Herman: Honoring an old gas station, the Texas Capitol and a synagogue

4:03 p.m Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 Opinion
Leon and Mimi Tobin donated the historic synagogue from Brenham where it rested previously. A dedication ceremony was held Aug. 30, 2015, on the grounds of the Dell Jewish Community Center campus in Northwest Austin for the B’Nai Abraham Brenham Historic Synagogue, which was moved to the site from Brenham earlier this year.

The folks at Preservation Austin — do-gooders who do good under the great slogan “Saving the Good Stuff” — are out with their list of local stuff nicely saved. Included are a bus stop and, perhaps appropriately for Austin these days, something that moved here from out of town.

“This year’s recipients are among the best preservation projects from the past two years,” the organization said in announcing its 2017 Preservation Merit awards. “They represent a diverse cross-section of the city’s history and show the many ways in which preservation makes Austin a more engaging, authentic place for all of us.”

Indeed. I guess it’s great that a new Jetsons-looking P. Terry’s seems to go up on every corner, but good for folks who preserve old stuff.

My favorite honoree on Preservation Austin’s list is something I wrote a few thousand words about (and put together an hourlong documentary on) back in 2014 and 2015, when Brenham’s historic but defunct B’nai Abraham Synagogue was cut into three pieces, trucked to Austin, put back together and given a new life as the home of Austin’s Congregation Tiferet Israel on the Dell Jewish Community Campus in Northwest Austin.

Synagogue saga: B’nai Abraham’s most excellent road trip

In honoring Shalom Austin for its stewardship in giving new life to the old building (built in 1893), the Preservation Austin jury said, “The love and commitment of Shalom Austin, along with Brenham’s Leon and Mimi Toubin, to preserving B’nai Abraham as a synagogue is phenomenal. Moving the building involved difficult decisions followed by years of hard work and fundraising, but with wonderful results.”

The Toubins, whose family ties to the Brenham synagogue were deep and deeply felt, made the decision to move the old building to Austin. They also financed much of the project. Thanks again to all involved.

The bus stop honored with a Preservation Austin rehabilitation citation is the former gas station at 1500 San Jacinto Blvd. that’s been turned into the local Megabus terminal, replacing the Whitis Avenue parking lot that the intercity bus company used to use.

“This project is clean, happy and bright,” the Preservation Austin jurors wrote, “defined largely by its thoughtful restoration of this building’s defining features. The jury rejoiced that this former gas station, once assumed headed to the landfill, is now a tiny jewel box in a sea of state office buildings.”

And while we’re talking about state office buildings, let’s note one honored by Preservation Austin with an award for “restoration and special recognition.” Perhaps you’ve seen the building, a little ol’ thing called the Texas Capitol. Regardless of your political leanings about what goes on under the dome, it’s a great building and underwent a recent and significant exterior rehab.

Said the Preservation Austin jurors: “This project’s scale is both impressive and breathtaking. It shines for its innovative craftsmanship and painstaking detail, especially since the state could easily have replaced the Capitol’s windows instead of restoring them.”

We also should note Preservation Austin’s recognition of another Austin landmark that’s recently had a little work done. A rehabilitation award was given to the former site of Green Pastures, the venerable restaurant at 811 W. Live Oak St. that’s been given new life in recent years and is now known as Mattie’s.

“The gorgeous rehab, both welcoming and fun, is true to this treasured landmark’s status as an iconic Austin showplace,” the jurors said. “The property’s vibrancy has been restored and the march of time honored.”

It’s nice when the march of time is honored.

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Several private homes earned Preservation Austin citations. Drive by and take a look at the Darnall House, 2805 Wooldridge Drive; the Owings-Allen-Miller House, 1405 E. Cesar Chavez St.; the Thorne House, 3607 Balcones Drive; and the Young House, 2002 E. 16th St.

Also honored for stewardship was the team that’s rehabbing Downs Field in East Austin — Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural District; Huston-Tillotson University; the Austin Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments; and the Rosewood Neighborhood Contact Team.

“This grassroots effort shows what can happen when the community comes together to preserve and celebrate one of Austin’s great undertold stories,” the Preservation Austin jurors said. “The ongoing work to improve Downs Field has already done much to transform this historic place into a community destination and bring greater awareness of its history.”

Thanks to all for their award-winning efforts. As parts of our great city undergo transformations that make them unrecognizable to longtime Austinites, it’s nice to know there are folks willing to spend the time and money to preserve parts of our important past.

The honorees will be recognized at Preservation Austin’s awards celebration on Nov. 3 at the Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St.