By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Pitiful thing: Thank you, thank you, thank you for having the guts to expose Some Like It Hot for what it is--a disgusting attempt by Dallas Summer Musicals to fill seats and get some cash ("Some Like It Not," July 25). This production was the most pitiful thing I've seen on the DSM stage in some time (since Jekyll & Hyde several years back). It seems to me that the shows DSM books and produces are getting worse every year--and people still stand and cheer. Well, not this person. While every other Tony Curtis-loving fan was standing and cheering, I was walking out the door. I wish I had been able to read your column (instead of Tom Sime's ridiculous glowing review) beforehand. Thanks for being honest with your readers.
Bring on the Smut
Good ol' dirty days: Eric Celeste's article ("Sex Sales," July 25) makes me pine for the halcyon days of the Dallas Observer, when it was an actual alternative paper, instead of just another link in a chain of weeklies, when the writing was good and the ads were dirty. Like Mr. Celeste, my friends and I used to entertain each other by reading the ads aloud, but we also enjoyed the good journalism that the dirty ads paid for, like investigative reports by Laura Miller and intelligent theater criticism by John Lewis. Back then, I was excited about picking up the Observer every week. Now, getting the paper is just a habit I haven't broken yet, like checking in on Saturday Night Live thinking, "Maybe it'll be good this week." Over the years, I've watched the Observer's sad, slow slide into corporate homogeneity, with tame personal ads and writing that is--with a few notable exceptions--bland and uninformed. Julie Lyons may find "hooker ads" embarrassing and disgusting, but in my opinion, poor journalism is worse. If dirty ads can buy better writing, bring on the smut!
I love it: Eric Celeste's "Sex Sales" was dead on. I, too, used to sit around reading ads searching for one that could actually shock me. Men seeking men: "You are a new father who isn't getting the attention you deserve...Let me pamper you!" I would call my friends: "You aren't going to believe this sick bastard!!!" Reading personals, escort ads and adult video store ads is a form of mindless entertainment that is dear to me. I love it! It's not just free content for the Observer; it's paid-for content. It's a significant part of the stuff that helped make this paper. If it offends you, try turning the page. If the problem really was the "offensive" content, you should feel better almost instantly. If the pain persists, call a doctor!
Freakin' aluminum windows: OK, I get it. But I don't get it. As a custom home builder in the M Streets/Lakewood area ("Trouble in the House of Tudor," July 25), I've heard the complaints, and brutha, I feel your pain. I really hate aluminum windows, front-loader garages with an acre of concrete leading up to 'em and the requisite Plano arch front entrance. I spend buckets of money that I don't really need to spend in order to make my houses fit into the neighborhood. Result? I've got neighbors who wish that a laminated beam would come crashing down on my head. One woman living close to my latest project told me that she hopes that I never build near her again, that she already hates the new owners of the house, even though it isn't even sold yet, and that she's surprised that the structure has not somehow mysteriously ignited by now. Fortunately, other neighbors are thrilled about the house and are happy to have the previous structure gone.
As ridiculous as some of her attacks are, I truly understand where she's coming from. She was there first. I came later. Her house is old and small. My house is new and large. Her house is worth around 200K. My house is priced at a million more than that. If I were that woman, I'd be pissed, too.
I've lived in the M street area for 11 years now. And I've seen the neighborhood checker-boarded with all kinds of new houses. Some builders throw up crap and stick a sign in the yard. Others spend time and money to construct a historically correct structure that blends in as if it had been there forever. Such builders could be counted on one hand. The difference is that one builder wants to make a contribution to a neighborhood, while the other wants to make a contribution to his mutual funds. Most of the original homes in the M Streets area were painstakingly constructed with quality materials, design imagination and pride in workmanship. All three are hard to find these days, as homes are built with the intention of housing the first owners for two or three years, instead of two or three generations.
In downtown Dallas, homeless people piss on old buildings that are so intricately detailed, they couldn't be reproduced today at any cost. Mini versions from that era are parked on the M Streets, and there won't be anything like 'em ever again. Are they worth hanging onto? Oh, yeah. Should the neighborhood look like The Truman Show? Huh? That's bordering on dictatorship. Even in high-tone Highland Park, there's some god-awful stuff going up, and nobody there could stop it. Our little M Streets aren't nearly as politically buff as the Park Cities, and the new houses will reflect that. More Plano arches are headed our way, and that's the American way. I can't stop 'em. But I wouldn't mind a ban on those freaking aluminum windows.
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!
However, there are no "heroes" in the Tudor tyranny, for the dispute illustrates the current state of democracy in America. Proponents of preservation mentioned "the democratic nature" of the movement, illustrating how democracy means little more than the freedom for the larger group to gang up on the smaller group and impose their will through the laws of the state. Can we imagine what would happen if some renegade decided to build one of Fuller's clear geodesic domes on the M Streets? This is a curious fate for a country at war with terrorism, claiming to stand for freedom yet imposing a code of conformity at home that is truly frightening. Who needs genius or individualism in the M Streets when the neighborhood already amounts to a theme park zone, a provincial Main Street with the parental lineage of Walt Disney and Martha Stewart?