East Austin home restoration bucks trend, saves neighborhood memories


For years, neighbors feared that the seven little cottage homes on a single lot on Garden Street would go the way of many of their East Austin brethren and be razed to the ground in favor of a newer, more modern home.

Rumor was that the bungalows, which date back to 1925, were to be demolished to make way for one of the “McMansion” homes that longtime residents so despise. The former inhabitants of the homes began taking regular trips to the neighborhood to make sure the houses were still there and, if they weren’t, to try to salvage some pieces of wood to keep as mementos.

One of those frequent visitors was Kirt Reed, who lived at 1309 Garden St. as a boy in the 1940s. “I did not want to come by and see a vacant lot,” he said.

As of January, Reed could officially stop worrying. A partnership between Loved Homes and Sentell Solutions, both run by native Austinites, bought the property and announced they would tackle their investment as a preservation project that would keep the character of the homes intact while updating them to include the comforts of a modern-day home.

“It was a tremendous feeling to know that everything was going to be restored,” said 79-year-old Jimmy Reed, Kirt’s older brother. “I spent my childhood down there. I got a lot of memories there, and I guess that restoring (the homes) more or less restores all the memories.”

Dimitri Hammond and Ryan Gullahorn, the two men at the helm of the project, grew up in Austin and remember when it was billed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and when Richard Linklater’s “Slacker” first drew to the city scores of people who were hoping to live the eccentric misfit lifestyle depicted in the film.

In more recent years, they’ve seen how the city’s explosive growth has led to the razing of old traditional homes, even some in Gullahorn’s own Bouldin Creek neighborhood. The destruction, they say, has taken with it some of the city’s culture and character.

“Since we’re from here, we probably have a little more of a connection to it,” said Hammond, the president of Loved Homes. “It’s a town we grew up in, we love and we want to keep it that way.”

Hammond said the group will try to use as much of the old homes as possible. Even things that get torn out of the houses may be used in repairs afterward. For example, some of the floor from one home will be transferred to another home.

In many ways, the partners said, razing the homes and building from scratch would be much easier. But that, Gullahorn said, would miss the point.

The homes range from two to three bedrooms. With their small yards and porches out front, Gullahorn believes, there’s something inherently attractive about them that contributes to the creation of a communal environment in the neighborhood.

The McMansions, he believes, create the opposite effect of isolation and separation. And Hammond said buyers will be attracted to the history of the homes and the stories behind the families that lived in them.

Every year, former residents meet at a home in the neighborhood for the annual Garden Street Reunion and tell stories about looking for marbles underneath the foundations of the homes and playing football on what were then dirt roads.

“In Austin, a lot of people take (the design of the homes and their history) seriously,” Hammond said. “They think the ‘energy’ of a house is a big deal; they like the good energy of people living here, and they’re attracted to it.”

The group also hopes to prove to other developers that the idea of preservation is profitable and can turn a buck. The small homes just outside of downtown, the first of which will be available sometime in June, will start in the $400,000 range.

“We’re running a company; you have to look at profit,” Hammond said. “It’s a necessary part of every business, but for us it’s secondary to culture. … What I want to be able to show developers, lenders and investors is that there’s still a way to restore (and make a profit). It can still be done.”

For the neighbors, old and new, it’s a relief to know the character of their neighborhood will be maintained, and with it some of the memories made in those homes.

“It’s going to be around a lot longer than I am,” Jimmy Reed said.


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