a band of preservationists and historians are scrambling to find someone willing to save the 150-year-old home before being leveled.

"I don't want to be made out as the bad guy who takes the wrecking ball to this, but I don't want to let this linger on too much longer," said current owner Bud Hankins. "I just want it gone."

Last fall, he and his wife, Linda Hankins, bought the lot from their brother-in-law Michael Filley, of Austin, with plans to build a new home.

As word spread that the home would be leveled, Hankins, a homebuilder by trade, began hearing from preservationists, who urged him to hold off on the demolition.

"There are people who have an interest in this house, I'm not one of them," he said.

Jeff Wright, Victoria County Heritage Department director, dates the home to 1861 but said it could go as far back as 1841.

"It predates the Civil War," Wright said. "There's not many structures around that can even say that."

Wright said the majority of Victoria's popular historic homes are two- and three-story behemoths. However, simple Greek-revival homes like this one were the most prevalent - and now - the most overlooked.

Sunlight trickles through gaping holes in the front porch ceiling, highlighting the ferns and shrubs growing up through the floor.

Hankins boarded up the windows, hoping someone would come forward with an offer to move and restore the house, but with damage from the elements and transients, he decided he could not wait.

After the home was condemned May 28, Hankins got a demolition permit issued June 5.

"When the city stuck the orange sticker on it, I was ready to be done with it," Hankins said. "I'm not spending a nickel on it other than to get rid of it."

He is offering the home for free to anyone who wants it, but the clock is ticking for someone with the time and desire to save it and claim it.

In order to move it, a lot and pad must be prepared. Moving the structure could cost upward of $10,000.

As the county heritage director and executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc., Wright knows the house needs a lot of tender loving care, but he sees its potential.

Built of cedar planks and fitted with longleaf pine on the interior, Wright appreciates its simple, solid craftsmanship.

Gary Dunnam, the former director of Victoria Preservation Inc., has also played a hand in the campaign to save the home.

The windows, six panes over six panes, are true to the era.

"That house is just a good glimpse at what a lot of Victoria looked like 100-and-some-odd years ago," he said. "You have to care, and you have to see the potential and the beauty in it."

Louise Hull-Patillo, a real estate agent, took a special interest in the house.

With her background in home restorations, she sees potential written all over the walls.

She envisions it with a new life as a family home, offices or even a welcome center for the city, placed on the empty lot on the Street of Ten Friends.

"Something's not worth saving just because it's old," she said. "This house is more than just old."

Hull-Patillo is confident someone will step up to preserve the history of that structure.

To someone who has never taken on a restoration project, this might appear to be beyond saving, but she said it's not.

"The roof needs to be replaced, it has some rotten shingles, but these houses were built to last," she said. "It'll be a shame if it gets torn down."

Hankins, who is approaching a year of owing the lot, said he has no intention of saving it. He said several people have shown interest, but nothing has happened.

"My wife instructed me to have that house given away, moved or - worst case scenario - to knock it down," Hankins said. "If this is something that goes back 100 years, good. Do what you can with it. .... It's not something I'm interested in messing with."



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