Trouble in the House of Tudor

A nasty neighborhood battle is brewing between McMansion-dwellers and self-righteous homeowners in the M Streets

Around the corner, Fred and Sherry Duffer have settled into their year-old house, which is similar to but slightly different from Weeks'. (Rather than several smaller gables, its exterior has one gable that dramatically swoops up over the façade, forming a gigantic "A.") The Duffers attended Hunt's first neighborhood meeting, and they witnessed anything but unanimity.

"There was so much dissension we didn't go back," Sherry says. Fred adds, "They couldn't even agree on the setback for the garage in the back alley."

Sherry, who lived in an old Tudor for years before she married Fred two years ago, generally supports the idea of new restrictions. As an example, she points to a three-story, triangular-shaped house recently built on a tiny sliver of land at the end of Vanderbilt Avenue along North Central Expressway.

If the Tudor Rebellion is successful, houses like Arthur Eisenberg's will soon be outlawed.
Mark Graham
If the Tudor Rebellion is successful, houses like Arthur Eisenberg's will soon be outlawed.
Custom builder Terry Gaston says he'd rather build smaller houses, but the skyrocketing cost of lots precludes that.
Mark Graham
Custom builder Terry Gaston says he'd rather build smaller houses, but the skyrocketing cost of lots precludes that.

Hunt recently led an effort to block that home's completion. The resistance resulted in a settlement Hunt describes as a "land for peace" deal. Under it, Hunt's group agreed to drop its opposition to the home's construction after the builder agreed to sell Hunt a second lot on which he was planning to build a similar home. The lot, a piece of land left over from the expressway's construction, was the same spot on which the National Trust held its June news conference. Hunt got it for $10 and plans to keep it as green space.

Sherry thought the triangular shape of the house was pushing the look of the neighborhood. Although her house is about the same height, Sherry tried to make hers fit in by installing stained glass in her front windows and shelling out extra money for wood frames.

"Metal windows do not go in this neighborhood," Sherry says. "That's one of the reasons I will vote for the conservation district--if they don't get too strict."

The comment prompts Fred to roll his eyes. He, like Weeks, suspects that preserving the neighborhood's architectural look (much less its history) isn't really what the conservation movement is about.

"The real thing people are concerned about is their property values," Fred says.

An independent business consultant, Fred can't figure out why a conservation district is even needed in a neighborhood where the daintiest Tudors sell for more than a quarter of a million dollars. To him, no sane individual would shell out that kind of money for a house in the M Streets just to raze it.

"It's all economics," Fred says. "By and large, economics takes care of what you want to conserve."

Indeed, Fred has identified one of the hidden realities of the so-called "conservation" movement: Homes in good repair are not being torn down to make way for McMansions. In Greenland Hills, for example, Hunt's group determined that just 35 of its 917 homes have been torn down since 1990. And those homes, most everyone agrees, needed to go.

One person responsible for some of those teardowns is Jay Wysong, who heads up the Lakewood-area division of Belmont Homes, a company that also builds custom homes in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. Although he has chosen to participate in the conservation district effort, thinking of himself as a "builder's liaison," Wysong says the fears of demolition are unfounded.

"Those houses will never be torn down," Wysong says. "Nobody's going to pay $350,000 for a lot in the M Streets when you can afford to do that in the Park Cities or Bluffview. That's just not realistic."

But the teardown scenario, or at least the potential for one, is precisely what motivated Lisa Gala to initiate an identical conservation movement in M Streets East, which lies across Greenville Avenue. That district contains 430 homes, of which Gala estimates 90 percent or more are in "move in" condition.

Gala launched her effort last year shortly after she bought her home, a 1924 red-brick "Tudor Cottage" currently appraised at $243,000. Though it is small, 1,372 square feet, Gala says it is unique because of a brick "diamond" on its façade.

"If I put my house on the market tomorrow, I'd ask $279,000 for it, and the thing is, I'd probably get it," Gala says. "You can't find another red-brick house with a white diamond on it."

Like Hunt, Gala argues that if the neighborhood becomes dominated with new, more-expensive homes, old homes like hers will be torn down for lot value. "Around us it is happening a lot. We feel it could infiltrate into this neighborhood," Gala says. "If we live here 20 or more years, I'd say the threat is very real."

One house that has been torn down was located next door to Gala's. Five years before Gala moved in, a modern Tudor was built in its place, dwarfing Gala's house. Gala insists that particular house doesn't bother her, but she says the other new homes don't belong.

"They may have walk-in closets and five bathrooms--all things we envy--but they're just not cutting it. Four bricks, two stones and a high peak does not a Tudor make," Gala says, stressing that it's the houses, not the people who buy them, that are objectionable. "People who live in new homes are not bad people. You talk to 'em and they say, 'Oh, my house is a Tudor, and I bought it because it looks just like yours.' They don't mean any ill will."

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