By Alyssa Schnugg
The Oxford Historic Preservation Commission took its first steps in what they hope will help save the old “Theora Hamblett house” from demolition from neglect by its owners.
According to staff reports, the city has received complaints about the condition of the home located on Van Buren Avenue, for the past several years due to the appearance of the house due to a lack of maintenance.
City planning staff told the commissioners Monday that if immediate action is not taken by the homeowner, the home will continue to deteriorate, possibly beyond repair.
The house is commonly known as the “Theora Hamblett house,” due to its association with Hamblett, who lived there from 1939 until her death in 1977. She became one of the South’s most distinguished self-taught artists. While she lived in the Van Buren home, she rented out rooms to University of Mississippi students when she started painting at the age of 55. More than 600 pieces of her work belong to the University of Mississippi Museum.
The house was built in 1860 with an addition added in 1920.
Multiple city staff members have had conversations with the homeowners to express the concerns of area residents, and to pass along offers of help from many of these residents who recognize the significance of this home.
“These offers of assistance were declined on multiple occasions, and the home has continued to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance,” states the staff report presented to the commission on Monday.
Commissioner Dianne Scruggs asked that if the commission approved to start the Demolition by Neglect process if that would eventually end in the house being demolished, which was something all of the commissioners expressed they did not would want to see occur.
“It’s such an important piece of property and the ultimate goal is definitely not demolition,” Scruggs said.
The Demolition of Neglect is not a process that necessarily results in the demolition of a structure, rather it allows the city to take steps to prevent future demolition by neglect of the home.
Hollis Green, director of Development Services, said the city hopes that the approval to start the Demolition of Neglect process would help bring the owners to the table. He said staff had a conversation with the homeowners before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but there has not been any communication since that time.
“The staff and city’s goal is to save that house,” he said. “I don’t think there is any question of that.”
With Monday’s approval to begin the process, the owners of the property will be notified of a future public hearing. If the owners do not make the recommended improvements to the home, the city, by law, can do the necessary work on the outside of the home and charge the cost of the repairs back to the homeowners.