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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fort Worth modernist home is razed

I love many things about Fort Worth, Texas...my hometown. The propensity of many of its residents to tear down architecturally significant residences and replace them with McMansions is not one of those things. Knowing this, a regular reader of this blog emailed me about the bad news coming out of Texas before I even had time to write this post.

After the brouhaha that arose when an A. Quincy Jones house owned by Amon Carter III was threatened with the wrecking ball recently and only narrowly escaped demolition, another house belonging to a member of the Carter family is in the news. This time the house wasn't saved.

Home for more than 50 years to the late Ruth Carter Stevenson, who died in January 2013, the structure was designed in 1956 by architect Harwell Hamilton Harris. A California native, Harris worked for Richard Neutra early in his career. Later he was part of a group of young modernists who were friends with John Entenza, publisher of the magazing Arts & Architecture, sponsor of the Case Study House Program. He was also influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Ruth Carter Stevenson house was modeled after Wright's famed Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. Harris left his position as head of the architecture program at the University of Texas at Austin when he accepted the commission for the Stevenson home.

The exterior of the house was creamy coral brick, stucco and redwood, and it was set along a ridge. Inside it had an atrium and a material palette of peg board, cord and warm wood. The stunning landscaping was designed by Thomas Church, a preeminent mid-century landscape architect from San Francisco. The gardens began formally, but became more naturalistic as they moved away from the house, falling down to a creek running along the property. In 2000, it was awarded the 25 Year Award by the Fort Worth Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The new owners, identified in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as Ardon and Iris Moore, had the house destroyed before a campaign could be mounted to save it. Mark Gunderson, a Fort Worth architect and friend of Ruth Carter Stevenson said, "I'm really amazed that the estate let it be sold to someone whose intention was almost certain to tear the house down. It's inconceivable to me that the new owner would do that."

Gunderson went on to say, “When showing the most important architectural work in the city to visiting dignitaries—noted architects, artists, writers and others—Ruth’s house is easily one of the six or so most significant structures in Fort Worth."

“Even in a city as conservative as Fort Worth, with its seeming ‘anti-modern’ bias, her house and garden remains a quiet, unostentatious, understated oasis and its loss would be a travesty,” the architect said before learning it was demolished. “It is sad commentary on the lack of appreciation for architecture and landscape in a place containing a handful of the best examples in the world.”

The demolition occurred June 20-21, 2013, immediately after an appeal to spare the home by the Texas Society of Architects, and has sparked bitter debate between preservationists and those who believe an attempt at preservation is an infringement on property rights.

From star-telegram.com and artsblog.dallasnews.com



Photo by W. Mark Gunderson , AIA
All this...gone forever
star-telegram.com

Photo by W. Mark Gunderson, AIA
And this...demolished
star-telegram.com

Photo by W. Mark Gunderson, AIA
All that is left standing...a greenhouse on the edge of the property
star-telegram.com


Update (6/29/2013):  I guess it shouldn't surprise me, yet I never cease to be dismayed and even a little shocked by the cavalier attitude that people have about historical architecture, especially when there's quick money to be made. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Kate Johnson, the youngest daughter of Ruth Carter Stevenson, said her mother's home sold two days after it was listed and insisted there was no historical for either her mother's home or for the home of her grandfather, which is slated for demolition too. 

Despite what Historic Fort Worth Inc. (co-founded by her late mother) and many others have said, she adamantly supported the new owners' right to tear down the house. When asked if she was aware of their intentions, she said, "I wouldn't pry. What people do with their private property is nobody's business." 

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/06/21/4955993/two-carter-homes-in-rivercrest.html#storylink=cpy


16 comments:

  1. What I find sad is that if it were an older home...pre-1920's...there would be no question. Everyone would be rallying. With Mid-century, it's usually only those with an architectural background or those of us who just love the style who come to their aid. And what's even stranger to me is that the same people who were rallying around early 1900's homes in the '70s and '80s refuse to see these mid-century homes as 'old'. Not realizing that they are now the same age as those 'old' homes they were so concerned about 40 years ago.

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    1. That is such a good point. Because homes built in the 50s and 60s still look so "modern," people do have a hard time thinking of them as old. I also agree that many people simply don't understand the architectural significance of them. They're much more impressed with some new "Tuscan" monstrosity that looks just like every other one on the block. Even worse, the trend in Texas now is to slap a big metal Lone Star on a McMansion and call it tasteful.

