By Kathi Bliss
The ongoing saga of the Brock Cabin restoration project made headway on Tuesday evening as the Lockhart City Council struck a compromise with the Friends of the Brock Cabin that will allow the project to move forward.
For several months, cabin talks have been at a stalemate as the Friends committee attempted to garner support for the restoration project, while the city hedged about offering a commitment to the location. Talks about the cabin’s fate initially started in 2008 when then-Councilmember Kenny Roland suggested the people of his district wanted the dilapidated structure out of Lions Park, thereby opening up the space it occupies for other uses.
Roland’s suggestion kicked off a whirlwind of community activity, with historical advocates descending on the council en masse asking them to “Save the Brock Cabin.”
Negotiations continued, with the council finally deciding to support the restoration of the log cabin, but wavering on where that restoration should take place, and what the city’s contribution to the upkeep of the structure should be afterwards.
Those talks took a giant step forward on Tuesday evening when the council entered a split vote to leave the cabin in Lions Park, but to move it from the east side of the park where it currently resides, to a more central location, allowing it higher visibility from Highway 183 and opening the “neighborhood” side of the park for other uses.
Friends of the Brock Cabin president Ronda Reagan, who has been a spearhead for the restoration project from its inception, reminded the council of the committee’s progress during an extensive presentation on Tuesday evening, which included a notification that the committee has raised more than $35,000 in donations and in-kind labor toward the project. She cautioned the council about terminating the project altogether, reminding them that the committee would have no way to return many of the donations, which were made in the form of small cash contributions, if the project came to an end.
She also encouraged the council to leave the cabin where it stands, citing additional expense that would be incurred from moving the cabin.
“If it’s the city’s wish to move the cabin, we don’t think the committee should have to pay for that,” she said. “I think it’s the most economical decision to leave it where it is.”
City Manager Vance Rodgers put for the recommendation to the council that the cabin be moved, as shown in the attached graphic, and restored at a place that was more publicly accessible, while allowing park space for the neighborhood.
The Friends of the Brock Cabin have prepared an expansive site plan, which includes rehabilitation of the restroom facilities at Lions Park and the construction of a pavilion, walking tour maps, and other exhibits that would turn the park into a historical destination. Those plans for park renovations have not been officially approved by the council, and it remains unclear as to whether those improvements will be included in the work to be financed by the Friends of the Brock Cabin, or whether the city would be responsible for funding those improvements.
Based on that site plan, and conversations she had with members of the community, particularly in District One, Councilmember Angie Gonzales-Sanchez offered an alternative solution for the cabin.
“[That site plan] is great,” she said. “And those are all things that are already in place in the City Park. There is a pavilion surrounded by picnic tables and mature trees, with the creek that would run behind the cabin.”
She also noted that a relocation to City Park would allow the cabin to be within walking distance of two schools, Plum Creek Elementary and Carver Kindergarten.
Reagan and other committee members present balked at the suggestion, stating the area Gonzales-Sanchez had suggested was within a flood plan, and saying students from Carver and Plum Creek were within walking distance of the cabin where it stands in Lions Park.
Fifteen members of the community, most involved with the committee at some level, or as historical hobbyists, spoke to the council and urged them to “Save the Brock Cabin,” and to allow the structure to stand where it presently exists. Most, including Reagan, touted the possibility of historic tourism, which is one of the top five industries in the state, and suggested the renovated cabin, if operated as a museum, would be a “destination point” to encourage visitors to stop and stay in Lockhart.
“Lockhart’s heart and soul lies in its history,” said Carol Ohlendorf, who mentioned that, while she enjoys the “new” things the community has to offer, she also has a respect and admiration for history and those who made it.
Ohlendorf said she had visited the park several times during these last months to observe those who utilize the park, and to ask them their desires for the park moving forward.
Some, she said, favored additional picnic tables, barbecue grills, renovated restroom facilities and working water fountains. Others, she said, hoped to see the Brock Cabin restored.
District One Councilmember Juan Mendoza, who represents the area where the cabin is located, responded later that his discussions with the members of the community in the area reflected that, while people had no animosity toward the cabin itself, they hoped that it would be moved from Lions Park.
“Does it need renovations? Yes,” Gonzales-Sanchez added. “But as a park for our community, and not place for tourists.”
In the end, both Gonzales-Sanchez and Mendoza, along with Mayor Pro Tem Paul Gomez, who has long been a proponent of dismantling the cabin and storing it until the funds and an appropriate venue for the restoration are available, voted against the motion offered by District Three Councilmember Lew White, who suggested that the committee be given the opportunity to move forward with the project – without the use of taxpayer dollars for the renovation project – and to move the cabin to the alternate location within Lions Park.
Mayor Ray Sanders and Councilmembers Richard Banks and John Castillo voted with White in favor of the compromise.
There was also brief discussion of setting a timeline for the restoration project, a suggestion from Sanders which caused a brief moment of chaos during the meeting, with several members of the committee expressing horror that a deadline might be imposed.
“If we’d been given a deadline for the Courthouse restoration, we’d have never gotten it done,” said Gerry Ohlendorf, who was a key figure in the restoration of the Caldwell County Courthouse.
The council did not vote to impose a deadline, but Gomez asked the mayor to put the possibility on a future agenda for the council. White, as the council liaison to the Friends of the Brock Cabin, said the committee was working as hard and as quickly as they could to complete the project.