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Forming an Historic District of Tudor Homes
by Dr. Oneida Cramer
Hollywood Heights?unless you know where it is, you?ll never find this neighborhood conservation district hidden between the Santa Fe Railroad, East Grand Avenue, and Valencia Avenue. But, if you go south on Abrams, then east on La Vista and continue southeast on Brookside, you cross a stone bridge, where a plaque on a quasi-Tudor tower designates the west entrance. This monument, erected about two years ago, is one of the latest improvements by the Hollywood/Santa Monica Neighborhood Association since it brought about the formation of the conservation district in 1993. And spearheading that effort were homeowners, Craig Reynolds, A.I.A, and Rob Parks.
?We moved to Hollywood in 1981,? said Reynolds. I?d just gotten out of graduate school in architecture and moved to Dallas and had an apartment up north. A friend of mine called and said he?d moved back to Dallas as well and bought a little home over near Hollywood.? Then Reynolds and his wife paid a visit to the area, where they fell in love with the irregular hills and mature trees and bought a 1931 Tudor cottage.
?You always hear they don?t build them like they used to,? Reynolds said. ?Well, thank goodness they don?t build them like they used to because it was a situation where the foundation designs in those days were changing.? Instead of traditional plaster and shiplap siding (diagonal boards that locked rigidity into a frame), the house wall was constructed with a new product?sheetrock, which lacked that rigidity. To make matters even shakier, the foundation was constructed with beams before the stabilization effect of peers was introduced. Consequently, the house rocked back and forth on the hilly clay soil, and over the years mysterious cracks appeared in the walls.
So Reynolds made extensive renovations, including the installation of plywood behind some of the sheetrock and central air conditioning. He converted the attic into a bedroom/bath and rebuilt a new detached two-car garage with second story studio, adding more than 1000 square feet to the original 1500 square foot, three-bedroom/one bath cottage.
Hollywood Heights was first developed in post-war 1920?s, at a time when returning servicemen brought back Old World ideas of Jacobean stone, Tudor mansions, and European cottages. The minimal traditional home, a simpler modest home first built in the late 1930?s, became another contributing style. By 1940?s, the neighborhood was primarily built out?most of the homes styled in Tudor although Spanish, neo-classical, neo-gothic, neo-colonial, and the minimal traditional were represented. And all the homes were built under the authority of the Hollywood Land Company with imposed deed restrictions of 50 years. By the 1980 ?s, those deed restrictions were becoming void, and zoning reverted to the City of Dallas standard R 7.5 zoning, which was less restrictive.
Reynolds and Parks began talking with their 700-800 fellow residences in 1987. And they soon discovered some of the original homeowners wanted to see their legacy retained. At the time Hollywood Heights had one of the larger concentrations of original Tudor and period revival structures still intact, and it represented the largest collection of Tudor homes with stone embellishments in their brick works, unique in the Dallas 20?s and 30?s, according to Virginia McAlester, author of A Field Guide to American House, 1984. Many new homeowners, like the Reynolds, had moved into Hollywood Heights just because of the character in the homes, large mature trees, and hills. So, the homeowners association submitted a proposal to the City of Dallas to conduct an evaluation of the area to determine its eligibility for conservation district designation, a process that would take 2 ? years working with city councilman, Craig Holcomb, and the City Planning Commission and result in the conceptual plan drafted September 1989.
?A conservation district is different from an historic district,? Reynolds said. ?A conservation district is one where you add on and make renovations to the outside of your home. You can do a lot of things you can?t do in an historic district. In an historic district, you have to put it back to the way it was originally. And that?s true on all four sides of the house. In a conservation district, in ours, it?s pretty much what you can see from the street. You could come back, if you wanted, to add on. Because of the setback requirement, you couldn?t add on to the front. But, you can add on to the sides or, like in a lot of cases, enclose the porches.?
Significant to the outcome of the project was getting a majority of homeowners in favor of this idea happening in their neighborhood. So, Reynolds and Park went block by block with a slide show of other neighborhoods?renovations done in homes about the size of Hollywood homes?to show what could possibly happen in Hollywood. And in the process, they gathered about 60% of their neighborhood signatures on the initial petition taken before the City Planning Committee. By the time the proposal went before the City Council, 90- 95% of the neighborhood voiced in favor of the conservation district. And that percentage included the 8% apartments and 3% duplexes that made up the remaining residential use in the district.
?It (Ordinance 21608) kind of gives the restrictions as a guideline to follow,? Reynolds said. ?If you want to add on to your house, if you want to make modifications to it, then here is a good guide book. That?s how we solved the plan and the ordinance as working for our neighbors.? A few violations have happened since the conservation district was adopted on March 9, 1993. But for the most part, Hollywood/Santa Monica has become a model for internal small-town neighborhood revitalization.
?Right around the first of May each year, they have a home tour,? Reynolds said. And about 1000-1200 visitors contribute additional dollars that are used for community improvements. Half of the money goes to the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas, which performs close by in Samuel Grand Park during the summer. Money also goes to the area junior high school, the library, and for street landscaping and embellishments.
Neighborhood seed dollars and donated architectural services led to the development of a strategic plan to revitalize the neighborhood park, Lindsey Park, in two phases (Phase I in 1994 and Phase II in 1996-97). The park had become unsafe and was in disuse. After the community made initial improvements, the neighborhood association again went to the City of Dallas, where they received a Community Development Block Grant for playground equipment and sidewalks. The improvements so impressed the City of Dallas that Lindsey Park was added to the next bond election, which brought in $350,000 for Phase II?putting up new lighting using some of the antique lights originally in the park, replacing the decrepit pavilion with a new one, adding a few other pieces of playground equipment, trees, and landscaping.
?The park is packed weekend after weekend with families from all areas,? Reynolds said. ?You really have a melting pot of families just in that one area coming together to recreate. Everybody?s in blue jeans or shorts. Everybody has tennis shoes on or is wearing a t-shirt. We?re all here to recreate regardless of what background we?re from.?
To see the area for yourself, plan to visit the Hollywood Santa Monica Neighborhood Home Tour, sponsored by Preservation Dallas, scheduled for Saturday April 28, 2001 through Sunday April 29, 2001 from noon to 5 PM.
Dr. Oneida Cramer
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