As we’ve been telling you, May is Preservation Month. And while there have been just skads of events on the calendar, the one you absolutely should not miss is the May 21 Preservation Dallas Architectural Tour featuring some of the literal “best of” Preservation Achievement Award winners.
This year, I was afforded the opportunity to play a small role in putting together this tour, which will include some of the incredible success stories in Dallas historic preservation. Tour stops include the Parks Estate (pictured above), the Relief and Annuity Building (511 N. Akard), 203 N. Willomet, Parkland Hospital and Nurses Quarters, and Continental Lofts.
For the tour, I was asked to write the verbiage describing each stop (now you know where to send your complaints). It was a treat for me, as I got an advance, personal tour of each featured stop. I got a chance to have the nooks and crannies, the character and details, all pointed out to me by the people who know these buildings best.
Of course, I have my favorites, and I have to say that the Parks Estate is one of those stories that will make you beam with preservationist pride. I could not be more grateful to the homeowner, Mark Rogers, for opening his home to me and to all of you lucky folks who bought tickets to the tour. Wait … you don’t have a ticket yet? You’ll want to get on that now.
Jump with me to find out more about this cool home that you can see in person on Saturday.
The home of Lucy and Joseph Parks was built in 1922, and has become a landmark in East Dallas. The Spanish Mission-style home designed by Clarence Bulger (who went on to become famous for his many church designs) was occupied by the Parks family for 35 years until, after neighborhood turnover changed the face of the area, it was converted into a YMCA in 1957.
While this was a boon for the neighborhood, it was especially rough on the estate, which underwent several structural additions and changes that radically altered the building. A parking garage, accessory structure, pool, and basement were added to the building, part of which was mounted to the facade of the historic property, leaving it looking like this:
In 1999, the YMCA sold the estate to a private owner, but financial problems kept the property from being restored to its former glory. It wasn’t until 2003, when Preservation Dallas listed the Parks Estate as one of 11 “Most Endangered” properties, did the estate manage to get some attention. The City of Dallas unanimously approved landmark designation for the property, but that didn’t save it from foreclosure.
For some properties, city liens and unpaid mortgages can be the death knell of preservation. But luckily, Dallas knew the value in this property and worked to transfer the deed to Preservation Dallas, who was then able to find a buyer — Kathi and Tom Lind. They hired Norm Alston, an architect that makes real miracles happen when it comes to historic properties, and that’s when the story of the Parks Estate’s rebirth began in earnest.
Now, if the tour program was more than 1,000 words and the kind folks at Preservation Dallas would have let me go on and on, I’d tell you all about what it feels like to open the heavy arched double doors — salvaged from a warehouse in Ellis County — and to enter the foyer of this stately home. I’d tell you how the tile of the entryway floor, a subtle play on the green-and-white exterior color scheme, was matched from the memories of two sisters who had plenty of tales to tell from their time growing up on the property.
Then, of course, there’s the incredible moulding, trim, and millwork in the foyer and entry. It was all painstakingly matched and stained and varnished.
Alston told me that the wood for the stairway, black walnut, was quite the unusual choice for a residential application such as this. At the time of the home’s construction, black walnut was more often used for caskets than decorative millwork. Alston hypothesized that the panels, banisters, and handrails might have been produced by the Dallas Coffin Company, which was located in a 1911-built warehouse in the Cedars. It has since been renovated into less permanent accommodations — the NYLO hotel.
In my opinion, the living room is where this property really shines. You can get a look at the incredible original windows — many of which were salvaged from the basement of the building — and admire the perfectly matched acanthus leaf mouldings near the ceilings. Also worth paying attention to is the botanical motif in the paneling and built-in cabinetry that runs throughout the home. It’s a detail that, considering the time period and the level of craftsmanship throughout the home, would have been quite laborious to produce to such uniform and exacting results.
Additionally, you’ll have to stop and admire the beautiful wood floors, which have a lovely inlay. Can you believe that these floors once had carpet glued directly to them? It’s true. On the upside, when the carpet was pulled off and the damage assessed, it was ascertained that the floors had never once been sanded and refinished.
I asked Rogers, who you’ll note is a collector in his own right (more on that later), how much Scott’s Liquid Gold he goes through every month to keep the woodwork in such amazing condition. He was unable to provide an exact amount, but he did say that it does require a fair amount of elbow grease.
This home is also remarkable for having three Batchelder fireplaces, all of which were salvaged by decorative arts conservator Stashka Star. Where the tile could not be repaired or restored, Star went through the painstaking process of matching the tile from a stash found in Arlington. One fireplace — my favorite — is in the dining room. The other two are stacked one on top of the other, with the first-floor fireplace in the living room and the second-floor fireplace in what is now the master bedroom, however it was previously used as an upstairs living area.
Now, the rest of the house is gorgeous, so I don’t want to give too much else away lest you think you don’t need to buy a tour ticket (you do). Let’s say that there are surprises around every corner, some of which can be found in the kitchen (check out the cool handwashing sink and the refrigerator/freezer), and others can be discovered underneath the house.
When the parking structure and other accessory buildings were razed, the basement was retained, which was turned into a haven for Rogers, as well as functioning as a garage for his beautiful T-Bird and original lime green Datsun 240z. You see, Rogers loves the history inherent in the things that surround us — whether a house, a car, or a beer tray — and this home shows just what a historic property can become in the hands of someone who truly appreciates it.
You may be wondering what happened to the swimming pool that once graced the grounds of the former YMCA. The owners found the prospect of demolishing and filling the pool as cost-prohibitive, so they enlisted the help of Ron’s Organic Dynamics to cap and fill the pool, turning it into a rainwater harvesting cistern that provides the sole source of irrigation to the landscaping at the Parks Estate.
So go on and buy your ticket, and stay tuned to find out more about three more stops on the May 21 Preservation Dallas Spring Architectural Tour.