Mid-Century Modern Problems: Sorting Out What's Worth Designating Historic

There's not a lot going on at Dallas City Hall this week and next and next, while the council goes spring breaking. But there is something of interest on the Landmark Commission's Designation Committee, which is meeting today: a vague agenda item that only says, "Discussion of Post War residential designations." Which means ...?

According to historic preservation staffers at City Hall, more and more owners of mid-century modern homes have been approaching Landmark Commission about designation. Problem is, there aren't good guidelines for what is and isn't worthy of designation. Because, sure, a 150-old house by a master architect will always get a look-see from designation. And Stanley Marcus's house? No doubt. But how about a ranch house built in '55 whose owners want the protection afforded by designation status? (Which becomes more of an imperative as neighborhoods are decimated by the return of the McMcMansion. And, note to self: What's going on on the Disney Streets?)

"We just don't have a very good template" for post-World War II houses, says Preservation Dallas exec director Katherine Seale, also a member of the Designation Committee. "We started one for the Stanley Marcus house, but even that had to be substantially altered. ... Generally, with contemporary houses, you have a lack of details, so when you talk about each part of the the building you don't have any of that language. You have clean lines and you're talking about an emphasis on verticality and materials, not decorative details. And, everyone agrees something 100 years old is worth looking at, but unless it's exceptionally significant, if it's 50 years old, most people, including our leaders at City Hall might have a problem with it. And how do we address that?"

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky