Power Houses

Sitting in my car, staring at the modest, one-story house, I figured I was in the wrong place.

According to Dallas County tax records, this was supposed to be cosmetics queen Mary Kay Ash's house. But there was nothing pink--or queenlike--about it.

The house was white. The 1996 Cadillac in the driveway was white. In fact, the only thing that was even remotely Mary Kay-esque was a spray of pink flowers in a small bed out front, but they were dwarfed by a flurry of bright yellow lilies. But more significantly, the house was, well, small. At least by Dallas celebrity standards.

No, I thought, this couldn't be her house. Not when you consider where she used to live.

The Pink Palace had been the talk of Dallas when Ash moved into it in 1984. Never mind that it was 11,874 square feet of space for one 66-year-old widow. It was a $2 million sweetheart cottage with 10-plus bathrooms, six fireplaces, and five wet bars. Dallas was well-acquainted with big. What made this celebrity manse different were the amenities--the pink marble bathtub, an exact replica of Liberace's, and the Roman swimming pool, surrounded by columns and statues and copied after the one at San Simeon. And then there was the color of the house: a distinctive lipstick pink, complete with matching pink guardhouse.

From the street, 8915 Douglas Ave. (1) looked like a two-story frosted petit four, sitting fat and pretty on a stunningly landscaped circular driveway.

Memories of that house made the one at 7246 Lupton Circle (2) I was now staring at look like a trailer home. The house was nothing to sneeze at, mind you. Despite its plain-vanilla looks, it was 3,200 square feet, $427,090 on the tax rolls. If you climbed a ladder and peered over the white brick wall along the 9400 block of Boedeker Drive--which I later did--you would see that the Ash abode sits on a beautiful man-made lake, which boasts a splendid, Old Faithful-like gusher in its center.

Still, sitting in front of the house for the very first time, I wondered if I'd misread the computer printout back at my office. How else to explain this apparently downwardly mobile transition from tony, lushly wooded Douglas to barren suburban obscurity on Lupton, a stone's throw from NorthPark mall?

So I decided to ask.
I walked past the Cadillac, across the fan-shaped, shaded entryway, and up the few steps to the large double wooden front doors. As I reached for the doorbell, I spied a security camera suspended unobtrusively near the mailbox--a bona fide star dropping, as far as I was concerned, causing me to fantasize about a bow-mouthed, platinum-haired Mary Kay answering her own door, her ample figure wrapped like a gift box in a frilly pink apron, her right hand holding forth a plate of pecan sandies, her left toting a basket bursting with Mary Kay hand creams. For me.

No such luck.
Instead, I got Robert Knight--ex-Marine and the Pink queen's bouncer--also a dead ringer, if not in looks then in personality, for Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf.

"Can I help you?" Knight boomed from the other side of the wrought-iron gate leading to the pool and back patio. I not only never saw Ms. Ash, I didn't get my question about the palace abdication answered, and I had barely gotten my business card stuffed into his mitt before the gate slammed behind me.

Subsequently, though, I did confirm that Mary Kay Ash did live there and did, in fact, simply make a decision to downsize. The Fort Lauderdale-style bungalow on Lupton Circle, complete with double-wide carport, was built in 1969 by Ash and her husband Mel, who died some years ago.

It seems that after a decade living in a cloud of cotton candy, Ash came to the conclusion--like most of the rest of us--that she simply didn't need Liberace's bathtub to be happy. So in March 1994, she sold the Douglas house to a Mesquite osteopath who was fortunate enough to have married a woman who yearned to live in a bright pink house. As for Ash, she is happily ensconced in her old house--the one she built when her cosmetics empire was in its infancy.

"She's very happy there," says someone who knows her well. "You know, she really is just a nice, normal person."

Which, of course, brings us back to the central question.
Are any of the other big celebs in town "normal?" How many of them, if any, choose modest lakeside bungalows over pink palaces--or the equivalent? Are they inner-city cats or Range Rover-driving suburbanites? Do they pay their property taxes? Do their fame and self-importance cause them to secure their properties like Camp David? Do they have tacky lawn ornaments?

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Laura Miller