Preservation Austin is one of fourteen preservation organizations to be awarded a grant in Texas Historical Foundation’s Summer 2023 grant cycle. The funds will support their efforts to preserve Austin’s beloved 1947 McFarland House, the future home of Preservation Austin offices.
Built in the Streamline Moderne style popularized in the 1940s, the McFarland House reflects the forward-looking idealism of the era as well as its designers and original inhabitants, James and Birdie McFarland. Neither James nor Birdie were architects by trade, but they knew what they liked. Often compared to a modernist ocean liner, the house is one of only a handful of historic Austin builds in this late iteration of Art Deco.
The McFarland family inhabited the house until the 1960s, when it was purchased by a neighborhood group with the aim of preventing commercial development in the area. Long after the McFarland family’s tenure, the house’s unique character continued to attract a revolving door of Austin’s underground arts and music scene as a rental unit. Stories of house parties and impromptu concerts enshrined the house in local lore.
Ironically, the same group that purchased the McFarland House in a bid to preserve the original character of the neighborhood found themselves lobbying for its destruction in 2014, a contentious move that placed them at the center of one of the largest grass-roots preservation campaigns in city history.
When the proposed demolition was announced, Preservation Austin spearheaded efforts to secure its protection as a historic site. The outpouring of public support for saving the house was so immense that, in an almost unheard-of move, the Austin City Council designated the structure a city landmark against the owner’s wishes, thus circumventing demolition. The fate of the McFarland House and Preservation Austin have been entwined since.
When the house came on the market in 2019, Preservation Austin snapped up the property and immediately set to work restoring the original features and flourishes that make the house an Austin icon. In 2020, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. This grant from Texas Historical Foundation will be applied towards its ongoing restoration and stabilization efforts. Preservation Austin hopes to complete work for a move-in date of 2025, making the McFarland House the base of their city-wide preservation advocacy operations.
A presentation of the Texas Historical Foundation grant will take place on-site at the McFarland House 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 22. If you are a THF director or member and wish to attend, please contact email@example.com. To learn more about the work of Preservation Austin and the history of the McFarland House, visit preservationaustin.org.