The city of Granbury is moving toward the possible sale of the building that served as the town’s first hospital, but efforts to remove its historic landmark label have proven controversial even among those who sit on city boards.
Without historic landmark status, the building located just off the square could be demolished.
Some who are passionate about preserving Granbury’s history fear that removing another historic landmark designation would set a bad precedent and possibly jeopardize other historic properties. The City Council did that for the first time in March with the Brazos Drive-In Theatre.
Built in the 1940s, the one-story structure at 116 S. Houston St. was also used for years as a dormitory for actors and stagehands who came to town to work productions at the historic Granbury Opera House on the square.
At its regular meeting on Thursday, June 9, the Historic Preservation Commission denied the city’s request to remove the building’s landmark label.
On Monday, the Planning and Zoning Commission also denied it, but the vote wasn’t unanimous. It was 4-3.
Those meetings followed a June 6 rare gathering of the three-member Granbury Historic Properties panel, which consists of City Manager Chris Coffman, Assistant City Manager and Public Works Director Rick Crownover and Police Chief Mitch Galvan.
The board also met in March and voted then to approve the sale of the building and to allocate proceeds to help pay off debts associated with the Opera House. The city funds the debt service for the dormitory building and the Opera House.
At the June 6 meeting, the trio did not address the historic landmark label but did vote unanimously to recommend a zoning change that would open up more possibilities for the potential buyer, whose name and intentions have not been publicly stated.
Coffman said that the zoning change would allow the buyer to possibly remodel the building and turn it into a boutique hotel, which some in attendance expressed support for. He stated that the potential buyer has inquired about what the community wants and needs.
The small number of people in attendance at the GHP meeting included Maurice Walton of the Bridge Street History Center; historian Mary Salterelli, who has been enlisted by the city in the past to help with initiatives related to historic structures; Claudia Southern, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission; Mary Hattox, also a member of the Commission; and David Southern, former mayor and current vice chair of the Granbury Cultural Arts Commission.
Salterelli was among speakers at all three meetings. She expressed fear that removing the historic landmark designation would be a “slippery slope” and said that in the 17 years that the city has owned the building, no efforts have been made to maintain it or to seek tax credits or grant funding that is available due to the National Park Service having deemed the structure “significant.”
Although the building is not as old as some structures in Granbury that are considered historic, Salterelli said it is nevertheless an example of mid-century architecture. She implored city officials to save it.
The City Council will ultimately decide whether to remove the building from its registry of historic landmarks.
When it removed that label from the Brazos Drive-In, it did so at the request of owner Jennifer Miller.
Miller expressed that taking away the outdoor theater’s historic status might be the best way to save it since cumbersome restrictions that come with that label had prevented her from being able to sell it.
The Houston Street building has been vacant since December 2017 when it was condemned by the city due to a number of safety issues. The city’s move forced Opera House workers to find other places to live just days before Christmas.
In subsequent discussions at City Council meetings, city officials indicated that remodeling the building would be costly to taxpayers in part because of abatement related to asbestos and lead paint.
This article was posted before the agenda for the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday was posted. However, Communications Manager Jeff Newpher told the Hood County News that the building was not mentioned during a staff meeting earlier this week when potential agenda items were discussed.
Coffman told the HCN that he granted an extension to the potential buyer through the end of July.