On September 27, when the Penson house at 3756 Armstrong Parkway sold at auction, a handsome gentleman with white hair was the buyer. He walked out of the house that day smiling broadly with his agent, Allie Beth Allman.
He was Lute Riley of the Honda car dealership fame. As we told you, he paid $4.95 million, including the buyer’s 10% premium, for a home that had almost a Camelot presence in Dallas. Built for Jack and Nancy Penson in 1954, it is one of architect O’Neil Ford’s largest residential projects, and was designed in one of his favorite styles, Texas Regionalism. The exterior and interior of the 9,800-square-foot home remains very close to the original design with the exception of a second story addition, a massive, indulgent master bath expansion, and enclosure of a rear porch.
The home remains an architectural icon that has been named by Preservation Dallas as one of the major Dallas buildings in danger of destruction.
Sadly, a permit has been pulled to demolish the home.
When I first called Riley to ask him about his purchase, he was a bit taken back. He wanted to know why I was calling him. I explained he had just bought a very significant home. I had heard that after the sale, as he took his wife through the house, the couple considered keeping it, with perhaps some renovations. Their children are grown, it would be a fun project for the successful former auto dealer.
Lute offered no explanation, just shock that I would call. I even dared to ask if he planned to build a new home there …
“No,” he told me, “no, we live in a lovely home already.”
Would that be 3318 St. John’s Drive, which he bought in September of 2014 for $1.55 million on a gorgeous corner lot? It was built in 1920 and renovated in 2005, giving me ever so much hope. The Rileys lived there for about a year, then sold it in December, 2015.
Perhaps, I offered, you are fixing the Penson house up for re-sale after getting such a fantastic deal?
He wouldn’t say.
The Rileys live at 4201 Edmondson, not too far from the Penson home. They built their new 9,516-square-foot home in 2012. The place is four years old.
So, yeah. A big old JR Demolition excavator is sitting on the former Penson property. Once the utilities are disconnected, O’Neil Ford’s Dallas masterpiece will be torn down within 10 business days.
From Hondas to haciendas. My best guess is something else I heard from a source: 3756 Armstrong is an investment project for Lute and his son. I had just hoped, as did everyone involved in the sale, the investment would mean keeping the original home.
“As far as we knew the home was going to be restored, but we obviously cannot force everyone to love architecture,” says Nate Schar with Heritage Auctions Luxury Real Estate, the company that handled the home auction. Twelve bidders bid on the house with a reserve starting at $3 million.
“It’s like buying house and insisting that the artwork and furniture stays exactly the way it is, everything in the same place,” says Schar. “It’s very sad, because it’s a beautiful home, but when you spend money on a house, particularly a lot of money, that is simply the buyer’s prerogative.”
I had asked Read Penson Gendler, a Penson daughter who grew up in the house, what she would do should the unthinkable happen.
“In a way, this is our house and always will be, the way our parents built it, and how our family lived there,” she said. “If someone else tears it down, then we will have been the only ones — no one else gets to live there.”