If you ever see a tortoise wandering West Austin alone, check his rear end for a set of labeled phone numbers and an Apple iTag. If that’s what you see, you’ll know you’ve found Bruce, who has a penchant for adventure.
Bruce, a Sulcata tortoise, just returned to his Daveport Ranch home mid-last week from a six-day trip that had his family, Austinites Brian and Samantha Price, anxiously searching on foot. Brian searched between his 24-hour shifts as an ER doctor.
“I was panicking because there was 109-degree weather, it was ridiculous, and there was no rain,” Brian said. “I was getting super nervous so I was literally out there every single day.”
In the 15 years Bruce has lived with the Prices, he has escaped a handful of times but always finds his way back with the help of his friends and social media.
Bruce as a baby.
Bruce now weighs 70 pounds.
The Price family adopted Bruce as a baby when their youngest son started asking for a pet tortoise. In the spirit of the dad who didn’t want the family pet, Bruce largely became Brian’s responsibility (and best friend) before long.
“Brian searched for him for hours and hours every day. He worked so hard and found him and also had a really good idea of where he was going to end up,” Samantha said. “He truly understands Bruce.”
Now a solid 70 pounds, Bruce has become famous in their neighborhood for his antics—Brian said he has escaped home three times, once for 19 days straight and as far as nine miles away.
After his first disappearance, the Prices added stickers with their phone numbers to his shell, which helped him get found the second time when he stopped by someone’s lawn. Then they added the iTag, which he conveniently managed to slough off before he disappeared this month.
Each time they have taken to Nextdoor to spread the word of his disappearance, where neighbors have organized search parties, created maps of his favorite locations, given out flyers, shared tips and brought Bruce home.
This time, Bruce was found by a neighbor's child in the greenbelt while Brian was searching using mating calls that had been suggested online.
“Everybody knows Bruce in Westlake because of his escapes, everybody knows about the adventures of Bruce,” Brian said. “Whenever we go on vacation, the neighbors help take care of him.”
His adventures have inspired a book idea, which Samantha envisions as an educational chronicle of Bruce’s adventures from his perspective; a reattached tracker and an enclosure upgrade that gave him about 200 square feet of shade to roam so he hopefully won’t want to seek it elsewhere.
“I saw the community coming together and just wanting to find him, he really does bring our community together,” Samantha said.
Brian said his aversion to social media even faltered a little when he watched his online community comment, “Bruce for mayor!” upon his post announcing the tortoise was back home.
“He's a little celebrity,” Brian said.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.