Power Houses

A celebrity home tour of Dallas' rich, famous--and all too often tasteless--movers and fakers

Well, dig out that Mapsco, stick the kids in the car; it's time to see how the other half lives. Believe us, you'll need a full day and a big tank of gas to see all the homes on this tour.

And while you probably have a few preconceptions about what you're going to see, we feel quite certain we have a few surprises in store in for you.

For example. People you'd expect to live in Pink Palaces--Ray Hunt, Michael Irvin, Robert Decherd--don't. Folksy celebs you'd expect to live somewhat "normally"-- that is, without barricading themselves inside their homes--people like Gloria Campos and Dan Peavy's little-known, allegedly tape-recording neighbor Charles Harman--don't. And someone you know is abnormal--we're speaking of Ross Perot, of course--lives in a house that only reinforces your suspicions.

It should come as no surprise that the people in this bunch with the flashiest, look-at-me-please houses are three of the highest-paid Dallas Cowboys--Jerry Jones, Emmitt Smith, and Deion Sanders.

On the other hand, it should come as a big surprise that Jerry Jones--a man who obviously lies awake nights searching for new ways to wring money out of his football franchise--isn't always prompt, or gentlemanly, about paying his house taxes.

And we certainly hope you don't feel too gouged when you see how Mr. Lee Roy Mitchell, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Cinemark movie chain, is living in light of that $5 million the Dallas taxpayers just gave his company to settle its lawsuit against the city: His new North Dallas castle, currently under construction, is so big it has 12 1/2 bathrooms.

And thank your lucky stars. In Hollywood they charge money for this kind of tour.

Let's start with the big tamale. It's Jerral W. Jones, thank you very much, and since December, 1992, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and his wife, Gene, have been the proud owners of a 1931 mansion at the southernmost tip of Highland Park.

The house is located at 4400 Preston Rd. (3), right where tacky Oak Lawn Avenue ends and opulent Preston Road begins. Jones' house marks the beginning of Power Row--a handful of massively proportioned estates located on Preston between Armstrong Avenue and Beverly Drive. From Preston Road, the view is pretty bleak--it's all massive walls and towering foliage. But if you toodle over to Lakeside Drive--which runs parallel to Preston on the other side of Turtle Creek, on which all these houses sit--you can glimpse the grandeur. We recommend a winter visit when there are no tree leaves to block the view.

When Jones first bought his house, it was on the tax rolls for $6 million, which included the house and 4.7 acres of wooded land. Today, though, thanks to the elaborate renovation the house is undergoing, the value of the two-story, Mediterranean-style villa is up to $8.5 million and climbing. (Jones and his wife are not in the house while the work is being done; they moved into a leased condo at 3510 Turtle Creek Blvd., Apt. 7C.)

Records at the Dallas Central Appraisal District, which sets the values on commercial and residential properties in Dallas County, report that Jones has 14,044 square feet of living space at this point, and the records also note nine-and-a-half bathrooms, six fireplaces, an elevator, a tennis court, a gazebo, and a pool.

In an attempt to confirm these things, a photographer and I recently visited the property--or at least tried to. Although both entrances to the property were easily accessible to the swarms of construction workers who toil there daily, signs posted on the driveway fences are clearly marked "private," and if you can't read plain English, a security guard posted at the Preston Road entrance will do it for you. Actually, we learned that you can get a few dozen steps past the Armstrong entrance for a quick gander, but be prepared for the burly men at the construction trailer parked inside the gate to shoo you off.

"No pictures--by request of the owner," the head burly told us. And who is the owner? we asked innocently. "I can't tell you that," he replied oh-so-secretively.

If the house is off-limits, county tax records are not. And there's a great story in them there records--one that, as you can imagine, has spread like wildfire among the legions of low-paid, county slaves who are forced to put up with unpleasant people on a daily basis.

It seems that after Jerry and Gene moved to the condo, they "forgot" to pay their 1994 county ad valorum taxes on their house, which were due on January 31, 1995. This, of course, was a significant amount of money--$19,793.28--and the county was more than slightly interested in seeing that it got collected.

Well, after several notices were sent and the account was referred to a lawyer for collection, Jones' attorney Bob Shelton appeared in person at the downtown county tax office on his client's behalf. You see, Shelton explained to the rapt tax clerks, who have heard it all before, that Mr. and Mrs. Jones never got their tax statement--they had moved to their condo at The Claridge, and the county had failed to put their apartment number on the forwarding address, and they just never got the bill. Because of that, the Joneses felt it was only fair to waive the $7,066.13 in penalties, interest, and legal fees that were now owing above and beyond the $19,793.28 in taxes.

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