By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Ain't foolin' no one: I was disappointed to see the negative picture painted by Rose Farley in her article "Trouble in the House of Tudor." As a Greenland Hills resident and someone experienced in preservation issues, I can honestly say the M Streets Conservation District is one of the best supported and least contentious preservation initiatives I have ever seen. Yes, there are dissenters (I would be worried if there weren't), but they are few. Why is it taken at face value when a builder or developer tells us that compatible construction or rehabilitation is economically infeasible? I recall a recent TV news story about the demolition of a beautiful historic home in the Park Cities. As the bulldozers rolled in the background, the reporter informed his audience that rehabilitation was simply not economically possible. As a preservation specialist for a local architecture firm, I knew this to be false. Like the builder, the reporter couldn't be bothered to investigate more closely.
In fact, many historic home styles lend themselves to economy. Ironically, this is especially true of homes in areas where tear-down pressure is the greatest, like the bungalow-rich area to the south of Greenland Hills. There, builders don't even bother to pretend they are trying to build compatibly. If they did try, they might find they could actually build a compatibly styled home of the same size, or rehab and expand an existing one, for about the same cost. Most of the lots in Greenland Hills are small, but they do not preclude the ability to construct a 3,000-square-foot home, or to construct a sizable addition to an existing one.
The problem that prompted the conservation movement lies in the shape and quality of the designs builders are constructing. Most use blocky, out-of-a-book plans that focus on closets, not aesthetics. If a builder makes any attempt at style at all, they simply apply some random stone and some cheap half-timbering and call it a Tudor. It reminds me of those old Volkswagen Bug kits where you attach a big hood and grill to the front to make the car resemble a Rolls Royce. Sorry, it's still a Bug; you aren't fooling anyone.
But what about the higher-quality, well-designed homes? The Spanish Eclectic home built in the M Streets and patterned after designs by Hutsell is a nice example. It is a fine house in its own right, but that isn't the point. Hutsell designed some of the finest Tudor-style homes in the Greenville Avenue and Lakewood areas. Since you are building in a Tudor neighborhood, why not pattern your home after one of those fantastic designs that contribute to the neighborhood? Context plays a big part in designing a home. Hutsell would have built a Tudor.
We live in a time when we tear down our own beautiful cultural history and then buy a plane ticket for a vacation in a place that hasn't. We tear down beautifully designed homes with Rookwood tile fireplaces and stained-glass windows. Then we go to antique stores and pay $60 apiece for the tiles and $250 for the windows to use them as knick-knacks. The reason people save things, whether Grandma's quilt or an entire neighborhood, is that they carry palpable cultural and sentimental values, values we all treasure no matter how callous we profess to be. The point is that homes can be built compatibly (even when they need to be larger) in a cost-effective manner. The key to making it happen is to actually try to do it, because it isn't as hard as you think.
The logic behind it is that a well-designed home that is compatible with its neighborhood is more attractive, more desirable, better for the neighbors, more marketable and preserves the historical and cultural values of our entire city.
Martha Stewart does Dallas: Rose Farley's "Trouble in the House of Tudor" was thoroughly enjoyable. However, I wish the article had explored the deeper issues involved in the M Streets architectural disputes. Defenders of the old Tudors claim their homes are "authentic." This is historically short-sighted, for if the homes were indeed authentic, they would be in England, where the Tudor style originated among the royal family of the 1500s. The Tudor houses in the M Streets are no more authentic than Main Street in Disneyland, the world capital of simulation. The Tudor houses are simulations of the original Tudors, with the Tudor-esque McMansions being merely the postmodern offspring, simulations of previous simulations. Plano is a derivative of the M Streets, for both are areas where everyone strives to "fit in" (as was mentioned several times in the article).
Like the residents in the monstrosities of Highland Park, those in the M Streets live in homes born of an architectural helix wrapped tightly around visions of kitsch and cloning for wannabe royal families. In effect, the M Streets are row upon row of Main Street Mini-Me's. Modernism and modern architecture have largely been exhausted, as wave after wave of untalented architects and developers ruined or ignored the promise of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and engineers such as Buckminster Fuller. As typified by the M Streets and the suburban sprawl rippling around the world, the masses have long rejected modernism and are now content to clone and copy every past style, unable to imagine anything new or innovative, authentic or individualistic. When M Street residents describe the houses as "homey" and "quaint," or like "gingerbread houses," then kitsch has indeed triumphed over modernism. Geniuses like Wright and Fuller are relegated to architectural artifacts, swept aside in the aesthetic reign of Queen Martha Stewart, the ruler of the new royal families!