Other Voices

It’s a struggle to keep midcentury modern Tanglewood homes

Midcentury modern homes like this one in Fort Worth’s Tanglewood neighborhood often are bought and destroyed.
Midcentury modern homes like this one in Fort Worth’s Tanglewood neighborhood often are bought and destroyed. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

This is a story about my Fort Worth neighborhood. But the events described are happening all over town, all across the state and all over the country.

A couple of months ago, a for-sale sign popped up in front of one of my very favorite Tanglewood neighborhood houses, a classic 1956 midcentury modern on Lynncrest Drive. With its shallow roof angles, simplicity of line and futuristic Jetsons vibe, it pretty much defined the genre.

A few weeks ago, a bulldozer flattened it. Then the trees on the lot were clear-cut.

Sadly, it’s what we’ve come to expect in Tanglewood, our leafy 1950s-era neighborhood, where the dirt is worth more than the houses sitting on top.

Homebuilders and their clients sometimes don’t give much thought to the possible significance of the house they’re razing.

Big and bold is the current idiom, with many buyers craving more square footage than the heritage Tanglewood huts can muster.

You can hardly blame those folks for wanting to get their money’s worth, but much is being sacrificed in the process.

In recent years, midcentury modern homes — most of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s — have regained a big following across the country.

Typically low, linear and minimalist, MCMs are all over metropolitan Fort Worth, where they’re sprinkled among more mundane 1950s ranch-style houses.

Places like Portland, Palm Springs, even Dallas host MCM home tours and modernism festivals. There is a magazine, Atomic Ranch, dedicated exclusively to MCM design and restoration.

Near Austin, a whole neighborhood is under development featuring nothing but new-construction MCM homes.

Many Realtors have begun to specialize in marketing MCMs. The style may not be to everyone’s taste, but a full-on MCM Renaissance is underway nationwide.

Here in Fort Worth, however, those homes are as likely to be toppled into a rubble heap as they are to be rehabilitated.

For that reason, in 2013 Historic Fort Worth added Tanglewood to its list of Most Endangered Places. Back then, the scrape-and-build craze was just starting to achieve critical mass.

The scenario typically featured a modest, single-story 1950s home giving way to a boxlike, two-story edifice of heroic proportions, built to the limit of the lot lines and sacrificing scores of mature trees — our neighborhood’s signature feature.

Tanglewood residents began to complain that the neighborhood’s continuity and integrity were under threat. Traditionally, Tanglewood homes were a secondary focal point of the lot, ceding attention to treetops above and the landscaping below, and quietly complementing both.

In contrast, the new homes tend to dominate the lot, project high into the tree canopy and call attention to themselves.

Since Historic Fort Worth’s declaration, the Tanglewood teardowns have accelerated. And while many of the razed houses were unremarkable, some were worth saving.

Also worth saving is the ineffable, zenlike tranquility that Tanglewood’s historically understated architecture imparts to our suburban environment. That serenity is evaporating, as supersized castles sprout left and right on freshly scraped lots.

Until preservationists and residents force the issue, scrape-and-build will continue. So, here are some suggestions for builders and future homeowners to contemplate before waving in the wrecking crew.

First, honor the neighborhood’s prevailing architecture. Consider your dream home’s impact on the streetscape.

If you must scrape, then weigh the benefits of building something that preserves the continuity of your street. It’s the neighborly thing to do.

Second, take a hard look at the structure you’re about to demolish. Is it architecturally significant? Emblematic of an era? Is it structurally sound?

If so, consider remodeling and adding space if you need it. We have friends who have taken this approach, and the result is a like-new home with lots of room that still blends right in.

Third, if the style of your dream home is out of sync with those of your prospective neighbors, why not instead build or buy in an area where the prevailing architecture is more to your taste?

Metro Fort Worth is huge. Location options are nearly inexhaustible.

Kitty-corner to our house is what many around here consider to be Tanglewood’s midcentury-modern masterpiece.

Set behind a stand of graceful live oaks, it’s an architectural gem whose original owner preserved it lovingly, and only recently moved out.

It’s also for sale. We’re holding our breath.

John Kent was raised in Fort Worth and is a former business and real estate reporter for the Albuquerque Journal.