This historic Highland Park Spanish Revival could have been bulldozed. Thankfully, a smart builder saved it.
Several of the homes on Fairway Avenue have met unjust fates, and that’s a shame. Preservation is never out of the question. It simply takes a builder that has insight, integrity, and inspiration.
Fortunately, for this Highland Park Spanish Revival, at 4538 Fairway Avenue, that builder was Josh Zielke, owner of Josh Zielke Homes. Zielke also builds new homes, but he is known for spotting great old houses and saving them.
Let’s step you back in time a bit. Frank Witchell built this house. Witchell was a partner with Otto Lang. Their firm, Lang and Witchell, was a leader in construction in Dallas during the first half of the twentieth century.
According to the Alexander Architectural Archive at the University of Texas at Austin:
“The local firm of Lang and Witchell dominated construction in Dallas from 1910 to 1942 and had a profound impact on the city’s architectural character. The most respected firm in Dallas during this time, their long and prolific career and consistently high-quality designs contributed substantially to the cityscape.
“For thirty years the firm of Lang and Witchell kept up with the latest in architectural thought; from the Chicago School to the Art Deco they were able to produce quality designs in whatever the current mode. The firm’s undisputed masterpieces are the Dallas Power & Light and the Lone Star Gas Company buildings, both finished in 1931. These two elegantly detailed structures remain Dallas’ finest Art Deco skyscrapers.
For this Highland Park Spanish Revival, Witchell partnered with Robert Linski, best known for designing the White Rock Lake boat and bathhouses with Jon D. Carsey.
So, you see this house has quite the historic pedigree. You do not bulldoze a home like this unless you are lack character, heart, and intellect. I think you get my drift— preservation matters.
And it matters to Zielke.
Looking New vs. Living New
“This house was a hip pocket that Ebby Halliday listing agent Victoria Barr let me know about late last August,” Zielke said. “It was right on the edge of being bulldozed or restored.”
I asked Zielke how you make that determination. How do you decide the fate of a home built in 1935, when the dirt it sits upon is so valuable?
“One of the things I look at are the architectural elements of the house,” Zielke said. Does it have enough to stand on its own? This Highland Park Spanish Revival still had the Ludowici tile roof, a front porch, and a second-story balcony. I knew it could stand up to today’s buyer.”
Zielke was drawn to the house because he knew Witchell had designed it. He also knew Witchell and Otto Lang were the talent behind the handsome Spanish-Mediterranean Highland Park Town Hall. Hands down, this was a historically significant Spanish Revival home.
“When we do historical renovations, there is a difference between having a house look new, and having it live new,” Zielke said. “Creating the right balance is crucial.”
A Stroke of Luck
Fate often intervenes in restoration projects. As Zielke was walking through this Highland Park Spanish Revival, pondering his approach, he discovered the original blueprints in a closet under the stairs. The fireplace in the living room was not at all what Witchell had in mind. An inappropriate update took place in the 1980s. Zielke took it back to the original Spanish Revival look but updated the niche with a hand-glazed blue tile. That blue theme continues in the color of the front door and the staircase tile.
“We created the pattern and color combination and had the tile made,” Zielke said. “We did a lot of research on the geometric shapes and what was accurate for the time, but with today’s colors to create a feeling of blending old and new.”
Finding the Right Person For the Job
Zielke was dogged in his determination to get the details right.
“The two glass windows you see in the kitchen are Marvin wood frames, but I did not want new windows,” Zielke said. “Those are single pane, hand-poured glass, from a company in Germany, installed into the Marvin frames. The pattern matches the leaded window in the front of the house. Finding the right person to do the right thing is my favorite part of the job.”
Restorations take more time and energy than new construction but, of course, preserving a significant home is always worth it.
“You must spend time thinking through the house, hunting, pecking, and finding the right pieces,” Zielke said. “When we are picking materials and surfaces, we need to keep in mind what was available when the house was built. There are a lot of amazing options that give you an updated feel but honor the period. That is where you must have some creativity and flexibility. You must let the house dictate the pace and where it wants to go. It’s almost impossible to have things 100% planned because you don’t’ know what you will find when you remove something.”
You must also give buyers a vision that an old home can be what they want. Zielke achieved that with some considerable creativity.
“One of the things I loved about the house was the exterior elevation and its scale,” Zielke said. The drawback of that scale is that there were 8-and-a-half-foot ceilings on the first floor. So, we removed the plaster ceiling but left a 6-inch strip all the way around and the original plaster mold. We exposed the original ceiling joists, which allowed us to have a 9-and-a-half-foot ceiling. It created the volume people want.”
This reinterpreted Highland Park Spanish Revival has 4,140 square feet, four bedrooms, four bathrooms, a powder bath, two fireplaces, and includes a two-story carriage house.
“People must remember, and think when choosing a new house over a renovation,” Zielke said. “No matter what you do with a new house, you can never recreate the charm and architecture of an old house. An old home is nostalgic and beautiful. When you walk into one that has been restored, it gives you a feeling you cannot experience in new construction. Architecture should evoke an emotion that creates affection.”
“Look at homes at this price point,” Zielke said. “You can’t have a tile roof on a $1.685 million house if you are paying $1 million for the dirt. There are so many advantages to renovating an old home, but you must have a contractor that knows what they are doing.”
“Preserving old homes is important,” Zielke said. “It’s part of our heritage. Newer is not better. People need to understand where we come from, and that we must preserve the amazing craftsmanship.”
Karen Eubank is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager and writer for over 25 years. Karen teaches the popular Staging to Sell class and is the creator of the online course, The Beginners Guide to Buying Wholesale. Her love of all dogs, international travel, good chocolate, great champagne, and historic homes knows no bounds. Her father was a spy, so she keeps secrets very well!