Only three people have ever received the Heritage Society of Austin’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the latest, Austin architect and former UT professor, Wayne Bell, will be honored at the HSA’s 51st Annual Preservation Merit Awards Celebration on Nov. 21.
“Of course I’m honored,” says Bell, 78, who was given the HSA’s Sue McBee Visionary Award in 1999. “It’s just sort of a nice statement and I am delighted I am getting it before I die.”
There are not coincidental connections between the three architechture giants in Austin. Bell helped establish the award to recognize the work of its first recipient, Professor Emeritus D. B. Alexander, who taught architectural history and design at UT’s School of Architecture for over 41 years and is the author of Texas Homes of the 19th Century.
The second recipient, Eugene George, was a professor of Bell’s. George had a passion for the architectural history of the Texas-Mexico border, taught architecture and architectural engineering at UT, inaugurated the graduate school preservation program at UT San Antonio, and was the editor of Texas Architect magazine.
Bell, who helped create the preservation program in UT’s School of Architecture and spread the practice of historic preservation through his work at the Texas Historical Commission and his teaching, has always been drawn to historic architecture, he says. And when he returned to Austin from Midland, Texas, where he completed an internship with an architectural firm, he noticed Austin was losing so many buildings, and there were no ordinances to protect what remained.
“It was just something I really learned to fear for and think I could make a difference,” Bell says.
To Bell, his greatest success is establishing a preservation consciousness in his students and getting people interested in the field.
“It’s like good news,” he says. “When you hear good news, it travels pretty fast, and that’s what has happened with preservation."
Each year, a panel of experts—architects and people who work in the preservation field—select those to be honored for their efforts in historical preservation in Austin in an attempt to inspire others to take on similar projects, says Jacqui Schraad, executive director of HSA.
When compared to other cities, Austin has been behind the curve with preservation tools, Schraad says.
Austin seems to have a different mindset, she adds. “Keep Austin Weird is a battle cry for preservation.”
And although its residents like the look of Austin, like Congress Avenue, says Schraad, for a long time the buildings were not threatened.
Although Bell believes Austin has done well in terms of preservation, he would like to see more of a focus on the economics of historical preservation.
“People are moving back into downtown areas, but they are not moving back into historic properties, but new high rises,” Bell says. “And new high rises need space to be built. It’s sort of a vicious battle.”
Additionally, it’s easier to identify what to preserve when the time period is further away from where we are now—one-hundred-year-old Victorian buildings, for example.
“It’s hard to get into the 1960s because it’s so close to us, but if we don’t preserve it now, it’s going to be lost with the same rarity of these artifacts that we found with Victorian architecture,” Bell says.
Other recipients of the 2011 HSA Preservation Merit Awards:
• McCulloch House - This residence, owned by Susana and William Gimson, represents the first significant rehabilitation in a local historic district. Such a district is formed by a neighborhood that decides to provide protections to historic buildings in the area and sets design standards.
• Alberto Garcia House - When homeowner Melanie Martinez purchased this residence on Newning Avenue, it was considered a teardown. She made several green updates including a geothermal mechanical system and reused materials. This is Martinez’s second HSA award.
• 1010 E. Cesar Chavez - The structure that will soon house the restaurant Cenoté, was marked as teardown for commercial development. The restaurant’s name, which means underground water well or waterway, was inspired by one that was found on the property.
• American National Bank Building - Prior to its restoration by Starr Colorado Partners, LP, this mid-century modern bank building, now home to McGarrah Jessee, was owned by the state and destined for high-rise development.
• Peter Pan Mini Golf - Every year the HSA recognizes a place that makes Austin special. In the past, Dirty Martins, The Tavern and Cisco’s -- all iconic Austin places -- have received this award.
• Save Austin Cemeteries - For the HSA’s award for public service, it has selected this all-volunteer, non-profit dedicated to preserving Austin’s many historic cemeteries.