When my family purchased a North Dallas home built in 1967, we had little time for research. Everything happened in about three weeks. Our day-to-day life with 2 children under age 3 now included packing up a three story Uptown area townhouse, schlepping everything up the Tollway just north of LBJ. Our “new” home was platted in 1960, but we were only the 4th owners and the 3rd to actually live in the home. We loved that little had changed with the home since it was built. Paint, carpet, laminate counter tops had been replaced along with a few other minor things, not much else. The lines were so clean we knew that an Architect had to have been involved in the design of the home, as it was clearly more than the work of a clever draftsman and builder.
However, no blueprints were left in the home. Surviving children of the original owners were young adults when the home was built by them, former DISD School Board President Marvin Berkley and his wife, Betty. They had little recollection of any detail regarding the design of the home or landscape when reached for comment. If I wanted to find the architect, I would have to research. The original owners were quite active in the community, per their obituaries found online. Mr. Berkley’s obit held the first clue. He was on the building committee in 1967 for the new location of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, at Northwest Highway and Inwood. The Architects: Stanley& Hedrick.
Next, a quick exchange with the UT Alexander Archive – no match for our home. Household design details similar to Harwell Hamilton Harris proved to be a dead end. And there was no way we were in an undocumented home designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris. What should have been my first step was a visit to the handy Municipal Building on Jefferson Blvd. I asked the clerk for the building permit for our address.
“What year?” they asked.
I said, 1967.
Voila the building permit file which revealed a wealth of information: builder, pool contractor, fence contractor, outdoor lighting (John Watson Landscape Illumination), and most importantly Pierce-Lacey as the architectural firm of record. General AIA Directory information stated they designed the Braniff Stewardess College located at Wycliff and the N. Dallas Tollway and various other local projects. After some failed attempts at locating contact information for the architect on architectural sites, I exchanged emails with a former Pierce-Lacey employee, Mr. Blackburn who directed me to a site that held current contact information for BOTH Mr. Pierce and Mr. Lacey.
Simultaneously, I reached out to Shannon Watson, the son of the internationally renowned John Watson, dubbed by TIME Magazine as “Mr. Moonlight”. The younger Mr. Watson walked the property with me and shared stories of the original owners. He knew them!
Successful contact made with the original Architect, Neal Lacey, was fruitful as well. Turns out Mr. Lacey was still local and we spoke often by phone revealing his friendship with Harwell Hamilton Harris.. Having been one of only a handful of residential projects for his firm, he recalled a great deal, including the challenges of the projects and the joy of working with the Berkleys as clients. He also revealed the name of the original Landscape Architect, H. Dan Heyn. I have since made contact with his surviving daughter, and in the midst of reading a 200 page thesis on his work. Early on Mr. Lacey expressed an interest in seeing the property. We eventually coordinated schedules and he arrived October 23, approximately 45 years after the design of the home.
His impressions were those of appreciation and wonder that after 45 years original finishes, hardware, lighting and flooring remained without alteration. He stated he had never seen one of his projects that had not been altered or demolished. Timeless was a word used frequently over during his two hour visit.
“I feel like it is 1967 again.” He provided insight into the original materials used and recommendations for correcting the minor alterations already made, and for replacement of original materials with those not available at the time. The visit for him was, in his words, a “tremendous boost” for him, as it was for me. His word was ‘timeless”; mine is “continuity”. There is truly a connection between the past and present here in our home. Our home is not a replication of the past but an interpretation of that spirit and style. We are so very blessed to have had this opportunity presented to us as a family. I feel that I have gained a close new friend. I look forward to many continued conversations with Mr. Neal Lacey.