Chapter 60: Building History

September 20, 2011 • Written by Christina Berry

Hello, gentle reader, miss us? Well, we missed you, and our social lives. It’s been a busy time, but guess what?!? We’ve made tons of progress. Literally, tons…if we had a scale that could measure tons, you’d see. But alas, you just have to take my word (and all these photos) as proof.

And what sort of “progress” do I mean? Well, behold, we’ve filled our lives with exquisite luxuries like straight walls, electricity, climate control, and windows. It boggles the mind, right?

But before I get too far ahead of myself with modern conveniences and all that nonsense, let’s take a little trip back in time. For we have added a neat little historical addition to the ranch. Back in February Errek was working on the electrical crew at an old building downtown — 506 Congress. It’s the building next door to the Scarborough building. The building was being remodeled and as part of that process, they were demolishing the back wall. This wall, to be precise.

Before demolition:

After demolition:

Well, you know what’s funny about us? When everyone else sees a pile of rubble, we see a lot of really neat old bricks that have seen a whole hell of a lot of Austin history. So Errek buddied up with the general contractor and asked what they were planning to do with the brick. In the end the guy said Errek could take what he could carry. Turns out Errek can carry a whole lotta brick.

This was one of Errek’s piles. See that bucket there? That’s what he used to lift the bricks 15 feet out of the basement hole, one bucket at a time.

See what I mean? Errek can carry a lot of brick.

So now we have all this old brick. But what is a pile of old brick without a story, right? Boring, is what it is, a boring pile of bricks.

That’s where I come in, ready to do what I do best — historical research. Yeah, not the most glamorous of super powers, but I work with what I got.

I haven’t had a chance to get down to the Austin History Center to look for building records, but I found some neat details just using the internets. What I found is that the building once housed Yarings department story — the first department store in Austin, Texas. The store was opened in 1938, but the building was originally built in the late 1880’s! Whoa!

I looked for some old photos, and the first citing I could spot was this 1905 shot of Congress avenue. The two tall buildings in the middle of the shot across from one another are the Scarborough building on the left and the Littlefield building on the right. You can see a short little block of buildings south of the Scarborough, that’s her in the middle. Also, look, there used to be a trolly!

Fast forward six years to 1911 and zoom in a block closer, here is a close up of the Scarborough (then apparently called the Scarbrough and Hicks building) and to its left — our building, our bricks.

Again in 1916, you can see our wee little building next to the majestic Scarborough with all its second floor awnings.

Am I boring you with history? Am I the only history junky in the room? Sorry, but wait, there’s more. See, these aren’t just any bricks. Some of the bricks have the word “Butler” written on them. Fascinating, right? Right!

So I looked into this also. Turns out, those bricks are pretty neat. The company that made them is also historic. In 1871 the Texas and New Orleans Railroad arrived at a site east of Elgin in Bastrop County, and the community that grew up came to be known as Butler. The town was named afterMichael Butler, an Irish immigrant bricklayer who was the first to make bricks from the nearby clay pits, when he discovered by accident while digging holes on land previously used for timber. The company was founded in 1873 and supplied bricks for the Capitol building, the University of Texas at Austin, and many other brick buildings in Austin. The company still exists as Elgin-Butler Brick Company – a fifth-generation family-owned business.

Neat, right? Okay, enough with this history stuff. Time to get…

Oh hey, we’re back to the future. Now, where were we? Oh right, we were tearing apart our entire house and putting it back together, or as Errek liked to put it, “straightening the walls.”

Surprisingly, or not, this was a really unpleasant experience. Cuz, in case you forgot, we’re living in the house. And without walls our charming home is really just a gazebo with a toilet.

Before we could straighten the walls, we had to move out. No, not out of the house, out of the crooked section of the house. So that left us with…eh, the kitchen. Yep, time to move into the kitchen. Of course, the kitchen wasn’t exactly climate controlled, or fully enclosed, but that is no matter for problem solvers with power tools. Twas time to built ourselves a little igloo.

First, we needed a temp wall and door to separate the igloo from the rest of the house.

Then we had to line the walls and ceiling with rigid foam insulation to hold in the cold. Sure it was only April, but we had a crystal ball filled with common sense telling us it was gonna get hot. Turns out we were right, it was the hottest summer is Austin history, no joke!

And up in one of the kitchen transom windows, we stuck in window unit AC — our sole comfort as we headed into the long hot stretch.

Say hello to our little home for the next…eh…6 months. Woot. *sigh*

And now that we were moved, let the demolition begin. Yay?

Bye bye, old igloo.

Hello, world.

At this point maybe you’re thinking, “stupid crazy idiots, why do they keep tearing their shit up and down and up and down all over again?” Well, you’re completely right. We are stupid idiots, but also we’re anal-retentive perfectionists. And just look at this shameful excuse for a stud wall. If we’re going to build the perfect dream home, well then it has to be perfect from the foundation up. And if you were an anal-retentive stupid idiot perfectionist like us, would you really let this mess stand? I didn’t think so. And don’t forget, this is the wall that fell on Errek’s head a few years ago, remember? Well, revenge is a dish best served with a Sawzall. My name is Errek, you cracked my head open like a walnut, prepare to die.

This revenge is lookin’ pretty sweet.

Also, the original house had a door here, but really, who needs three exterior doors anyways? So we redid the wall, door-free.

Oh, did I mention that we were doing all of this work on Easter weekend? Our amazing neighbors, the Perez family to the west, took pity on us, and brought us some of their incredible Easter feast. Our neighbors are the best! We bought them some Acoma pottery while in Colorado to say thanks, to which she brought us still more food as thank you. Oh lord, it’s a thank you war and it tastes goooood!

Back to work. Next up, the closet.

Much better.

Someday, when archaeologists dig this house up, they will find craftsmanship out the wazoo, and this.

Next up, the original section of the master bedroom wall.

It ain’t much, but it’s my gazebo.

Okay, east side of the house slants no more.

And finally, the last original wall, the front wall of the living room.

Take that, wall.

Stupid electrical box in the way, still!

Hey Thing, lend us a hand?


And finally, a few days later we were about to put walls back on the house.

And window holes to boot.

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.

Okay, so we have walls again. I know it sounds kind of silly, but it’s the little things, like walls and enclosed spaces, that make all the difference.

And now that we were enclosed again, it was time to straighten up the center wall. Sadly, in order to fix this wall, we had to demolish part of our sanctuary, the bathroom. Nothing major just half a tile wall…




Dude, don’t listen while I pee, okay?

Oh, and we had to rip the bathroom ceiling out, too. So, yeah, nothing major.

Shower Chicken was displeased. Look at him screaming on the inside.

And me, yeah, I was screaming a little on the inside, too.

Sanctuary be gone!