Two of a Kind

Preserving the past and renewing the spirit of historic “twin” homes

Article by Anne Hebert

Photography by Olivia Vale and Shutterbug Studio

Originally published in East Austin Lifestyle

On a sloping hill near upper Waller Creek, just north of the University of Texas, two near identical houses have watched the sun rise for more than 100 years. The Wheeler Street “Twins”, as many know them, reflect an era in which houses were built to foster community, with spacious front porches, wide sidewalks and a vivid sense of place.  

Built in 1912 and 1916, these outstanding and elaborate Craftsman bungalows embody the heart and soul of Aldridge Place, a tiny historic neighborhood in the heart of Central Austin.

Platted as an addition to the City of Austin in 1912 by former Mayor Lewis Hancock, Aldridge Place was marketed as “The Suburb Beautiful” in reference to the nationally popular City Beautiful movement that emphasized central parks and enhanced aesthetic value. The neighborhood’s curvilinear streets surrounding Hemphill Park reflected this urban planning concept, with stately, tree-shaded homes designed by prominent local architects and influenced by a range of notable styles. With its proximity to campus, streetcar lines and retail along Guadalupe Street, Aldridge Place quickly became one of Austin’s most fashionable early suburbs.

Over the decades, Aldridge Place residents have included at least two mayors, well-known educators and entrepreneurs, famous authors and journalists, beloved artists and activists, countless students and scholars. Neighbors still organize a festive 4th of July parade and take turns hosting a legendary end-of-year holiday party, started more than 35 years ago.

Today, the ten-block neighborhood is one of only eight in the City of Austin to hold Local Historic District designation, which protects the significant properties and the historic character of the district.

“People are drawn not just to the historic beauty of the neighborhood, but to its shared sense of community,” says Medora Barkley, who lives in the “younger” Twin house with her husband John and their daughter Eleanor. 

John rescued their house at 3118 Wheeler from likely demolition after it sat vacant for years, earning a Preservation Merit Award in 1987. In 2002, the couple collaborated with Paul Lamb Architects on a historically sensitive remodel to further showcase the bungalow’s original details, like leaded glass windows and built-in cabinetry, alongside a few tastefully added modern updates.

The Barkley's are no strangers to historic restorations. For more than 40 years, John has renovated and rented small houses and duplexes in Central Austin neighborhoods, maintaining their period-specific aesthetic as an essential component of neighborhood character. “These houses deserve to be honored and loved,” says Medora, who joined John in the business 23 years ago.

It was this passion for preservation that led to the Barkleys’ purchase and restoration of the other Twin, which had been converted to a bed and breakfast in the late 1980s. The 3,500-square-foot home sits on a one-third acre lot, and like its twin next door, features an abundance of distinct Craftsman features.

Bringing 3120 Wheeler back to life meant not just rejuvenating its solid bones, but renewing its entire spirit. Since local lore recounts a long feud between the Twins’ original owners, Medora brought in certified Feng Shui expert Stacy Davenport to balance the energy of both houses. 

Local architect Diane Kett of DK Studio designed plans that complement the home’s historic integrity with light-filled spaces including a chef’s kitchen and four bedrooms, each with a glorious sun porch and private bath. A spacious enclosed terrace overlooking Wheeler features the original copper-clad detailing.

Builder Josh Cummins of BuildCo, who has worked on other projects in Aldridge Place, is completing a thoughtful remodel, restoring original windows and flooring and using period-appropriate light fixtures and door hardware. Extensive landscaping by JBP Design’s Jackson Broussard (a protégé of Gardens’ James David) adds vibrancy to the large lot.

When Medora had a serendipitous encounter with realtor Heather Powell, her childhood friend (and a twin herself), she knew the perfect team was in place to achieve her vision. Heather, who had deep ties to Aldridge Place through her father’s tenure as a rector at nearby All Saint’s, recalls celebrating birthdays, graduations, Super Bowl Sunday and holidays in the neighborhood with friends who were like family. “Doors were always unlocked and everyone was always welcome,” she says.

Almost 110 years after the house was built, 3120 Wheeler is ready for new occupants to make similar lifelong friendships in Aldridge Place. The home watches the seasons turn with its twin next door, sharing a view that is largely unchanged in an ever-changing city, ready for the next century. 

Medora and John Barkley honored the original character of their 1916 house and its 1912 neighbor. “We’re recreating a sense of place, one that embodies the heart and soul of the city and its ability to connect people to each other.” 

The renovation of near-identical Craftsman homes in Aldridge Place capture a sense of time and place in a neighborhood still known for its tight-knit community. 

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