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In that sense, says Carey, if the heritage center is realized, at least the Cohn and Foley houses will be saved and kept fairly close to their original sites. He hopes that the city and Davis will come to some agreement.
"Hopefully if this is all going to happen it will be good, and it won't have an asterisk next to it, a long explanation, and leave people with questions or lingering doubts," says Carey. "I'm hoping that can all be removed, and the owner gets a fair shake and the plan is sound."
It's been many months since Lynn Edmundson drove to Mary Nell Davis's house for the first time to pick up the keys to the Cohn House and let Jim Arnold and his students in to do their work. Davis and her attorney are staying quiet, ready to check out the next offer from the city. City officials are crossing their fingers in hopes that Davis will go for their next big idea. And Edmundson is on a long vacation, still steaming over being left out of the decision-making process, and still worrying that the city will swoop in and take the house.
If you ask Jim Arnold, a native Texan who's done preservation work all over Texas and Mexico, the uncertainty about the house's future all could have been avoided if Houston had thought about preservation in general, not only when absolutely necessary.
"If we'd had a plan, oh, my God, a plan," laughs Arnold. "What a novel idea. [But] Houston has a tendency to take things to an extreme. We don't think about things until it's too late, and then we make up for it in the end by throwing great guns and a lot of money at things."
Arnold grew close to the Cohn House during the weekends he spent guiding his students as they measured every inch of floorboard and every centimeter of windowsill. He wants the house saved. But as quick as he is to criticize, the architect admits that occasionally he takes off his preservationist's hat and looks at the city from a different perspective.
"We live in a mosquito-infested, sinking swamp," says Arnold. "You know, why did we do that? So we're constantly having to make up for it." Building foundations are always in need of repair, he says. It's become the city's nature to tear down and rebuild. To put it simply, Houston isn't Boston, and wasn't ever meant to be.
"This is the queen city of the Americas, I really do believe that," says Arnold earnestly. "But our economics have always driven bigger, higher, faster, stronger. All the time." Oddly enough, says Arnold, a constantly mutating skyline has become as much a part of Houston's history as the old homes in Quality Hill.
And for now, while the city and the owner wrangle over the next step, there's nothing left for the Cohn House to do but sit among a constantly changing downtown, waiting to become the next experiment in Houston-style preservation.