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AHCA Eyes National Register Listing for Faulk

Behind the scenes, preparation efforts continue for the planned expansion of Austin History Center into the neighboring John Henry Faulk building. Budget is being finalized for building upgrades that will prepare two-and-a-half floors – 69,700 square feet of the Faulk building – for archival storage and other AHC operations. Actual construction-related activity is expected to start this summer.

As part of those expansion efforts, the AHCA is exploring options for nominating the Faulk building for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, a federal program that provides national recognition of a property's historical or architectural significance and denotes that it is worthy of preservation.

An illustration of the 1979 Central Library made for Jessen Associates by illustrator Don Oelfke. Image: Austin History Center

Designed in 1974 by Austin architectural firm Jessen and Jessen, the Faulk is an example of the New Formalist architectural style that was globally popular in the mid-20th century. The building served as Austin’s second central library building (the 1933 building currently home of the AHC being the first), and was named for John Henry Faulk, an Austin native who parlayed his humor and story-telling ability into a nationwide radio program on the CBS radio network in the 1950’s. His career was derailed in 1957 after being blacklisted by powers driving the Red Scare, which labeled many in the entertainment industry of that era as communists. Faulk sued in an attempt to clear his name and won a sizable liable judgment in court, but he never regained his stature as an entertainer of national prominence. Faulk spent the rest of his life, including many years in Austin, as a fierce defender of First Amendment-protected free speech.

The Texas Historical Commission, which administers the National Register program in Texas, has already determined the Faulk to be eligible for listing. Having the Faulk formally listed in the National Register would be a key milestone in AHCA’s ongoing efforts to help the Austin History Center expand into the Faulk.

“Historic designation will aid our ability to seek major grants to bring our vision of an expanded Austin History Center campus to fruition,” said AHCA Board Member Charles Peveto, who also works in the National Register Division of the Texas Historical Commission.

Currently, AHCA’s Campus Expansion Committee is spearheading an effort to raise funds for development of a master plan to guide the AHC expansion into the Faulk. A community-wide capital campaign is anticipated within three to five years.

A draft National Register nomination for the Faulk was developed by University of Texas graduate student Hannah Simonson in 2015. Building on that, AHCA is now securing three bid proposals from qualifying consultants to strengthen and formalize the Faulk nomination for submission.

AHCA is no stranger to the process for nomination. In 1993, AHCA successfully nominated the 1933 Italian Renaissance-style building that is the current home of the AHC for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

To learn more about the National Register of Historic Places program, visit the Texas Historical Commission website. To keep up with the latest on plans for expansion of the AHC, visit the AHCA’s Campus Expansion website.


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