New life for a 1939 Austin gem of an apartment building

Reader Elayne Lansford invited us to an unusual party, which turned into a time machine to the a personal past.

“It is about an old building at 1105 Nueces St., built in 1939, one of many examples of little apartment buildings in that time, offering ‘modern’ places for people to live rather than boarding houses,” Lansford wrote us. “These apartments were once all around the center of town, but now only a tiny handful survive in Austin.”

Elayne Lansford inherited the four-unit 1939 apartment building in downtown Austin from her uncle. She fixed it up. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

She had me at “1939.”

By the time I had arrived on a steamy Friday afternoon, a crowd had gathered outside the recently renovated four-unit brick apartment house. Lansford, dressed period attire, addressed a crowed that included Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, neighborhood organizer Ted Siff and project historian Terri Meyers.

RELATED: Ransom Williams farmstead unearthed.

“I call them the missing middle,” Meyers told me later about the 1930s and ’40s housing options in the downtown area for professional women. “They were not boarding houses or Victorians broken up into apartments. They were modern but with homey touches in a residential scale with revival styles. There were schools and jobs nearby and each unit probably went for $100 a month.”

A small crowd cheered the city and federal historic designations for the building on Nueces Street. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Lansford and Meyers worked with designer Tere O’Connell to bring it back to life. The city and federal governments have recognized the historic value of these once ordinary homes.

“My grandmother, a Jewish immigrant and widow who made her living as a landlady after the death of her husband, bought it in 1945 when she moved to Austin for my mother and uncle to attend the University of Texas,” Lansford says. “It was the height of modernity at that time, fully furnished, with full kitchens, wood floors, faux fireplaces, attic fans for cooling, and a shower and tub both in each apartment. It was largely untouched for 70 years, until I inherited it from my late uncle and decided to do a historical renovation of it.”

This four-unit apartment house on Nueces Street was built in 1939 for professional women. It has been restored and honored by the city and federal government. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Why did it serve as a time machine for me? My first grown-up apartments in the early 1970s were created in almost the same mold — same fixtures, same tiles, etc. — during the same period in Houston.

Don’t let the historic house at Boggy Creek Farm crumble

The best historical evidence indicates that the house at Boggy Creek Farm is, along with the French Legation, one of the two oldest homes in Austin. Unlike the residence on Robertson Hill that was intended for ambassadorial usage and now owned by the state of Texas, the farmhouse on the creek remains in private hands and so private funds must keep it in one piece.

To that end, owners Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, who have been farming the last five acres organically, are holding a benefit to fix its windows. The event is 1 p.m.-4 p.m. June 24 at 3414 Lyons Road. Expect food, drink, tours and auctions.

Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle at Boggy Creek Farm. American-Statesman

RELATED: Happy 175th to two Austin homes.

“A community benefits when its history is known and preserved,” Sayle says. “Not just by story telling but also by the actual survival of buildings and homes. At Boggy Creek Farm, in the fertile bottom land of East Austin, the farmstead, dating to 1839-1841 still exists. Still ‘standing’ are the remaining five acres of farmland and the modified Greek Revival farmhouse, where the first President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, dined in 1841.”

Sayle reports that the house is in good condition, except for the windows.

“They are fragile and beyond band-aid glazing,” she says. “They need to be taken out of their walls for professional restoration. The experts at Red River Restoration will clean the windows of aged glazing materials and remove all of the paint. Then they can assess what wood needs repair or duplication. The process takes two months, and the restoration is scheduled for fall. The estimate for the 14 windows is $30,000.”

As stewards of this homestead, Sayle and Butler have been growing good food, resisting development, keeping the house in good repair, and sharing it through many house tours over the last 26 years.

“With the generosity of our community,  and with newly sound windows, this important example of history can weather the next generations and beyond,” Sayle says. “We love this community and we are honored by your help!”

Pinpointing a 1940s Bluff Springs baptism

Reader Craig Scott contacted our Austin Answered project:  “I recently saw a photo of people getting baptized in the springs at Bluff Springs dated back in the 1940s,” he writes. “It had a concrete enclosure. Can you run a story on where the actual springs were or are?”

“Preparing for their baptism by Brother Cole, members of the Manchaca Baptist Church joined hands at Bluff Springs and had this great picture taken.” Contributed by Joy Simmons/Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association.

The compelling image, shared on the Facebook page of the Manchaca-Onion Creek Historical Association by Joy Simmons, shows congregants from the Manchaca Baptist Church dressed nicely but up to their waists in water.

For his part, Scott’s family history stretches across South Austin from Creedmoor to Pleasant Hill to the area now most associated with the name that history advocates would like spelled “Menchaca” after its real namesake.

We turned to our regular, selfless group of Austin history advocates for answers. One of them, Bobby Cervantes, grew up on Bluff Springs Road in Southeast Austin and has been active in preserving cemeteries and old structures in that area.

“There is also a property just over Onion Creek headed towards Slaughter on the right hand side,” he guessed about the possible site. “There are old cabins and wagons on the property. It is a big property.”

That area on Onion Creek was once home to a freedman’s community and at least one country school by that name.

Lanny Ottosen, who is writing a book about southeastern Travis County, was much more specific. He attached contemporary digital maps that show a very likely location just west of Bluff Springs Road and just south of Onion Creek; a 1937 excerpt from a Travis County listing of springs with a map that reads: “Bank of creek. Flow 5 gallons a minute from sandy gravel. Supplies water for swimming pool. Known as Bluff Springs. Temperature 74 degrees F”; as well as a 1954 aerial shot of the property that shows a similar concrete structure.

Then he hit pay dirt: A text exchange with the current owner not only confirms three springs on the property, but also included a picture of the owner’s husband swimming in a concrete enclosure that looks almost exactly like the one in the baptismal photo.