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The son of an architect, Stenger grew up in both Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana. During World War II, he served in the Navy as a member of the Seabees construction battalion. He spent much of his time witnessing action in the South Pacific, looking for gaps between coral atolls, and scouting out potential landing sites for barges on Japanese-occupied islands.
Stenger returned to Texas after the war and enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, but struggled to pay tuition and make ends meet with his $50 G.I. Bill stipend. He supplemented his small income by working as a draftsman and playing the accordion at events around town, but decided he’d be better off practicing and making money, so after passing the licensing exam—but before graduation—he dropped out and went into business.
Stenger began building homes in South Austin, near the Barton Springs Pool, working as a developer, architect, and even builder, often strapping on a tool belt and finishing the homes himself (he was much more hands-on than Joseph Eichler, the California developer Stenger is often compared to). Focused on residential clients, he eventually built more than 100 homes around Austin featuring his playful take on midcentury design. Stenger began selling his first homes a few years before Eichler.
While each home was built to the lot and had unique features, his designs, mostly clustered around the South Lund Park, Ridgewood Village, and Stenger Addition areas of Austin, share some common traits. Most of these modest, sub-1,500-square-foot homes featured low-pitch gabled roofs, post-and-beam construction, and local stones. Many contained low-slung fireplaces, not a necessity in Hill Country, but an amenity that recalls cocktail lounges and dude ranches. Many of the homes featured built-ins as a way to maximize space and save money, and cost between $18,000 and $22,000 at the time of construction (under $200,000 in today’s dollars).
Stenger operated in his own way, at his own pace. After buying a plot of land, he’d seek out a homebuyer, then finish an entire home without asking them to sign a contract. Despite the risk, Stenger had few clients back out, due in large part to his high degree of personalization. Stenger, who continued to design and build for decades, gave the last home he ever created to his wife right before he died in 2002.
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