On the other side of Fort Worth Avenue, just off of W. Colorado Blvd. is a quiet enclave of 176 homes called Stevens Park Village. The North Oak Cliff neighborhood, first developed by Annie Stevens between 1939 and 1941, feels homey and quaint, full of Austin stone Prairie-style cottages — even a few Dilbecks! – and bungalows with neat lawns and groomed hedges.
The homes are all sturdy, set upon the meandering tree-lined streets of the neighborhood. Though Cliff Manor Apartments, a public housing project, is just down Fort Worth Avenue from Stevens Park Village, there’s not much traffic and very little crime. It’s idyllic and charming with greenbelts and friendly neighbors.
But there’s one home that didn’t look tidy or loved, with overgrown hedges and peeling paint masking the rotted window frames. That’s the home that Donovan Westover fell in love with.
To tell you the truth, he’d been looking for a house like the one at 1231 Walter Drive. A home so bruised and battered by a history of neglect that it was just begging to be restored to its former glory. So Westover, a preservationist, and his partner purchased the 1942 cottage at a bargain-basement price and got to work uncovering the home’s vintage beauty. Too bad it was hidden under a layer of grime.
Westover brought in architect and Beckley Club Estates resident Alicia Quintans for the restoration. His vision is to restore as much of the home’s original character as possible — both inside and out — while making the home stylish and capable for today’s needs and wants. Quintans was getting her very first look inside when Westover asked me and Candy to check out the home. We waited along the sidewalk in front of the cottage, stewing in our heels and sundresses, as Westover prepared us for what we were about to see.
“It was in this family for a long time,” Westover said, describing the previous owners, as we waited on the front porch to enter. It allowed us to get a closer look at the outside of the home, which Quintans said is in good shape. The home has a strong foundation, thanks to the entire area being constructed upon bedrock. “We are literally on the edge of Oak Cliff,” he added, motioning to the area where Walter Drive turns into Barberry. Just a block or two over, the neighborhood drops off into Interstate 30.
“They don’t do mortar like this anymore,” Quintans remarked after a closer inspection of the masonry. The aggregate in the mortar is larger, making the structure a little stronger. The window sills were completely rotted through, but the plinths were all set perfectly. We made our way through the front door and that’s when my jaw hit the floor. This home needed to be gutted.
“We’re going to strip every inch of sheetrock,” Westover said.
“Obviously,” I thought to myself.
It’s not a matter of choice, either, as every surface — from the ceiling to the floor — was covered in a layer of shiny, amber-tinted cigarette smoke tar. It was a sunny-yet-humid day when Westover stopped by the house one of the first times, he said, and when he went to touch one of the walls, the tar clung to his fingers. It took several minutes of furious handwashing for his hands to lose that resin-y coating.
There are bright spots, though. The original fireplace is intact, though hiding beneath a coat of paint and half-done stucco. The classic pink-and-maroon bathroom tile is also in good shape, and after some very heavy scrubbing, should come out OK. The room between the garage and kitchen is the perfect opportunity for a screened porch. And the garage, while it’s a bit lopsided in some areas, is salvageable as a carport. The hardwoods look decent enough, and the archways that separate the living and dining room are still as charming as ever.
“There is a lot of potential here,” Quintans said, seemingly hopeful, as she looked about the home. They have their work cut out for them, of course, and we’ll be following along as they make progress.
As we were departing, I couldn’t help but admire Westover’s goal of bringing history back in style. I hope the rest of Dallas is watching, and I hope it follows suit.