A Small Victory for History Although the Huntsville preservationists lost their fight, in the process they learned how to kick up a fuss. In February of 1981, the Texas State University System Board of Regents gave Sam Houston State University permission to raze the Peabody. Building, a small brick structure built in 1902 that was once the school library. Decorated with stained glass windows and an arched ceiling, the Peabody is now the RadioTelevision Film department headquarters, crammed with equipment. In August Ron Creel, the editor of the SHSU paper, the Houstonian, launched a campaign to save the Peabody. He publishes old photographs of its graceful interior and wrote stories and an editorial about it. Other students began to write letters to the paper, and the Student Government Association passed a resolution asking SHSU President Elliott Bowers and the regents to reconsider their decision. The Texas Antiquities Committee told Bowers that it planned to make the Peabody an archaeological landmark; the Walker County Historical Commission requested a public hearing on the fate of the little building. In short, everyone did the same sorts of things that they did to preserve the Sam Houston house. But this time something worked. When the regents met in Huntsville in November of 1981, they voted in a room full of students and faculty to rescind the plan to demolish the Peabody. N. B, ble houses in the area. Yes, he said; he looked at photographs of other cabins and consulted Terry Jordan’s research. In May of 1980 George Russell took Jordan’s report to the board of regents meeting at the Lakeway Inn near Austin. The Sam Houston State University president, Elliott Bowers, had invited him to come and make an informal presentation to a subcommittee, Russell explained, and discouraged him from bringing anyone else from the Walker County Historical Commission. When he got there, Russell recalled, he was ushered into a board meeting with an audience including David Hoffman, Sue Flanagan, and the SHSU hierarchy. “I was outnumbered a hundred to one and unprepared to make a big presentation to a massive audience.” He presented his case and asked for a delay in the restoration. The executive director of the regents, Lamar Urbanovsky, “just jumped on me,”said Russell: ” ‘Are you an architect? What are your qualifications to be here?’ ” Then Bowers made a presentation, Russell remembers, introducing Sue Flanagan, proclaiming the architects the best in Texas, and recommending the restoration. “I was set up and gutted,” Russell said. “Nobody on the opposition side was a professional architect,” regent Robert Baldwin told me. “We selected the best qualified, most prominent restoration architect firm in the state of Texas. We hired experts, and we took their advice. The vocal minority that disagreed did not have one substantial piece of evidence to support their theory.” Work on the little house began. Curtis Tunnell visited the project and then wrote to Sue Flanagan, urging her to save and carefully label all material taken from the house. Both the executive director, Truett Latimer, and the chairman, Cecil Burney, of the Texas Historical Commission wrote the regents suggesting that they have the history of the house researched further. In June of 1980 the regents met with Hoffman to decide if they were taking the best course. He explained to them: “You have the choice at this point to leave the house as it is, but if you do it would be inappropriate to put Sam Houston’s bed and all these things in there and bring schoolchildren into the house and have the docents say . . . this is the house that Sam Houston lived in, because it is not the house that Sam Houston lived in.” The regents decided to proceed with the restoration. Believing that the project violated the Texas Antiquities Code, which outlines procedures for the alteration of historic buildings, the Walker County Historical Commission tried to get help from the state attorney general and the local district attorney. That failed, so they hired a young lawyer, Bill McAdams, and took the regents to court. In August of 1980 Walker County District Judge Erwin Ernst ruled that work on the home was to stop until the regents got a permit from the Texas Antiquities Committee, an arm of the state historical commission. “In the local district court they got their way local judge, local elected officials,” Hoffman explained. “It was a locally you know, a pretty public cause.” Represented by their own lawyer and a lawyer from Attorney General Mark White’s office, the regents appealed the case and won it in October. The appeal trial judges said that the home had not been designated a State Archaeological Landmark, so no permit from the Antiquities Committee was required. The county historical commission, with an annual budget of five hundred dollars, was out of money and could not pursue the court case. So they sent a delegation including Patton. Russell, and Daughter of the Republic of Texas Mary Jane Addison to Mark White with their complaints about the project. “He was quite shocked at the way they had done the restoration,” Patton reported. “They had my sympathy, but I told them I was obligated to defend my client, Sam Houston State University,” White told me. Going to court didn’t work; going to Mark White didn’t work; so the Huntsville preservationists waited for the Antiquities Committee to declare the house a State Archaeological Landmark. The committee did so, but not until June 24, 1981. 10 JANUARY 29, 1982
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