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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Orange mayor smoothes problems for historic neighborhood

 

Last updated 11/7/2023 at 10:36pm

Many of the houses in the Old Orange Historic District are more than 100 years old and enjoy the shade of live oak trees, some of which have been growing since before the houses were built. Some twenty-five years ago, the Orange City Council set aside special rules for the Old Orange Historic District.

The Orange City Council did something it hasn't done in at least 20 years. The members met with the Orange Historic Preservation Commission, a branch of city government with members appointed by the city council.

Mayor Larry Spears Jr. said the rules set out for the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission and the Old Orange Historic District has a requirement that the city council meet once a year with the preservation commission.

At one point during the Monday meeting, the mayor even referred that some of the people on the Historic Preservation Commission were not talking to each other.

The hour-long meeting ended with people talking about ideas for helping visitors and local residents learn more about the history of the neighborhood. The mayor even mentioned that perhaps the former Orange City Hall on Green Avenue, which has been vacant for four years, could be converted to a local history museum. The building was originally a Mission-style mansion built 100 years ago by the late Edgar Brown Jr.

The Historic Preservation Commission was established some 25 years ago after requests from homeowners of old houses requested special recognition and rules to oversee how the neighborhood could remain preserved with an old-fashioned feel.

Most of the agenda items for the Historic Preservation Commission have been about approving exteriors changes to buildings in the district. The rules require prior approval for any exterior changes.

Those changes can range from decorative lighting, paint colors, fence materials and heights, and window replacements.

"Historic Preservation Commission should not be an arm of code enforcement," said Commission Chair Bob Manning.

Codie Vasquez, a resident and member of the commission, said the commission has been bogged down in the aspect of enforcing codes within the district.

The Preservation Commission learned the group's purposes include not only saving the integrity of old buildings, but helping to educate people on the history of the buildings and the city.

Manning is a woodworker who moved to Texas and bought a house in the historic district 10 years ago. He has expressed appreciation many times for the old lumber used in the houses here and the craftsmanship.

He said he hopes more of the buildings, many of which are in disrepair, will find new owners who will restore them as the town has an influx of people coming for the new chemical plant.

Kenneth Wheeler, who is also on the Preservation Commission, and has restored two old houses, said the city's group could help support special local markers to designate the history and information on houses in the district.

Some of the houses in the district have state historical markers, but the markers are expensive, limited, and are competitive.

The Texas Historical Commission recognizes Anglo settlers arriving by raft on the Sabine River in January 1828. The early development of the town was along the crescent of the Sabine River. Green Avenue was once on the edge of the city.

The area of the Old Orange Historic District, which is on the north side of Green Avenue, was almost like suburbs. A few houses dating to the 1870s still stand. Other houses run a gamut of decades.

Two of the six city council members, Mary McKenna and Paul Burch, live in the Old Orange Historic District.

The Historic Preservation Commission has five members appointed by a vote of the city council. The tradition has been for all the members to live within the historic district. However, the city added an area along Park Avenue, which was the Old Spanish Trail Highway, to the historic district in 2004. Since then, only one resident of that district has been on the Preservation Commission and soon had to resign because of health problems.

Mayor Spears told said at Monday's meeting that the regulations for members on the Preservation Commission require only that a person be a resident of the city of Orange.

Recently, the city council appointed a person who lives in the Little Cypress area, and not in the Old Orange Historic District. According to city records, the person was recommended by City Councilor Paul Burch.

In May, another resident of the Old Orange Historic District ran against Burch. A number of residents in the district displayed yard signs for Burch's opponent.

 

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