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Prairie Style Home
by Dr. Oneida Cramer
The Prairie Style home is considered America?s first native born architecture, according to Kevin Moran, A.I.A., who has become an authority on the subject since he and his wife Jenette bought their Prairie home 21 years ago. Originally, Prairie design began around 1897 in Chicago with the teachings of Louis Sullivan followed by Frank Lloyd Wright, leading a group of architects, to draft horizontal-line homes suited especially to the Midwest landscape. From 1900 to 1925, Prairie homes popped up everywhere across America, including Dallas? first planned community, known today as Munger Place Historic District.
?If you were building houses at that time, most of the homes would take on that Prairie Style character,? Kevin said. Prairie Style houses were also built in the Park Cities. But in Munger Place, because it developed during a brief period?1905 to 1916, the homes are pretty much all Prairie.
?This is really a different neighborhood than I think you?ll find any where in Dallas, not so much because of where it?s located and the people in it, but because of the way it?s designed,? Kevin said. ?These porches make such a difference. Here everything seems geared to the front of the house. The living room is on the front. Your driveway is in the front. Lots of people don?t have garages, and they park out front. Some people may find that unappealing. But you see your neighbor.?
?We like that,? Kevin said. ?Everybody?s got a porch swing. It makes for a close neighborhood. It brings us together.?
?When you walk your dog, you stop and talk,? Jenette said. ?We?ve been known to cook out in the front, which is kind of tacky in some areas. But we sit on our porches and have our meals. So, we get to know one another, and we look out for one another, here.?
?Yes, we have a crime watch,? said Jenette. ?But we celebrate holidays together. That?s what keeps us here.?
?This neighborhood has grown a lot in the last three to four years,? said Veletta Forsythe Lill, City Councilworman for the 14th district and an advocate for preservation. ?We?ve got a lot of growth and development in the district I represent?$1.2 billion worth of development. From an economic standpoint, one of the tangible benefits is maintaining our architectural history.?
As of 1978, however, less than 10% of the 200 or so homes in Munger Place had been restored or were being restored, according to Kevin. A newspaper article attracted the Morans to the area. Not that they had great desires to become urban pioneers, but a $34,000 purchase price and a renovation loan, available through Lakewood Bank and Trust, made the home affordable and presented an opportunity to restore a neat old house at a reasonable price, all rolled over into 10% down and home mortgage financing payments. So, the Morans bought the 1912 home?an uninhabitable four bedroom/one bath residence on the demolition list because of substandard electricity, no kitchen, and no plumbing due to vandals stealing all the plumbing except for a tub and one pedestal sink, which today, by the way, sits on the back porch as a planter.
?He (Kevin) definitely saw the things I would not,? said Jenette. At 2,000 square feet, their home was small compared to a lot of the neighborhood homes. But many of the other homes had been converted into apartments that required breakdown renovation like tearing out multiple baths and trying to determine the initial floor plan. The Moran home, on the other hand, retained its original integrity: rooms with 11-foot ceilings downstairs and 9-foot ceilings upstairs, intact beams and woodwork, functioning pocket doors, original hardware, solid pine floors, ballasted, and windows. And the brick exterior, tin roof, and cement porches would require only minimal upkeep, once the house was restored.
So, Kevin and Jenette spent 13 months?they took off only 30 days from their architectural business, where Jenette is accountant?working nights and non-stop weekends. Down to the details, they matched wood grade, duplicated picture moldings, and replaced the original wavy windowpanes whenever they could. They filled nail holes and painted walls, plumbed the tiny upstairs bath for shower, toilet and sink, and converted a butler?s pantry into a temporary kitchen about the size of a hallway. Essentially, they rebuilt the house to the original?Prairie Style.
?We actually did things to give it more Prairie character than it originally had,? Kevin said. That?s where Gustav Stickley furniture, from the Arts and Crafts Movement of 1900 to 1920, comes into the living room. Up stairs, the d?cor takes on a southwest look with warm earthy eucalyptus and sienna coloring and furniture built by artists or custom designed.
In between, an enclosed stairway with a sharp 90-degree bend presented a problem?how to get bulky furniture to the second floor? Replacing the upstairs wall with banisters converted that area into a private den with large screen TV/audio and ample seating for a cozy retreat. Removing stairwell partitioning on the first floor expanded visibility in what was once the original kitchen and now is Kevin?s drafting room. Still, space didn?t allow furniture to go up the stairs. So, they had to hoist bulky pieces over the second story balcony.
In 1985, the Morans sidetracked to the outside. In the back yard, they built a two-car garage attached to a dance room (25? by 13?) with wood floor for jazzercise and a separate wet area with steam room/ shower/bath, equipped to wash their dogs.
?Even though he wasn?t wild about it, I pushed it and we did it,? Jenette said. ?And I?m glad that we did it because it gave us a place to move when we were doing anything major in the house.? The big renovation came in the 1990?s with the removal of the back porch and temporary kitchen to make room for a two-story 1200 square-foot addition that would encompass a modern (15?by 18?) kitchen, half bath, utility room, breakfast area (14? by 91/2 ?) and porch downstairs and upstairs a master bedroom, master bath, walk-in closet, and balcony.
?We did the addition for the kitchen,? said Kevin. ?But we needed the master bedroom.? And they wanted a master bath and walk-in closet. Still, they prefer their cozy front bedroom, where they once planned to watch the night arrival of a 1910 vintage house on the lot across the street. Positive that noise from the project would arouse their sleeping, they did not set the alarm only to wake up the next morning and find the house sitting on what had been the last vacant lot available on Tremont.
New homes are still built in the area, even today, according to Kevin. ?But you can?t tell because they have to be built in the same vein as in the early 1900?s.? Incidentally, Munger Place became an historic district in 1980. And Kevin has taken great pains with all the details in his home?s restoration, down to the peer and beam foundation.
?I could match the roof (tin),? Kevin said. ?But, I could not match the brick.? Iron-ore spotting on old brick came from firing brick with fertilizer, a process outlawed today. To compensate architecturally, Kevin disrupted the brick line with a column, topped off with statuary on one side and on the opposite?a large base planter that pigeons just adore.
?We love this neighborhood, and this is our tribute back,? Jenette said while standing in their breakfast area, a most refined, stately room because of the reproduction Stickley table and high-back chairs and the surrounding framed hangings that stem from the home?s fame as recipient of the 25 year award from Preservation Dallas in 2000. And between two parallel strips of molding is a six-inch-border, ready to insert tiles sketching out the neighborhood?the final touch to a home reaching out to embrace its neighbors.
Dr. Oneida Cramer
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