Trouble in the House of Tudor

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One new house that, apparently, would not have passed the restrictions proposed for Greenland Hills stands in the shadows of the triangular house Hunt's group actively opposed. The house, which boasts a pricey clay tile roof, is modeled after the early 1900s "Spanish Eclectic" homes C.D. Hutsell built in Dallas, particularly in Lakewood. (In his day, Hutsell was just as much a speculator as he was an architect, buying up whole city blocks and developing them lot by lot.)

Jeff Fairey, who built the house and is the president of Vintage Contemporaries, which specializes in building new homes made to look old, suspects that beneath the surface of conservation districts lurks a potentially dangerous movement.

"We're dealing with people who don't know what they want. All they know is what they don't want, and that's frustrating for a builder," Fairey says. "I've told people, you're trying to legislate taste, and that's a very difficult thing to do. What they want is good architecture. There's not much good architecture out there because it's expensive and it takes time."

Fairey understands why people are attached to old homes like the Tudors--they contain certain design elements, like intricate brickwork, that make them look distinctive. The trouble is, most people don't have any idea how much those things cost nowadays. Fairey argues that the same people who are now clamoring for building restrictions would sing a different tune if they tried to build an old Tudor at today's prices.

"When their budget tells them they can't do it," Fairey says, "they'd be putting in metal windows, too."

Arthur Eisenberg, the doggie doo-doo bag recipient, is one resident who does understand how expensive good architecture costs. Today, Eisenberg says he would not have built his home if a conservation district had been in place and specifically banned contemporary design.

(No specific architectural styles have yet been outlawed in M Streets East, but the Italian cypress trees Eisenberg planted in his front yard would be verboten because they, unlike the neighborhood's existing population of live oaks and pecans, are not canopy trees that provide shade.)

What irks him is that cocksure arrogance of people who believe they know what is best for the future of the neighborhood and act on that belief without having enough courage to discuss the matter face to face.

"I found the people who complained about my house the most had been here for about a year and had moved out before I was finished," Eisenberg says.

When the house was complete, Eisenberg says, only one neighbor asked for a tour, and Eisenberg was happy to oblige. In fact, Eisenberg says he'd welcome any of his neighbors inside his home. And they might be wise to take him up on the offer before they vote on any future building restrictions: While Eisenberg's house is a departure from the neighborhood's past, it also offers a window into its future potential.

Besides, Eisenberg has built a game room that's equipped with a pool table, shuffleboard, a Pac-Man video game and a Dirty Harry pinball machine.

Whatever path his neighbors decide to take, Eisenberg says, he hopes they remember one thing: "Buildings don't make a neighborhood. People do."

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley