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Older homes dwindling in Gregg County

By Richard Yeakley
Sept. 24, 2013 at 2:34 a.m.

When Gary and Bolivia Andrews were looking for a Longview home four years ago, they couldn't find the character they wanted in a new house.

A colonial home built in 1931 in the Nugget Hill area northeast of downtown proved to be the perfect sanctuary.

"During the home search, new construction just didn't have the character, and then you were paying twice as much. It doesn't make any sense," said Bolivia Andrews. "Even though we had to (do maintenance) ... it was a labor of love."

The Andrews live in one of the city's most historic neighborhoods. But homes like theirs are becoming a rarity.

According to Census data released last week, the stock of Gregg County homes built before 1940 is dwindling - and already is much smaller than that found in some other Northeast Texas counties or statewide.

According to 2012 data from the Census' American Community Survey, just 1.4 percent of all Gregg County homes now standing were built in 1939 or earlier. That compared to 4.6 percent in Smith County and 9.4 percent in Harrison County. Statewide, 4.1 percent of homes had reached that age. Nationally, 13.4 percent of homes were built before 1940.

The survey only included information for municipalities or counties with populations greater than 65,000. Larger Texas metropolitan areas like Dallas, Harris and Travis counties had 3.9 percent, 3.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, of homes built before 1940.

"I think it's a shame when they tear down old homes to build new ones," said Elaine Ries. She and her husband Joe live in the 800 block of Seventh Street, also in the Nugget Hill neighborhood. When they retired to Longview seven years ago, she said, the neighborhood and their house were right for them.

City Planner Michael Shirley said the city recognized the need for preservation, prompting creation of a historic preservation ordinance, and, in 2011, of a Historic Preservation Commission to enforce it.

"I think that is one of the reasons there was a such a sense and urgency in creating a task force and ultimately an ordinance," Shirley said. "Because we have limited resources and we don't want to wait until we have very little if anything left."

A current push is to strengthen codes that would help the commission be notified when historic properties could be facing demolition.

"They are asking, 'How can we be more in the loop when there are potentially significant properties that are in the threat of demolition?'" Shirley said of the seven commission members.

Longview's preservation ordinance has rules against the demolition of properties designated by the city for their historic value, but currently no properties have been designated by the city.

The aim of the ordinance is to protect iconic structures from demolition or alteration that would spoil their historic integrity, and to foster pride in past accomplishments. The commission has responsibilities for managing designation of historic landmarks and historic overlay districts within the city.

Shirley said the fact Gregg County's stock of older homes lagged behind other counties was expected.

"(The data) is not surprising, because Longview, compared to Marshall for instance, I think their preservation for whatever reason whether it's economics or just that quality of life, they have a better housing stock of older homes than we do," he said.

Victoria Wilson, a proponent of historical preservation who owns property in the city's historical Mobberly Place neighborhood, said the loss of so many significant historical structures has been disappointing.

"We have made a dent in it, but we are so far behind that we continue to see significant historic structures torn down as we are scrambling to put policy in place to prevent that from happening," she said.

But while much of Longview's architectural history has been lost to the wrecking ball or bulldozer, Wilson said the community has become more aware of the need to preserve its history.

Both Longview and Gregg County were founded in the early 1870s.



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