They’re a daring new generation of Austin developer. Jeffrey and Katie Bullard would rather renovate lived-in historical old houses than build shiny new ones. They choose to work in the heart of the city rather than auto-dependent suburbia. And they are ardent triathlon athletes.
Together they have given new life to the George A. Peterson House, at 1012 E. Eighth St. in East Austin.
At their company, Avenue B Development LLC, which specializes in the construction, renovation and interior styling of classic Central Austin homes, he’s the prime contractor, she’s principal designer.
Jeffrey Bullard, who has 10 years’ experience in construction, grew up in Richmond, Va. Katie Bullard hails from Tomball, near Houston. They met at the University of Virginia, where she was studying urban planning and historic preservation at the School of Architecture.
“I felt different in the old houses of Virginia than I did in the new houses in Houston,” says Katie Bullard, who worked as a tour guide at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. “I felt more comfortable and warm in old houses, and I wondered why.”
At the university, she says, “People refer to Thomas Jefferson (who founded the university) as if he’s still living.” From America’s first great native-born architect, she learned about classic proportions, the use of local, natural materials and human scale. She saw how Jefferson integrated live, work and play spaces at his “academic village.”
Last October, the Bullards pooled their love of old Austin houses, walkable urban neighborhoods and quality craftsmanship to form Avenue B Development. In their early 30s, the couple has renovated five houses. The first four sold within a month.
First was a 1940 Cape Cod in Richmond, Va. In Austin, the husband-wife team rejuvenated two 1930s cottages in Rosedale and a 1909 Victorian on Avenue B (hence the company name) in Hyde Park.
But their fifth and favorite project is the turn-of-the-century Texas Queen Anne Victorian Peterson House.
“From the first, we were in awe of it,” Katie Bullard says. “We put an offer on the house that day. The architectural features made it fun to bring back to glory.”
Work began on the wing-and-gable house with projecting front bay window in February, ending in July when Austin Land Company broker Lindsay K. Harris put up her sign.
Listed for $629,000, the 2,349-square-foot house has a front porch with turned-wood posts, spindled balusters and canopy in the rolling, green Guadalupe neighborhood.
The front bedroom, living space and dining room retain their original longleaf pine flooring, double-hung windows and ornate trim work. The entry hall has the original door, floor and wainscoting.
Avenue B’s renovation embraces the home’s time and place but adapts to current lifestyle. The 684-square-foot addition maintains its timeless spirit. “We tried not to change anything in the original house,” Katie Bullard says. Of course, they had to refinish the floors, rewire, replumb, install a new HVAC system and replace one of 20 glass panes in the original 1,665 square feet. Mr. Peterson would recognize three of the rooms’ sizes and shapes, though not the contemporary light fixtures, fans and soothing paint shades.
The old kitchen has been reconfigured into an airy, bright modern one with glass-front cabinets, granite countertop and Energy Star stainless-steel appliances. The addition begins at the family room with its half-bath, gas/wood-burning fireplace and French doors leading to the flagstone patio. The flooring in the family room, two back bedrooms and master bath with shower and ball-and-claw-foot tub is a mixture of reclaimed longleaf and heart pine.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which gives the homeowner about a 50 percent tax break, the house with 11-foot ceilings and glass transoms over the doorways is flooded with natural light. It has a two-car garage, abundant storage and an Austin City Landmark plaque.
The first owner of the lot, platted in 1841, was South Carolina native Joseph W. Robertson. In 1848, the physician and fifth mayor (for one year) of Austin bought the French Legation building and its surrounding property for a girls’ school.
When the school closed after a semester or two, he moved in with his wife, nine slaves and eventually 11 children. Since then, the area between Interstate 35 and the Texas State Cemetery and between East Ninth Street and East 12th Street has been called Robertson Hill.
In 1869, he deeded the East Eighth Street lot to George Lee Robertson, one of his five sons, who held it in trust for his mother. Since 1877, this pocket of picturesque real estate has been known as the George L. Robertson subdivision.
According to Steve Sadowsky, historical preservation officer with the City of Austin, the George A. Peterson House, named for its first owner-occupant, was built in 1901. Peterson was a prominent merchant, who came to Texas from Sweden by way of Minnesota in 1890. He operated a grocery and dry goods store at 701 E. Sixth (then Pecan) St.
Peterson lived in the house on East Eighth Street until 1923 when he sold it to Albert H. Stroud, an engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1943, Stroud’s widow, Annie, sold it to the Galvan family.
Nazario Galvan was caretaker and gardener of Laguna Gloria from 1920 until his retirement and subsequent death in 1958. The Galvans lived in Laguna Gloria’s gatehouse with their eight children until after the property was donated to the Texas Fine Arts Association in 1943.
Then Nazario Galvan moved his family to 1012 E. Eighth St. And in 1983, the Galvans sold their interests to son Julio, who sold the house to Austin banker Dagmar Grieder.
“The house had fallen on hard times,” Grieder says. “The roof was leaking, and the young family who lived there had stuffed an athletic sock into the ceiling to stop the drip.”
Grieder put on “a proper roof,” fixed the wiring and plumbing.
“I rescued the house,” Grieder says. “It needed help. I stabilized and maintained it. I rescued it in a practical sense, but I was happy to sell it to people who had a vision bigger than mine.”
While Grieder owned the house, she rented it first to Peter Staats and Ann Forman, who met at Scholz Garten, where he tended bar and she was a waitress. They wed at the French Legation. Forman later would become renowned for her work as a Travis County assistant district attorney and as a passionate children’s advocate. She died of breast cancer in January.
Staats remembers their time at the house.
“We moved into the heart of the Hispanic community,” says Staats, a real estate agent and photographer. At first, the other residents ignored them. “They were skeptical about the first white folks, but when we had a baby, the neighborhood melted and became a big welcoming hug.”
The face of the neighborhood is changing, says architect Emily Little, who moved into the Rogers-Lyon House at 1001 E. Eighth St. in 1985.
“Multiple generations had lived in many of the homes,” Little says. “The elders of the neighborhood were so respected. It was a strong community, where people sat outside at night.”
Now she says some longtime homeowners are being squeezed out by rising property values. Still, the neighborhood has charm.
“It’s like living in a small town away from the hustle and bustle of Austin,” Little says. “It’s a sweet neighborhood and still the best neighborhood in town without a doubt. Nobody wants to leave once they live here.”
The Forman Staats family was one of two longtime renters of the house. Staats and Forman made a couple offers to buy the house, Staats says, but ended up building a studio home on nearby San Bernard Street.
Grieder, who never lived in the fin-de-siècle house she saved, decided to sell it last year. She didn’t list it with a real estate agent, but Harris, passing by, saw the sign and alerted the Bullards.
“It had such great character to build upon and was our first project that was an Austin City Landmark,” Katie Bullard says. “We don’t get sad about selling because we love to pass it on to a new family that has fallen in love with the home.”
By Jane Sumner
Saturday, July 31, 2010