AUSTIN (KXAN) – Founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939, Rosewood Courts in East Austin, America’s first housing project for African Americans, is fighting for a historic registration that could hold off major reconstruction.
Located at Rosewood Avenue and Chicon Street, Rosewood consists of 124 units with some 400 residents.
The Austin Housing Authority is in the midst of a nearly $1 million study, due in October, that could call for a major overhaul to bring the complex into the 21st century.
“We think we can do better, better for families, the kids and seniors,” said Housing Authority Director Michael Berger. “We respect it’s history too much not to keep it, but in an improved fashion.”
That would mean at least some demolition, reworking electricity, plumbing and providing air conditioning and laundry facilities. They promise all 124 units would be replaced or refurbished and current residents would have first rights to remain there.
“Once you decide to demolish, it’s gone forever,” said Fred McGhee with the Rosewood Preservation Coalition. “It’s too historic for that. The first rule is do no harm.”
McGhee would like to see some modernization while keeping the original historic essence of the complex intact.
Resident Eleanor Perkins worries some people would be displaced and she considers Rosewood the starting point for blacks in Austin.
“This is where we got our start,” she said. “This is where blacks got their first immunizations, where they came to get help…where we celebrate progress in civil rights. It’s where we started.”
But Alexis Henderson, who lives there with her two children, is ready for a change.
“I want to see some upgrades,” she said. “After 75 years, it’s due.”
Henderson uses scotch tape to insulate her windows, has no air conditioning and coaxes the broken thermostat by hand to generate any heat.
“I am aware of all the history,” she adds, “but when we come home we want to walk in and say, ‘it feels good to be home.'”
Rosewood will be one of 10 sites across Texas considered by the State’s Historic Commission to be recommended to the National Parks Service for inclusion on the national historic registry. That would restrain or limit any future reconstruction.
The parks service would then have 45 days to accept that recommendation.
If the Housing Authority has it’s way, any significant project at Rosewood could cost $20 million or more and likely require federal assistance.”
On Saturday, a decision on the plan was delayed for 90 days.