Trouble in the House of Tudor

Page 5 of 7

One person responsible for some of those teardowns is Jay Wysong, who heads up the Lakewood-area division of Belmont Homes, a company that also builds custom homes in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. Although he has chosen to participate in the conservation district effort, thinking of himself as a "builder's liaison," Wysong says the fears of demolition are unfounded.

"Those houses will never be torn down," Wysong says. "Nobody's going to pay $350,000 for a lot in the M Streets when you can afford to do that in the Park Cities or Bluffview. That's just not realistic."

But the teardown scenario, or at least the potential for one, is precisely what motivated Lisa Gala to initiate an identical conservation movement in M Streets East, which lies across Greenville Avenue. That district contains 430 homes, of which Gala estimates 90 percent or more are in "move in" condition.

Gala launched her effort last year shortly after she bought her home, a 1924 red-brick "Tudor Cottage" currently appraised at $243,000. Though it is small, 1,372 square feet, Gala says it is unique because of a brick "diamond" on its façade.

"If I put my house on the market tomorrow, I'd ask $279,000 for it, and the thing is, I'd probably get it," Gala says. "You can't find another red-brick house with a white diamond on it."

Like Hunt, Gala argues that if the neighborhood becomes dominated with new, more-expensive homes, old homes like hers will be torn down for lot value. "Around us it is happening a lot. We feel it could infiltrate into this neighborhood," Gala says. "If we live here 20 or more years, I'd say the threat is very real."

One house that has been torn down was located next door to Gala's. Five years before Gala moved in, a modern Tudor was built in its place, dwarfing Gala's house. Gala insists that particular house doesn't bother her, but she says the other new homes don't belong.

"They may have walk-in closets and five bathrooms--all things we envy--but they're just not cutting it. Four bricks, two stones and a high peak does not a Tudor make," Gala says, stressing that it's the houses, not the people who buy them, that are objectionable. "People who live in new homes are not bad people. You talk to 'em and they say, 'Oh, my house is a Tudor, and I bought it because it looks just like yours.' They don't mean any ill will."

Jennifer Barnes won't use the word "hurt" to describe her feelings about the battle against homes like hers, which was recently built at the edge of the proposed Belmont Addition conservation district. That neighborhood, which is dominated by small, wood-framed homes, many of them postwar "GI" houses that have been turned into rental properties, lies between the M Streets and Lakewood Heights.

"'Hurt' is the wrong word, but it has bothered me in that I am seen as a capitalist imperialist," Barnes says. "We have furniture from Target in this house."

Barnes and her husband, Jason, exemplify the type of young, white-collar professionals who have been flocking into the city's urban neighborhoods. Both attorneys, the Barneses chose the neighborhood because its close proximity to downtown allows them to avoid a lengthy commute. They also liked the area's older houses, which remind them of the East Coast neighborhoods they grew up in. In fact, Barnes wanted to buy an old Tudor that was for sale in the M Streets, but in the end, the couple decided the asking price was ridiculous.

"Why would I pay $300,000 to live in 1,900 square feet when I can pay $400,000 for 3,000 square feet?" Barnes says. "I loved the style. I begged [Jason] to live there, but economically we just couldn't risk it. We were worried the bottom would drop out."

The local real-estate market has, until recently, sent property values soaring. In the Tudor-dominated M Streets, the values of the homes have gone up along with land values. But that hasn't been the case everywhere. In neighborhoods like Belmont Addition and Lakewood Heights, the housing stock is deteriorating to the point where the lots are now worth more than the structures. As a result, more homes are being razed.

Barnes says this trend should be welcomed, not thwarted. As an example, she points to the house next door. Now a rent house, its wooden frame is rotting, while its unkempt lot has become a nesting ground for snakes and rats.

"We call it the shithole," Barnes says. "This is what they're trying to preserve? They should be thanking us."

Manson Jones, the president of JMJ Custom Homes who built Barnes' house, echoed his clients' comments while standing in front of another house he's building "on spec" in Lakewood Heights. A nearby house, which has been red-tagged by city inspectors, is much like the one Jones says he razed to make way for this project, which will sell for more than $400,000 when it's finished.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley