Mister Stanley Wouldn't Be Happy, As Couple Attempts to Tear Down the Historic Marcus House

The Marcus House, as it looked during construction in 1938

Much of what you should know about Stanley Marcus' former house on Nonesuch Road can be found on the Texas Historical Commission's Web site, which notes that in the mid-1930s, the man who turned Neiman Marcus into a retail empire fired Frank Lloyd Wright "for his failure to produce a suitable design" and hired Dallas architect Roscoe DeWitt to build the International Style structure that was the Marcus' manse till 1994, photos of which you will find here. You will also find in this excerpt from Marcus' autobiography Minding the Store significant details about the construction of the house, which cost about $150,000 to build. In mid-1930s dollars.

You might want to bone up on that history this a.m., as the 9,000-square-foot house perched upon a few acres of prime Lakewood property is on the verge of becoming history: Owners Mark and Patricia Lovvorn have applied for a demolition permit with the Texas Historic Commission (and not the city, as originally mentioned).

Stanley Marcus

The Lovvorns could not be reached by Unfair Park this morning, but officials with the city confirm that a permit has been filed. And because the property isn't a City of Dallas-designated historic structure, the city won't be able to stand in front of the bulldozers. And just like that, the 70-year-old estate -- which has hosted the likes of President Lyndon Johnson, Princess Grace and countless other arts- and fashion-world dignitaries and political bigwigs -- can and most likely will be erased. That is, unless the Texas Historical Commission can convince Mark Lovvorn, former president and CEO of BankDallas, and his wife to call off the wrecking crew.

On July 28, the Lovvorns notified the THC of their intentions. On August 8, the THC and its executive director -- Larry Oaks, who's also the State Historic Preservation Officer -- responded, citing Chapter 442, Section 442.006 of the Texas Government Code, which says the couple must wait at least 60 days after notification before demolishing the house:

A person may not damage the historical or architectural integrity of a structure the commission has designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark without notifying the commission at least 60 days before the date on which the action causing the damage is to begin. After receiving the notice, the commission may waive the waiting period or, if the commission determines that a longer period will enhance the chance for preservation, it may require an additional waiting period of not longer than 30 days. On the expiration of the time limits imposed by this section, the person may proceed, but must proceed not later than the 180th day after the date on which notice was given or the notice is considered to have expired.

Odd thing is, mention several city officials familiar with the house and its history, it was the Lovverns who initiated historic designation proceedings with the THC in 1999. Regardless, the THC has notified the Lovverns that the agency is extending the 60-day waiting period another month, in hopes of keeping the structure intact.

"We hereby determine that a longer period of time will enhance the possibility of the preservation of this building, and extend the waiting period by 30 days for a total of 90 days from when the THC received your notification on July 31, 2008. However, cooperation between you and our office could potentially allow us to waive the remainder of the demolition waiting period."
The missive to the Lovvorns also "strongly urge[s]" the couple to "abandon your demolition plans and reconsider efforts to rehabilitate this important building." The letter suggests why the Lovvorns want to raze the house: "energy inefficiency." But, notes the THC's letter, just as that inadequacy has "environmental consequences ... so does the demolition of an existing building." Apparently, the couple has considered rehabilitating the house, but chose against it. The THC wants them to rethink that decision because of Marcus' significance to the city and because the house "features many of the architectural features typical of the International Style."

City officials say the address "has been flagged," meaning they'll keep an eye on it and make sure nothing's torn down till the matter is settled between the Lovvorns and the THC. Debbi Head, spokesperson for the THC, couldn't be reached this morning; neither could Oaks. But Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas, tells Unfair Park that its demolition would be a "major loss" for the city.

"The Marcus House is one of those few buildings that helps tell the story of Dallas' built environment," she says in an e-mail this morning. "In an architectural time line, the Marcus House represents Dallas' development toward modern design. This is significant, because our city is known for its Modern architecture. Just as Natchez has antebellum houses and SoHo has cast-iron clad structures, Dallas has a serious collection of well-designed Modern buildings. To rid the city of one of its most important would be a major loss for Dallas." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky