Trouble in the House of Tudor

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"I walked into it and it was covered in urine and trash. When the bulldozer came, I just shut the door behind me and let 'em go," says Jones, who adds that every house he's torn down has been in the same condition. Why anyone would want to preserve them is beyond him. "If this was the North Church in Boston where Paul Revere saw the lights, I could see it. But some of these houses were built 40 years ago."

Jones argues that the same economic forces that protect the old Tudors from being razed also explain why the new homes are as big as they are: Escalating lot values mean builders have to build houses that are at least 3,000 square feet in order to recoup their costs and realize a profit.

Jones isn't kidding. In the last five years, lot prices in the M Streets have doubled to about $90,000 for the average 50-by-150-foot lot. In the neighborhoods to the east, where more new homes have been built, lot values have more than tripled. Barnes' lot, for example, has gone from an appraised value of $20,000 in 1997 to $87,500 today. Other similar-sized lots are worth more than $100,000.

"I would much rather build smaller houses, but the cost of the lot precludes that," Jones says, echoing the comments of other builders in the area. "You have to get the costs back, and that's where you get the size."

Unlike Greenland Hills, where the vast majority of homes are Tudor, the proposed Belmont Addition district has everything from early 1900s Prairie- and Craftsman-style homes to postwar ranch houses and other structures that don't have an identifiable style. As a result, the process of figuring out which ones should be preserved has been more difficult. One thing's for sure: A goal of the district will be to require that any new homes built there replicate one of the existing architectural styles. Beyond that, Philip Kingston says, the district's organizers don't want to be overly restrictive.

"No neighborhood was ever perfect. There are houses that are old and conforming to the neighborhood that are ugly. But that's my opinion, and I can have the opinion that one house is better than the other, but that's not going to be reflected in the ordinance--other than in broad strokes," Kingston says. "We hope to draft a document where later we don't end up with a newcomer problem."

Kingston and his wife, Melissa, became active with the district shortly after the couple moved in two years ago. To a reporter, Melissa will only reluctantly admit that new homes like the Barnes' are the motivation behind the effort.

"It's not that people don't like them," she says. "It's more that they feel they don't fit in with the neighborhood."

The last thing Melissa says the group wants to do is create an "us vs. them" situation. After all, if she had bought a new home, then she would want her neighbors to make her feel welcome. "I can't imagine buying a new home, moving into it and finding out all of your neighbors hate you," she says.

Barnes says that's exactly the drift she got when Kingston's group showed up at her door 10 days after she had moved in. Barnes was galled that they were asking her to support their plans to ban her type of house from the neighborhood.

"They said, 'We just want to make sure this is going to be discussed.' That's how they portrayed it," Barnes says. "I thought it was a joke. I don't appreciate people coming to my door and saying, by the way, we don't approve of you in our neighborhood."

After they left, Barnes realized that the days when your new neighbors greeted you with a cake are long gone.

"I signed up for the e-mails because I wanted to get to know my enemy," Barnes says, adding that the whole experience reminds her of the "conformist mind-set" typical of a college sorority. "My whole life I wanted to fit in. When I became an adult, I realized that fitting in wasn't making me happy. Living in this house makes me happy."

As the National Trust demonstrated last month, it is now politically correct to openly ridicule the so-called McMansion for its alleged design deficiencies. In Dallas, however, the architectural assaults have gone beyond that style of home to include other new homes, which, if the conservation movement is successful, will soon be outlawed.
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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley