More Bang for Yer Roebuck

This old house on Bryan Parkway's gotten a lot of attention lately. And to think, it came out of a catalog. In 1925. Look it up, Byron. It's a fact.

As I predicted yesterday, WFAA-Channel 8's Byron Harris did a story last night about 6015 Bryan Parkway, the much-disputed historic house down the street from me. I respect and like Byron, but his piece was both frustrating and unintentionally hilarious for those of us who have dealt with old houses and preservation.

I think it was supposed to be sort of a little expose or zinger. The anchor person leads into it with a line, "All right, now what's the difference between a historic landmark and a decrepit old house? An attorney." Harris explains how the owners, who are developers in Plano, want to tear it down and build a new house. But, "Their opponents say it should be preserved."

And then the big reveal: "But a search through the archives shows their home is really a 1925 Sears Roebuck home kit." And he shows a page from the 1925 catalog with an illustration of the house, the implication being: How historic can the house be if it came from a catalog?

What Byron and the new owners from Plano don't get is that discovering it's a Sears catalog house makes it all the more historic. The New York Times did a great piece several years ago on the Sears kit houses, and there's a decent history of them available here. They were common in the first part of the 20th century, but few survived in any recognizable form.

The underlying assumption of Byron's piece is a common one among people who don't know anything about architecture or preservation--that only fancy big places once occupied by the rich and famous are historic. The value of our block, however, is as a remnant of modest middle-class housing in the early 20th century. It's one of only two intact blocks left in the Swiss Avenue Historic district, and it has been called one of the few blocks of its kind in the nation in at least one book on American residential architecture. Those distinctions will be gone forever when 6015 gets torn down and we get some Plano-Drano mess in its place.

I can't really blame the new owners for this. They seem like nice people. It's just stuff they don't know. I mean, look: They're from Plano. But, Byron! Tsk-tsk. Couldn't you have done a quick Google search on Sears Roebuck kit houses? Leeetle bit sleepy on the draw there, padnuh. --Jim Schutze


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