I suppose it’s first world sentimentality to be sad about teardowns. After all, it’s about money. Yet I always feel sad when I pass a freshly bulldozed house and see the empty lot that remains. Even if I have driven past the house a thousand times, once it is erased, I forget what it looked like. For the life of me, I can’t remember what was there. The only thing I recognize is a feeling of sadness.
Some neighborhoods have more teardowns than others: the Park Cities, the M Streets, East Dallas, Preston Hollow—places of privilege (or privilege at one time), older homes of fading splendor. Most are not the work of important architects. Almost always, if they are old, they will be erased at some point. These are houses that in other parts of the country would be preserved because they have architectural merit or, in some way, character. They are originals, not formulaic, derivative of certain styles but unique rather than punched-out replicas that repeat and repeat as they do in newer parts of the city. But in Dallas, we like new things. I like new things! We put a premium on convenience. Old houses are inconvenient.
Since we moved back here 25 years ago, I have been preserving my inconvenient house, if preserving means pouring tens of thousands of dollars into invisibles like the roof, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, plaster, drains, and new ductwork in the crawl space. Our house is not architecturally important, but it is 92 years old with a majestic live oak in the front yard lending it a certain dignity. I know that someday the dike of my will to preserve it will break against the waves of my old age, economics, grown children living on both coasts, and the foolishness of maintaining four bedrooms, four baths, a full backhouse, and a lap pool that I rarely use. I remain here for impractical reasons. I tell myself that keeping the house is important for our family, which is not a total lie. Then there is the fact that our house is a teardown—that it will be erased. It will be erased, and all of the meaning that we have irrationally attached to this building will be replaced by an empty lot. And then something new.
I have read many spiritual books about impermanence, and my mind understands that my house is just a building, and any meaning that I have assigned it is illusion, but I still can’t bear the idea of it being erased, of it being one of the empty lots where you can’t for the life of you remember what was there. You will know I have reached some stage of enlightenment when a “for sale” sign goes up in my front yard: “.38 acre, corner lot.” For now, I will take the inconvenience, keep the old lady running, and lean into the dike with all of my might. The waves of inevitability can wait.
In the February issue of D Home, we highlighted a number of other homes in our community that are stubbornly resilient. Learn more about how some of your neighbors are waging a battle of preservation. Their stories are online today.