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Architectural/Authorial Details: The Marcus Home


by Jerome Weeks 18 Mar 2009

Unfair Park has updated the news on the Stanley Marcus home. You may recall that the current owners, Mark and Patty Lovvorn, had filed for a demolition permit last summer because the house would cost too much to renovate. And it turned out that the ’30s-vintage house was not a designated historic structure, so the […]

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Unfair Park has updated the news on the Stanley Marcus home. You may recall that the current owners, Mark and Patty Lovvorn, had filed for a demolition permit last summer because the house would cost too much to renovate. And it turned out that the ’30s-vintage house was not a designated historic structure, so the demolition could proceed.

But the Lovvorns changed their minds and are now seeking to have the house designated as historic — which Dallas’ Landmark Commission should be deciding at Thursday’s meeting.

So here’s the interesting detail: The home, which was built on what was originally a six-and-a-half acre site in East Dallas, was supposed to be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (who was given the $25,000 commission in 1934 — a lot of money in the Depression). But Marcus, as he later related in Minding the Store, became worried by Wright’s somewhat impractical early sketches (little closet space, no bedrooms because Wright had visited during a heat wave and thought everyone should sleep outside on a deck, etc.). So in 1937, Marcus hired Roscoe DeWitt as a local “interpreter” for Wright, who by then had returned to Taliesin.

And it’s DeWitt who’s regularly listed as the architect of record because his firm eventually overhauled the whole design into what has been called the “Art Moderne” style. But in Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty’s excellent new biography of Donald Barthelme, he credits much of the work to Donald Barthelme, Sr., the author’s father, who was DeWitt’s assistant (and who, that same year, also designed the Hall of State at Fair Park.)  As a young architect, Barthelme had become a convert to the bold new moves of modernism — a way of thinking that would have a strong (sometimes contrary) influence on his son.

… eventually Marcus turned everything over to DeWitt and his young designer, Donald Barthelme. “I couldn’t understand [Wright’s] plans,” Barthelme said. “He had a column that was in the shape of a star, and he had marked a little note that said, ‘stock column.’ So far as I knew there was no such stock column. He also had six panes of glass about six feet wide each that were slipped into adjacent tracks with no frame around the end. I can just imagine trying to slide those doors open.”

Ultimately, the house, completed in 1937 [many sources, including Unfair Park, list 1938], bore no resemblance to Wright’s initial design. Barthelme designed a long, low-lying structure with cross-ventilation and open living and dining rooms. Pronounced overhangs sheltered the windows. The result was too conventional to be a notable piece of architecture, Marcus said later, though it was unconventional enough to be “highly controversial” in Dallas at the time. “It proved to be a home which met our living requirements better than the Wright house would have done.”

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