Charles Dilbeck’s Phoenix Lobello House Rises Again

Photograph courtesy of Dallas Fire Department

By Donovan Westover
Special Contributor

My heart sank when I learned my favorite Charles Dilbeck-designed house had burned to the ground.  An exterior appliance started the 2016 blaze, which quickly spread throughout the 9,000-square-foot house replete with acres of 55-year-old wood shingles, wood siding, and wood ornamentation.  I was super sad for the loss to the family, as well as saddened for the loss of such a significant home … albeit not to a bulldozer, this time.

The home was built for local developer Sam Lobello, Jr. in 1962.  He built a large number of Dilbeck’s projects and Lobello’s personal residence appeared to be a no-budget project.  The house hubbed off a large central atrium in a donut of size and structure reminiscent of rustic WPA park architecture.  Parchitecture, if you will.

The large Russwood Acres neighborhood cul-de-sac is an ideal setting to sprawl out, and the house takes advantage in every direction, creating a multitude of outdoor focal points and sitting areas. Dilbeck designed the 6,000-square-foot Matthews House (Dilbeck’s boldest contemporary design) two streets up for Lobello’s sister, and it occupies the land in the same cooperative and efficient fashion.

Photograph courtesy of the Lobello family

My heart also sank with a different sensation when I discovered the homeowners and their Droese Raney Architecture companions had located the original Dilbeck blueprints and drawings, and they were rebuilding the house to original 1962 specifications.  The Phoenix is actually more of a replication and the material list includes the original California driftwood stone (post blaze reuse) as well as vast amounts of pecky cypress and redwood. Oh, and beams, lots of huge wooden beams.

Drawing courtesy of UTA Alexander Architectural Archives

Observing the un-construction and rebuild, I watched two fireplaces gracefully appear like cairns (parchitecture) and then drift back into the landscape of the rising house.  This rising also reproduced a key component to the house, the atrium. Throughout all stages of construction, the atrium canyon has been my tracker in this large home. Now that the walls, windows and roof have been put in place, the atrium is once again at the heart.

Aerial photographs by Jeff Lowe at Yellow Cardinal Media

On Saturday, October 27, Preservation Dallas will be presenting “Charles Dilbeck In Dallas,” our annual Fall Architectural Tour featuring a complete lineup of Dilbeck designed homes.  With everything from ranch houses, to French Norman houses, to storybook cottages, it will be a day of quirk and magic.

In addition to several other distinct Dilbeck tour homes, guests can experience the replication process at the Lobello House.  More information and reservations are available here.

And yes, I asked concerning reconstruction of the Lobello House, and there will be a fire sprinkler system.

5 Comment

  • I watched this fabulous home burn on youtube. One of the most tragic house fires I have ever witnessed. I am assuming due to all the wood involved in building the fire seemed never ending. What a great loss. And I cannot even imagine the interior losses in a grand home of this size. Art antiques etc. There was even a rare classic car I am guessing that had been removed from the garages before the fire spread too far. While watching the fire I had no idea of it’s historical significance! Thanks so much for this wonderful story and good news!

  • mm

    It was a terrible fire, but Im so glad no pets or people were lost. And I just love Russwood Acres. We need to dig into the background of how this area was developed. One of my favorite ‘hoods in Dallas.

    • This is my sister’s home and I am forever grateful that her family and my mother who lived with her at the time was safe. Unfortunately 2 of there fur babies perished in the fire. Callie and Blanco will be remembered as two of the best cats who loved their humans unconditionally. I am so proud of my sister and my brother-in-law for not giving up, moving forward and rising The Phoenix where our family had made SO many memories! More memories to come …..

      • Thanks for doing the story Candy! This is my sister’s home! She and her husband have suffered this great loss as well as can be expected, maybe better than some, but the trauma is real. Not only did they lose their home but so did our mother. As our sister Andrea stated, the loss of Callie and Blanco was devastating. We had loved those sweet creatures for almost 15 years. Their larger cat, Atlas survived but still has smoke enhalation issues to this day. They lost almost everything, but they knew what they had in their Dilbeck Home and that is the reason they chose to rebuild to spec! It has been a challenge and a very long process with my sister basically running the show and making the decisions. As my brother-in-law says, she is the one with the design eye, but they work well together. You all will be in for a treat if you ever get to see it decorated. I am so excited it will be on the tour. As Andy stated, we look forward to making many more memories there as a family!

      • mm

        So very sorry to hear about the fur babies… and your family is a great example of moving onward and up despite adversity…