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  2. Sad news, the brazen disregard for heritage architecture is hard to understand.

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    1. Yes, it's incomprehensible to me too. And the way this was done, it's obvious the new owners knew the home was important. They clearly decided to tear it down in a hurry so they wouldn't have to deal with preservationists.

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  3. This feels like a punch to the gut! I look at this and think it's a dream come true for some lucky homeowner. When I hear about homes like this being bought and torn down it makes me think there should be an application process for such amazing architecture. Or at least something legal signed that it cannot be torn down. Dolly the bird is right.... if it was pre 1920 there would be historical commissions fighting for it! Years ago I lived in an historic district and couldn't even put a roof on or paint my own house until the color was approved by the commission. Don't even think about demolishing it. Blasphemy!

    Another reason I fought so hard for my own home. The realtors were telling me that the other interested buyers were all going to tear it down for the lot. SICKENING! When I got a call from the Texas Historical Commission to come tour our home I jumped on the chance. From what they told me they are really fighting to get mid-century modern architecture on the registries. They need to be protected! It was my chance to at least show them how important these houses area and what can be done to save them. They ended come back 2 more times with groups. It was a great experience.

    This type of thing should not be happening. So I'm glad you wrote about it. It's so important!

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    1. What's so awful is the Carter family seems to have no regard whatsoever for the homes they own. Repeatedly, they have failed to apply for designation as a historic landmark. The Bomar-Carter house, home of Amon Carter, Sr., is on a lot adjacent to where this house stood, and a demolition permit was just issued for it as well.

      I'm so glad your home will be preserved.

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  4. Thanks for the post Dana. Here in Richmond Va. Monument Ave. has been registered as a historic street and must meet certain guidelines for changes. As an architect, the minute one sees the floor plan for the house you know it is worth saving. For more about Harwell Hamilton Harris go to www.ceebook.org and you can read a portion of the beautiful book on him. He would rank up there with Frank Lloyd Wright and Fay Jones.

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    1. The Fort Worth Stockyards were established as a National Historic District in 1976, and people in this town would fight tooth and nail to preserve it. But many residences haven't fared so well, mainly because their owners have done nothing to protect them.

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  5. I have tears in my eyes. I know that sounds trite but I do. This house doesn't look like some of the crappy houses that people want to tear down that need a ton of work. It looks like a really nice house and well maintained. I know people have the right to do what they want with their own property but GEEZ. Why did the owners or the estate sell to them? Let me answer myself... they needed the money, and these people were over-paying for the property or something like that. It does come down to money... I wish it could have been saved. I would have liked to have seen it.

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    1. I understand completely. I feel ill every time I look at these photos and picture bare dirt. The really sad thing is that the Carter family has been one of the most prominent in Fort Worth for over 100 years. The pattern that is emerging, however, is that they vacate historically significant homes and then fail to do even routine maintenance, allowing the homes to fall into such disrepair that they're worth a fraction of their former value. The Ruth Carter Stevenson home was 6080 sf and recently valued at only $641K. The total value of the property was appraised at $2.3 million, but the purchase price has not been made public.

      One would think this family has more than enough money to maintain their property...but perhaps not. Maybe all they have left these days is the Carter name.

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  6. I'm so upset. A beautiful house is gone forever. Very sad.

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    1. Yes, and with it a piece of history. Even if they replace it with a beautiful new modernist home designed by a famous architect, the history is gone forever.

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  7. I don't understand people. Tearing down a house like that is like defacing a Picasso.

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    1. I don't understand either. There are so many huge houses on beautiful lots in this town. I don't know why they couldn't have chosen an equally beautiful lot containing a less significant house where they could tear down and rebuild.

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  8. This disrespect for wonderful buildings makes me sad (and angry). I just don't get it.
    Check my post on The Paul thiry House when you've got time Dana (you'll have to scroll down a little)

    http://lucyvioletvintage.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/our-kitchen-is-live-over-at-abigails.html#links

    Another example of beautiful modernist architecture biting the dust.

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    1. I think it's the dismissive attitude that bothers me most...and the argument that the owners weren't breaking any law. I corresponded back and forth with Mark Gunderson, the architect who took these beautiful photos, and he made a very good point. He said, "Texans deliberately equate legality with the high bar of human endeavor, when in fact it is the threshold below which we punish people. Building code for some reason is the same - it is held as the standard instead of the bottom line." I suppose that's true of people everywhere, not just in Texas.

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