Cottage has not-quite-haunted history

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Pamela LeBlanc


GEORGETOWN The pale yellow paint is peeling, and creeper vines cling to the eaves. But look closely, cult movie fans, and you might recognize the house perched on the bluff above a bend in the San Gabriel River.

Look past the construction workers, busily framing two rooms that will be added to the back of the building. Ignore the buzz of the equipment. Does the house look familiar?

The Queen Anne-style cottage being renovated here, just east of Interstate 35, once stood at the site of the Barnes & Noble bookstore at La Frontera shopping center in Round Rock. Its twin now immortalized as the home of Leatherface in the classic thriller "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" stood a few hundred yards away.

Same front porch and steeply raked roof. Same curved entryway and dorm-style rooms upstairs. Same blueprints. And both had to go, for the sake of progress.

"Speaking of nightmare movies," says developer Don Martin. "We had to move it to get it out of the way."

Appropriately, both houses were sawed into seven parts each, then towed to new locations. This one wound up in Georgetown. The one that appeared in the movie now stands in Kingsland, in Llano County, where it was renovated and converted into a restaurant.

Martin and his partner, Bill Smalling, began renovations on this house, just east of Interstate 35 on San Gabriel Village Boulevard, in December. They hope to finish by summer.

Both houses are so-called pattern homes from the early 1900s. They were built from kits, their materials delivered by wagon along with blueprints and assembly instructions. Down to the curved entryway, decorative second-floor balcony and gingerbread trim, the two houses are identical.

But step inside the one in Georgetown, and you'll get none of the creepy ambience that some say the "Chainsaw" house still holds. Bits of old patterned wallpaper hang from tacks on the walls of the kitchen and upstairs rooms here, a reminder of the families that once called this building home.

The house was originally built for Leonard Ruben Frisk, an early settler in Williamson County, sometime around 1908. The Frisks and their five daughters lived in the house until 1943. The home changed hands several times after that.

Martin and Smalling say they'll rent the 3,600-square-foot space as a commercial property. The project, they say, will make a quaint entry to the city's already historic downtown.

Inside, the original white banister and newel still line the staircase. Wainscoting and hardwood floors, transom windows and beaded wall boards add to the charm.

And the views . . . from the back windows, the river winds lazily away, lined on both sides by a strip of parkland. Sprawling oaks surround the house, which stands just across the river from Blue Hole Park.

"Look out the window, and you say, 'Oh, my gosh,' " Smalling says. "You stand right here and see it's going to be worth it."

Contact Pamela LeBlanc at pleblanc@statesman.com or (512) 445-3994.