The “Gingerbread House” in Travis Heights is on track for historic status

The photo is from Austin

Monday, September 11, 2023 Written by Callie Bramble

Historic preservationists in Travis Heights had reason to celebrate last week, as a proposal to place a landmark on an iconic neighborhood home broke the usual routine of demolition and disappointment.

The rezoning case for the property at 2101 Travis Heights Road, known to neighbors as the “Gingerbread House,” received unanimous approval from the Historic Landmarks Commission, which cited architectural and historical significance as the basis for approval. The issue will then move through the Planning Commission before a final vote in the City Council.

Built in the mid-1930s by manufacturing industrialist Roland P. Burks and his wife Jessie Vance, the Tudor Revival-style home has stood for three generations as a point of reference for the neighborhood and the site of popular local businesses. Current owners Brian and Joellen Peters, founders of Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company in South Austin, purchased the house in 2011 after decades of admiring it from afar.

“This is a house we fell in love with in 1991, when we first moved to Austin,” Brian Peters said. “It has a neighborhood feel to it, with everyone using it as sort of a landmark and a point of reference, especially during Christmas and Halloween…so a lot of people tell us it’s one of their favorites.”

In its early years, the property was home to builder R.B. Burks and his descendants, who survived the Great Depression as directors of the Woodward Manufacturing Company. The former Pennsylvania Airport auto body and furniture manufacturing plant was at one time the largest in the city, and played an important role in Austin’s economy until the mid-20th century.

The house changed hands in 1954, when it was taken in by businessman Harry “Ray” Chalstrom, who ran the family’s Venetian blinds, garage and covered patio on nearby Barton Springs Road. Dill’s-Challstrom closed its headquarters in the current Zax Restaurant and Bar in 1986, after nearly six decades in business.

Now, Brian and Joelyn Peters hope to continue leading the team, running the Gingerbread House as a beloved gathering place for years to come. If successful, the house’s new status as a historic landmark will give the couple a tax abatement designed to help fund its upkeep, as well as protect the property from being altered or demolished in the future.

The zoning would be a win for Travis Heights preservationists, who for years have been sounding the alarm about encroaching developers and transplants destroying the neighborhood’s landmark bungalows and bungalows in favor of larger, modern homes. The area gained recognition as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021, but Austin’s booming real estate market continues to cause an onslaught of demolitions.

Ben Hemsath, the home’s commissioner, said: “I think we have to recognize that this is something that has been passed down from previous generations, looked after and preserved to make it the iconic home it is today.” “This is a landmark in every way, and this zoning initiation is a partnership with the City of Austin… that will pass on to the future owners as well.”

The zoning application will make its way to the Planning Commission sometime over the next few months, followed by a final vote by the City Council. With its current owners, this cause is likely to see success.

Those interested in Austin’s historic resources and neighborhoods can learn more at the city’s historic preservation website.

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