Tuesday, September 26, 2023 Sep 26, 2023
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Little Quiet Houses That Make a Neighborhood……Big, Loud Houses That Don’t.

We asked Jay C. Henry, professor of architecture at UT-Arlington, to pick five examples of the historic Highland Park bungalow that is so often bulldozed to make way for another colossal display of hubris. Look closely; these lovely little houses may not be around much longer.
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3410 HARVARD: An extended Craftsman bungalow with a “popped up” second floor, assuring a separate insulating attic space above the ceiling. Although the house is built of brick, the porch piers are made of rip-rap, small stream boulders that lend a rustic appearance. The roof is composed of offset half-timbered front gables with a side gabled extension of the front porch.

3610 ARMSTRONG retains a side chimney but omits the front porch in favor of a small entrance porch with front terrace, The use of half-timbering in the gables, along with over-scaled rafters and eaves brackets, puts this house on the border between Craftsman and English Tudor, a popular mode of the 1920s.

3917 EUCLID: Spacious semi-bungalows like this one are fairly rare because the absence of an attic space between ceiling and roof made the second floors intolerably hot in the days before air conditioning. Note the full, symmetrical front porch carried on fluted columns and a front dormer accommodating the second floor. The house has a side chimney common to most Craftsman bungalows built before World War I.

3707 PRINCETON is unusual for the genre because it’s clad in wood siding. Most postwar front-chimney bungalows are made of brick. Nor does this house incorporate the side or corner porches found on many front-chimney homes-only a front terrace masked by hedges.

3504 CRESCENT is one of the grandest Highland Park expressions of the extended front-chimney idea. Note the rolled fascia (horizontal bands between moldings), the extensive art glass windows, and the eyebrow dormers for attic ventilation. The home is larger than the typical bungalow.

DON’T GET ME WRONG. I HAVE nothing against new houses. I’ve visited friends in Piano who live in brand-new houses, designed by their owners, that are spacious, brimming with amenities, and perfectly suited to an indoor/outdoor Texas lifestyle. The neighborhoods there are lined with these houses. They fit with one another in a gentle accord, and after only a few years, a patina of age is beginning to settle on them and give the neighborhoods a stable, comfortable feel that reminds me of the neighborhoods I used to know.

But splat down one of these Piano houses on the 4500 block of Belfort in Highland Park and the whole street is thrown out of whack. I grew up on that block, and whatever I know of proportion and order I learned at an early age from the houses on it, Where we lived near the railroad tracks (now the Tollway), the houses were small and compact, as they were on all the blocks all the way up to Mockingbird. The houses grew in size and spaciousness as they proceeded east, from the 4500 block to 4400 to 4300 to the majestic 4200, capping off at the mansions lining Preston and Turtle Creek. Like the medieval Great Chain of Being, the progressive magnitude of the houses seemed to reflect a natural, ordained order of things.

The order has been broken, and proportion has been thrown to the wind. Two doors from the small house I grew up in now stands a swooping two-story that seems to have been plopped down from another dimension. It is joined by two more overreaching companions, and all three are as out of place as drunken sailors at a ladies’ midday tea.

This lack of respect for scale is evident everywhere in Highland Park today. For a time, I lived in a sprawling one-story hacienda (the oldest part of which was said to have been the first Highland Park jail) at the corner of Euclid and Abbott, My neighbor was another one-story, set back on a sweeping lawn that kept good distance between us. Today that gracious little house has been replaced by another hulk whose drive, porticos, and garage are squeezed right up to the property line of my old house, and whose sheer size casts a looming presence that disrupts a once-peaceful coexistence.

Bad enough to loom over one’s neighbors, but worse to loom over an entire neighborhood. Where Byron, Gillon, and Linden-wood converge to create a quiet little triangular park, a huge faux Southern plantation house has been built right up to the street with massive columns that seem designed to scream their owners’ arrival. It is architecture as announcement, with no need for a blare of trumpets.

It also produces a feeling of density in a town whose lot sizes, for the most part, have been far less extravagant than older sections of Dallas, such as around Swiss Avenue and in Preston Hollow. Even the smaller new houses seem to have been crammed together to achieve maximum floor space for minimum sunlight. Shenandoah and Normandy, in their 3700 blocks, contain triplets so close together they seem joined at the hip, as if the builder wanted bricks nearby for one in case he ran out for the others.

The builders of these new houses, in fact. seem to use whatever materials happen to be on sale, creating a haphazard variety of textures that is often jarring to the eye. Not even in Piano have I seen such a creative hodgepodge of brick and stone facade, and for a good reason: The people in Piano have better taste.

But the jumble becomes more dizzying when you look at blocks as a whole, where the mixture of styles is even worse than the mixture of materials. In the 3500 block of Lin-denwood, for example, a garish display of a builder’s bad taste stands next to a white Florida beach house (set back from the street, awaiting the waves?) which stands next to an old Highland Park vine-covered bungalow. One wonders if anyone ever drove down the street to take a look at it before deciding to construct whatever happened to suit their fancy or their budgets that month. This lack of context-rather, the willful ignoring of context-produces almost laughable combinations, which now can be seen on streets throughout the town from Dartmouth and Harvard to the west side across the Tollway. But, of course, it is no laughing matter. Bad taste is not something to laugh at, especially when it rears its ugly head across the street from you.

The ancients had a maxim to warn us away from such judgments: De gustibus non disputantem, which roughly translates as ” don’t bother arguing over aesthetics.” Our value-free, don’t-say-anytbing-harsh, one-per-son’s-opinion -is – as -good- as-anybody- else’s culture seems to reinforce the ancients’ good sense.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Nobody can tell me that some of these houses-hulking, overbearing, jumbled, out of place-aren’t in bad taste. Or that they don’t leave permanent scars on the streets that have them stuck ostentatiously among the gracious homes of another era.

For anyone who wants to argue the other side, I advise a quick drive down the 3800 block of Miramar, once one of the loveliest streets in Highland Park. Make it quick because you won’t want to linger. If, like me, you happened to grow up in Highland Park, and if the old town taught you anything about proportion and order and gracefulness, this one street will be enough to break your heart.