Fort Worth is in a battle over historic preservation

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Fort Worth

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The Fort Worth City Council has butted heads with local historic preservation advocates over whether a 100-year-old house owned by Texas Wesleyan University should be saved or demolished. It's a shame there's been such a conflict.

The disagreement spurred a preservation advocacy group, Historic Fort Worth, to sue the city. Even more of a shame.

There's no bright line showing who's right and who's wrong about the Dillow House, which sits in disrepair on East Rosedale Street. If it were that easy, the dispute never would have gotten this far.

Texas Wesleyan has owned the two-story brick residence since Audrey Dillow, daughter of early 20th-century Polytechnic businessman S.S. Dillow, gave it to the university in 1979. Built in 1912, it's an example of prairie-style architecture, with a wraparound porch.

The university renovated the home in 1982, city records say, and used it to house the Polytechnic Heights Main Street program for several years. But the structure has been vacant since 2007 and since has suffered from two fires.

Preservationists say it could be saved. Texas Wesleyan President Fred Slabach said that's not feasible and that attempting it would cost more than the university can spend.

The council voted Feb. 5 to remove the house's historic designation so it could be torn down. It was a tough decision, but the right one.

Some preservationists said Texas Wesleyan has millions of dollars in the bank and could easily afford the repairs. But it's not their place to judge the value of those dollars invested in the house versus where the university wants to devote its funding -- which is to build a multimillion-dollar new home for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church near where the Dillow House sits.

Specifically, the lawsuit says the council failed to follow its own preservation ordinance when it allowed Texas Wesleyan to take the case through the Zoning Commission instead of following the recommendation of the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission. But as Councilman Joel Burns pointed out, the requirement that the council rely solely on the Landmarks Commission was edited out of the ordinance in a 2007 rewrite.

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