Retirees. Dog walkers. Preschoolers. Joggers. They all stop at the corner of 41st Street and Avenue G in Hyde Park to marvel at the side-yard mini farm, home to 12 nameless chickens and three goats: Clementine, Rosebud and Billy Budd.
The neighborhood attraction has only grown more popular since the start of the pandemic when daily walks became one of the few acceptable social activities—and a cherished part of many people's routines.
"I do think it has been significant to people's lives," said Don York, 63, owner of the historic home with his wife Diane. "They weren't going to church anymore. They weren't going out to eat with their friends... So it really did become a place of community."
Don York and his wife, Diane, used to walk by their current home and hope to live there one day. (Emma Freer)
The Yorks landed in Hyde Park after considering other options, including Tarrytown, Travis Heights and Dripping Springs. "Before Diane and I married, I was just driving around through neighborhoods trying to decide where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives," Don said. "Hyde Park just had the best feel."
While renting a honeymoon cottage at the corner of 40th Street and Avenue H, the couple would scope out the property. "We would walk by this house in the evening and say, 'Man, we would love to live there,'" Don said. "When they put up the for sale sign, we had a contract on it in 24 hours."
Jack the brown lab stands at the gate of the corner property. (Emma Freer)
They purchased the purple house for $150,000 in 1991 and soon welcomed their older son, whose middle name—Gray—pays homage to the former owner.
There's something of a naming tradition. The Zimmerli-Rosenquist house was built in 1903 and has changed owners approximately 17 times, according to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. The first owner, Ida Zimmerli, was a Swiss immigrant and dressmaker who sold it to Helena Rosenquist, a Swedish immigrant who lived there with her husband and their five children.
The home's history is part of its appeal. "One of the things I really like about the house is the tall ceilings, with the ceiling fans and the transoms," Don said. "Because, you know, back in 1903 people didn't have air conditioning."
In addition to good airflow, the house is surrounded by yard space on all sides and features an octagonal porch, which is currently home to at least three nests: robins, sparrows and wasps.
Robin chicks await their next meal. Their nest is hidden in one of the many corners of the Yorks' octagonal porch. (Emma Freer)
'A labor of love'
The mini-farm, which Don calls "a labor of love," began around 13 years ago, when the Yorks' older son was a student at McCallum High School. Don can't quite remember whether it was an environmental science or urban farming class that did it, but he knows his son came home one day wanting to get some chickens. With Diane's approval, Don transformed the kids' abandoned A-frame swing set into a coop and brought home the first eight birds.
Students from the nearby Hyde Park Montessori and Children's Discovery Center schools started visiting each day, around mid-morning. "After we had the chickens for a few years, I was sitting there thinking, 'Aren't you little kids tired of counting chickens?'" Don said. "So I just thought, 'Let's throw some miniature goats in the mix.' And that changed the course of history."
Rosebud moved to the mini farm around Christmastime and is named for the movie Citizen Kane. (Emma Freer)
The chicken coop was repurposed from an old A-frame swing set. (Emma Freer)
The Yorks brought home Clementine and her twin sister, who died shortly after. Because goats are social animals, they soon welcomed Rosebud, who, unbeknownst to them, was pregnant. She gave birth to Billy Budd, named for a Herman Melville novella, in front of an audience of Montessori students.
Although Hyde Park has changed since the Yorks moved in—there are more BMWs than beat-up old Volvos, Don said—their routine has remained largely the same. Diane feeds the animals and mucks their enclosure. Don handles media inquiries and maintenance, such as adding a higher fence when the goats started escaping. He also collects eggs each day. There's a small basket hanging on the fence, where passersby can swap $5 for a carton.
Lucky passersby will find fresh eggs, which Don typically sets out in the early evenings. There is a small coin purse for payment. (Emma Freer)
During the pandemic, the mini-farm was a natural gathering place, where neighbors could chat at a safe distance, with an obvious icebreaker. Don, an attorney, would sometimes have to change rooms while attending virtual hearings to get some quiet. But he welcomes the visitors, who continue to flock to the yard. "COVID really did ratchet it up," he said. "Hordes of people, every day."
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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.