Historic Amon Carter family homes being demolished, despite protests

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Ruth Carter Stevenson, daughter of the Star-Telegram’s founding publisher Amon G. Carter Sr., was herself a civic force, having co-founded the nonprofit Historic Fort Worth Inc., a group dedicated to defending the city’s architectural heritage.

Fervent on such legacy issues, Stevenson also served on the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, nominated by investor-philanthropist Robert M. Bass.

Yet on Thursday and Friday, just months after her death in January, Stevenson’s own award-winning house of mid-century modern design was demolished by its new owner.

Only a greenhouse at the front of the property at 1200 Broad Ave. was left standing, and truck after truck hauled off rubble on Friday from what had been a 6,080-square-foot house, valued by the Tarrant County Appraisal District at $641,000. The entire property, overlooking the West Fork of the Trinity River in west Fort Worth near River Crest Country Club, was appraised at $2.3 million. The purchase price has not been made public.

The house, built in 1956, was sold in April to an anonymous Delaware-based entity, 1200 Broad LLC. A Carter family member identified the new owners as Ardon and Iris Moore of Fort Worth.

The demolition occurred immediately after an appeal to spare the home on Thursday by the Texas Society of Architects and after several attempts this week by the Star-Telegram to reach Ardon Moore, 54, CEO of Lee Bass Inc. investment firm, for comment.

Coincidentally, a demolition permit has been issued for Stevenson’s father’s sprawling home next door at 1220 Broad Ave. That house, known as the Bomar-Carter house, is listed on the Tarrant County Historic Resources Survey, but like Stevenson’s is not protected by official historic landmark status.

The Bomar-Carter house was built in 1911 by the Bomar brothers, developers of the Rivercrest addition and country club, and sold in 1919 to Amon Carter Sr.

Researchers believe it was designed by the noted local firm Sanguinet and Staats in the California-influenced “ultimate Craftsman” style. Carter’s third wife and widow, Minnie Meacham Carter, lived in the house until she was moved to a care center in 1995. It stayed in the family until 2011 when it was sold to Range Resources Chairman John Pinkerton. He did not respond to several requests for comment.

Fort Worth architect Mark Gunderson decried the move to raze the Bomar-Carter house, saying it’s “inconceivable that a city would allow the demolition of the 100-plus-year-old home of its foremost civic supporter of the early 20th century while expressing allegiance to the city’s ‘heritage.’ ”

In recent days, architecture and preservation groups tried to rally support to save the Bomar-Carter house, and then added Stevenson’s home when it was learned that a demolition permit had been issued on May 30.

“This home is both a monument to the life and work of Ruth Carter Stevenson, as well as exemplary of the work of renowned architect Harwell Hamilton Harris,” Eva Reed-Warden, a College Station architect, wrote in an open letter to save the structure.

“As a representative of the historic resources committee of the Texas Society of Architects, I am writing to plea for the saving of this icon of 1950’s architecture and Fort Worth cultural history.

“As time passes and Fort Worth continues to grow and evolve, it becomes more and more important to not lose knowledge of the people and culture that came before, that helped make us who we are,” she wrote. “Fort Worth would not be the place it is today without the contributions of Ruth Carter Stevenson, and her dedication to both art and architecture is exhibited in this home.”

Harris, who died in 1990 at age 83, was dean of the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture when Stevenson hired him. With a practice in Dallas, he became known as a prominent member of a group of progressive architects known as the “Texas Rangers.”

Owners didn’t seek designation

The city of Fort Worth could do nothing to prevent demolition since none of the owners ever applied for historic landmark status, said city spokesman Bill Begley. He noted that Carter’s own grandson, J. Lee Johnson IV, successfully fought an attempt to give the Bomar-Carter house such a designation when he lived there in 1995.

“Respecting the history and the roots of our city and its architecture are very important to me and to the City of Fort Worth,” Mayor Betsy Price said in a statement. “However, we also must respect the rights of property owners. There is a process in place for identifying and designating historic properties, but the property owners did not take any action to begin that process. Therefore, no action has been taken.”

Sheila Johnson, Stevenson’s oldest daughter, said the heirs were unaware that her mother’s house would be demolished shortly after being sold. But she said she doubted if any relatives would have opposed its destruction. Johnson said the house had had mold problems about 10 years ago, but she did not know if there had been a recurrence or if there were other structural problems.

As a child, Johnson said, she went along as boulders were transported from Mineral Wells to contstruct the impressive garden designed by noted landscape architect Thomas Church. To her, the garden was more significant than the house, she said.

The older Bomar-Carter house had major problems, Johnson said. She said she had been told that it would have cost the Pinkertons more to restore the house than to rebuild from scratch.

‘Significant structure’

In a biography of Harris, author Lisa Germany wrote that Ruth Carter Stevenson chose the California-born architect because, unlike her West Side neighbors who built versions of French chateaux and English country manors, she wanted a modern and unpretentious home for her family “where her art collection seemed natural and personal, not monumental and aloof.”

Harris, who was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, used warm coral brick made by a company in which the Stevenson family owned stock, according to Germany’s 1991 book, Harwell Hamilton Harris. When Harris died in 1990, the biographer told The New York Times that Wright told Harris on their first meeting in the 1940s: “Of course I know Harwell Hamilton Harris. You’re a great artist, and when your hair is as gray as mine, you’ll be a great architect.”

Eleventh-hour appeals to save the Stevenson house — some issued to “whom it may concern” because the ownership could not be learned — fell on deaf ears.

Stevenson, aside from her historic preservation work, built the Amon G. Carter Museum of American Art based on her father’s collection and was the first woman appointed to the board of Washington’s National Gallery of Art.

“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,” Gunderson said.

“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.”

Staff writer Sandra Baker contributed to this report, which includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718

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