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Meyer House - A Commentary

By Spencer Michlin, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Why is our community driven to knock down any building more than 35 years old?

Granted, most of the lost architecture has been of dubious esthetic value and most has been replaced by structures no more or less distinguished. But I'm still smarting over the Dr. Pepper plant, the historic Baker Hotel, and that tiny gem of a house by O'Neill Ford that until a few years ago overlooked Turtle Creek.

This time, the anticipated loss is in Highland Park, a magnificent contemporary home designed by architect Howard Meyer, the visionary behind Temple Emanu El, 3525 Turtle Creek, and several other local landmarks. The house, originally built for Mr. and Mrs. Morris Zale is located at 4400 Rheims Place. Hurry up and take a look, because, unless a buyer steps up by the end of September, it's a goner, scheduled to be replaced by a 7,000 square foot spec house, a "quote Spanish revival custom home."

Opposing this plan is Preservation Park Cities, a group formed for the express purpose of saving old homes like this one. The builder, whose name I won't mention here because I don't want to give him the publicity, was quoted in a recent Dallas Morning News article as being more or less "shocked, shocked" to learn that there might be some community opposition to this act of desecration. Saying quote, "It doesn't behoove us to go against the community," he has declared a willingness to wait until the end of this month to bulldoze the place- 12 whole days after the article appeared - to see if anyone is willing to step forward with the more than one and a half million bucks he claims to have invested.

It usually takes the entire public relations force of a large corporation to come up with so much hypocrisy so concisely stated. These are not the words of a reasonable businessperson seeking a reasonable resolution. These are words of pious extortion spoken by a hypocrite who wants to have it both ways. He bought this historic house to tear it down, and now he's trying to justify his planned desecration to the community to whom he hopes to sell whatever horrid McMansion he erects in its place.

No one is accusing anyone of doing anything illegal here. It's just that sometimes the public good, including our history and sense of esthetics, should supercede commerce even in Dallas. On rare occasions, buildings are simply too important to be torn down, and I believe that this is such a case. Had this house been situated a couple of blocks to the south, it would be in less immediate danger, according to Dwayne Jones, executive director of Preservation Dallas, which works to gain landmark designation for such properties. At the least the issue would have to go through a long process of hearings before it could be torn down. Highland Park has no landmarks commission. It needs a strong one and we should encourage strong landmarks commissions in every community in the region.

In this instance, there may yet be reason for hope. According to Mike Matthews, president of Preservation Park Cities, it's possible that a buyer or buyers, including various members of the Zale family, may come forward in time.

Absent the right of legal remedies, law, let's all think good thoughts and wish this into reality. Architectural treasures like this are an endangered species. And like flora and fauna, once they're gone they can never be replaced.

Spencer Michlin is a writer from Dallas.