The Luther Hotel in Palacios, one of the sites on the Preservation Texas 2022 Most Endangered Places list. Photo courtesy Preservation Texas.

The rallying cry resounded from one of the most beloved spots on the Texas coast. “We need your help! The most endangered building in Texas is about to be demolished!”

The historic structure referenced in the alert, currently at risk of disappearing from the landscape, is the 1903 Luther Hotel in Palacios on Matagorda Bay. The hotel was recently added to the 2022 official list of the Most Endangered Places in the state, as determined by Preservation Texas, a private nonprofit whose mission is to protect Texas’ forgotten historic buildings and sites.

“Our signature program, the list is designed to draw statewide attention to endangered places so that local advocates can build momentum toward their protection,” says Samantha Hunick, the organization’s communications manager. “We can also provide technical assistance and letters of support for sites that have been included on the list, which has spotlighted imperiled places across Texas since 2004.”

The 13 sites on this year’s list also include the Cultural Landscape of Luckenbach, Epperson’s Ferry in Bowie and Cass counties, the Bolivar Point Lighthouse in Galveston County, Historic Resources of Tehuacana in Limestone County, the Farrington Field and Public Schools Gymnasium Historic District in Tarrant County, and the Mexia home of songwriter Cindy Walker.

“Every year,” explains Hunick, “we invite our members to nominate historic places that are important to them, and that are threatened in some way. The most common threats we see are neglect, impending demolition, inappropriate alteration, and radical loss of context. We welcome a geographically, culturally, and architecturally diverse range of submissions that address varied themes and topics.”

Preservation Texas staffers vet the nominations and submit them for review to the Organizational Visibility Committee composed of Preservation Texas board members with experience in architecture, historic site management, planning, advocacy, and building trades, according ot Hunick. The board of directors then conducts a final vote on the approved nominations.

The Luther became endangered when the hotel’s owner, Jack Findley, died two years ago and his heirs sold it to a developer who required in the sales contract that it be torn down so that a new hotel can be erected on the site. A 90-day moratorium placed on the demolition (and thus on the closing of the deal) by the Texas Historical Commission—because the Luther has a Texas Historical Marker and is on the National Register of Historic Places—expired Dec. 19. Ten days before that, though, a post on the Preservation Texas website says the moratorium has been extended to at least Jan. 15, but Palacios Preservation Committee member Edith Gower said on the 20th that the Palacios City Council failed to pass the ordinance for the moratorium’s extension.

“The hotel’s survival is crucial to the survival of heritage tourism in this small town,” Gower says. “A quote from one of the hotel’s reviews touches my heart: ‘The Luther is like your old granny giving you a warm, welcoming hug.’”

I felt that hug myself, so difficult to replicate in new construction, when I stayed at the Luther in the 1990s on a trip to write an article for Texas Highways about the Matagorda Bay excavation of French explorer La Salle’s 1680s shipwreck, the Belle.

I also experience that familial comfort zone in the landscape (and its built environment) in and around Tehuacana in Limestone County because my mother’s family lived in the nearby oil boomtown of Mexia from 1922 to 1938. According to the Handbook of Texas, the town of Tehuacana was named for Tawakoni Indians, who were still living in the area when the post office of Tewockony Springs was established in 1847. It’s one of the highest points between Dallas and Houston, and when my mother’s family would trek to the big city of Waco, my Aunt Frances would insist on getting out of the car and walking down or up a particularly dramatic hill.

Trinity University was founded in Tehuacana in 1869, and after Trinity moved to Waxahachie in 1902, the Tehuacana campus became Westminster College, which held classes until 1972. (The permanent San Antonio campus came about in the 1940s and ’50s.) The immense Texas Hall, which towers over Tehuacana (pop. around 307) was built over time between 1871 and 1892. Its sagging bell tower sat detached on the ground for as long as I can remember.

For years, the Westminster Ex-Students Association worked toward its restoration at the pinnacle of Texas Hall. This past summer, notes Tehuacana Heritage Society member Linda Ferris, a rebuilt bell tower was placed upon a short pedestal as a “bell tower monument.” Additional repairs will be needed on Texas Hall before the tower can be repositioned atop it. Ferris also envisions the school’s 1930s gymnasium as a needed site for community events after additional restoration there.

Texas Hall, the gymnasium, and other structures were purchased in the 1990s by Dr. James Parker and Trinity Institute, a nonprofit Christian residential study and retreat center. The institute’s Facebook page recently exclaimed, “We did it!!! Both Texas Hall and the gymnasium get noticed this year on the list of endangered sites in Texas for 2022. This program opens the door for possible options for restoration, grant writing, sponsorship, etc.!”

While it’s not quite that automatic, inclusion on the endangered places list does raise a historic site’s profile and perhaps increase its chances of government and private grants and other assistance. Another nonprofit, the Texas Historical Foundation, recently posted a bright assessment of the restoration and preservation chances for the Bolivar Point Lighthouse, which the list cited as a hazard after decades of hurricanes and other storms.

For at least one item on this year’s list, the Luther Hotel, you can add your voice to the preservation effort. “Google ‘Save the Luther Hotel’ and sign our petition on,” says Edith Gower. “Our fight goes on, and we now have several prospective buyers interested [who would save the hotel]. This old lady is not rocking her way through retirement in a rocking chair!”

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