- Nicole Villalpando American-Statesman Staff
Like its eclectic furnishings and gardens and its spectacular purple paint color, the 1903 Zimmerli-Rosenquist House in Hyde Park has had a long, vibrant history that didn’t always follow the usual path.
Today, Don and Diane York own the two-bedroom house with aspects of Queen Anne, early century cottage and classic revival architecture. They bought it in 1990 for $150,000.
Diane York remembers taking the leap and not wanting to tell her mother in Waco how much they spent. Now, of course, the house is worth so much more, both in value and as a historical landmark of what Austin was at the turn of a century.
The Yorks have watched the Hyde Park neighborhood transition from mostly college students piling into houses to share the rent to primarily families.
“We like to look like geniuses,” Don York jokes.
The home is part of the 40th Historic Hyde Park Homes Tour on Sunday.
The Yorks raised their two sons in the house, even turning a carport into a bonus room for the boys and their friends who filled Avenue H and surrounding streets, often roaming through one another’s yards.
The house was already painted purple when they bought it from another family. The Yorks have taken it into a new eclectic. Diane York found furniture on the sidewalks of Tarrytown and brought it home. A neighbor’s former chimney made with Austin bricks turned into a side porch. The original claw-foot tub, which was too narrow for today’s preferences, became a flower planter. They found the garden gate from Salado in a classified newspaper.
They also brought a mini-farm to the property. A son’s high school project to raise chickens turned their swing set into a chicken coop. Then came the miniature goats, which now number three: Clementine, Rosebud and Billy Budd. The kids from the neighborhood preschools come walking by to stare at the goats and chickens.
They surrounded the property with a wrought-iron fence and gate that feel as if they always belonged there.
They added gardens that are constantly evolving and feature statues and trinkets as well as plants.
They also brought function. They recently redid the downstairs bathroom and previously redid the kitchen with new cabinets and counters as well as raised the ceiling to the roofline so it wasn’t so claustrophobic.
Yet they have kept much of the charm of the home. They love the high porch and the porch swing. They’ve kept bull’s-eye molding and doorway transoms as well as the original wood floors.
The home has evolved through its history. The land was originally owned by the MKT Land and Town Co., aka the railroad. The house takes its name from the first two owners, Ida Zimmerli, who owned it from 1903 to 1906, and Helena Rosenquist, who owned it for 29 years.
During Rosenquist’s time, the house was converted into a duplex, which it remained until house remodeling company Austin Vintage Homes bought it in 1980.
The Yorks heard many tales of who lived in the home during its duplex days. At one point, they heard the story of a library on one side of the duplex and a bandito biker living on the other. The biker would park his motorcycle on the front porch. One day, while Don York was out in the yard, a man on a motorcycle stopped by. He had lived there and he was the “bandito,” which, of course, he never was. And yes, he lived next to a librarian, whom he later had a romantic relationship with.
The scene of someone stopping by that used to live in the house plays out again and again.
The home turned back into a single-family home in 1980 when Judy Sanders of Austin Vintage Homes had the foresight to buy it and preserve it. While Sanders kept many of the architectural details, she also modernized it with central air and heat and made it more structurally sound with new pier and beams. She also maximized the space by converting the attic into a second bedroom.
From that restoration period, the home kept a few pieces of the past. In a shadow box in the study are some of the things found under the house when the pier and beams were poured — medicine bottles, a baby doll hand, a toy soldier and more. Up the staircase to the attic bedroom, you can find the original chimney, which has been closed off for safety. The chimney has some of the home’s original wallpaper attached.
One of the things Diane York especially loves about the house is its imperfections. Every door creaks when it opens. Nothing in the house is exactly level. “You can’t find a square wall in here,” Diane York says.
It gives a certain kind of freedom to live and enjoy the house.
“It’s just home,” Don York says. It’s where they brought both boys home from the hospital. “It’s where he was born and where I want to die,” he says, referring to his oldest son, Christian, who was born two months after they bought the house.
“It had this sweet little glow,” Diane York says of the admiring the house from the street before they owned it. She later learned that the previous homeowner used pink light bulbs to achieve that, but even without those bulbs, it still is a sweet little house.