This is, yes, another column about another imperiled historic home — this one designed by a revered Dallas architect and decorated by a beloved Dallas institution for a celebrated Dallas man upon his return from the second World War.
It will one day disappear; of this there is no doubt. No one is clamoring for its salvation, not me or the preservationists or even the women raised beneath its roof by the man this newspaper described as the “Mr. Fixit of Pacific Bombs” in the waning days of the war.
The demise of this once-celebrated structure is inevitable for legitimate reasons. It’s tucked among some 500 trees on a spread of land worth millions at one of the busiest intersections in one of Dallas’ wealthiest neighborhoods. This Preston Hollow house — feted in this newspaper in 1956, written about in an essential 1988 guidebook to native Texas plants — is now considered a teardown cluttering up 5 acres at Walnut Hill Lane and Inwood Road for which the owner, a limited partnership, is asking $6.4 million cash-only.
I drive past the place every day, always meaning to call the number on the rotating Realtors’ signs that have been planted since it hit the market in 2006. When I finally did this week, Lisa Richardson of Dallas City Center Realtors told me she gets a call about it every day.
“It’s one of the neatest listings I’ve had because of the area, because of the house on it,” she said. “I’ve had people call just to ask, ‘Can I just tour the home?’ But it’s just not safe.”
Maybe you know the house about which I am writing; thousands race past it each day. But it’s doubtful you know that its sole owner, for 60 years, was Legion of Merit Award recipient and engineer and businessman George Fix Jr. Or that its designer was Robert Johnson Perry, responsible for celebrated Preston Hollow and Highland Park homes. Or that its interior was designed by Neiman Marcus.
Seventy-six-year-old Nancy Fix Anderson, one of George and Frances Fix’s daughters, said that before he went to war, her father often talked of buying the property and building there. Instead he pulled on a U.S. Army Air Forces uniform, flew myriad missions and helped develop bombs dropped during the war. But he never forgot about the land at the corner of Walnut Hill and Inwood.
“He once said that when he was having a really difficult time in India, desperately sick, he thought, ‘If I survive this, we’re going to buy that land and build that house,'” Nancy said. “I was born in ’41, and we always heard about ‘the property, the property.'”
Fix cleared the land himself, using a sickle. He made the bricks for the walkway that’s still there. He designed the pond and built the retaining wall for the creek. When it was finished in ’46, it had few neighbors, among them a dairy farm.
“Dad put his heart into it,” Nancy said from her home in San Antonio. “Mom, too. But he put his heart and soul into the property. He spent World War II dreaming about it, and then it came to fruition.”
George and Frances raised three kids there: Nancy, Barbara and son George III, who, when he died of cancer in 2002, was chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. They held countless parties there; our archives overflow with mentions. Nancy said her dad’s best friend would come over for picnic lunches in the forest. His name was George McGhee, the Texan who, upon his death in 2005, was referred to by The New York Times as “a top-ranking State Department troubleshooter and ambassador to West Germany in the cold war era.”
The sisters — who had no plans to live in Dallas — sold the property 12 years ago, the beginning of its almost purgatorial state of decay, the woods and wild slowly reclaiming the land.
This week, on the way to school one gray morning, my son and I pulled over and trekked the soggy land, this vestige of old Preston Hollow countryside that survived next door to multimillion-dollar mansions belonging to high-profile attorneys. Traffic sounded like rushing water, whooshing wind.
Until a few years ago, the house was obscured by the brush and landscape designed by Arthur Berger and wife Marie, famously responsible for the garden overlooking White Rock Lake on what was once the estate of oilman and philanthropist Everett Lee DeGolyer. It was shorn of its verdant shroud to advertise the property to a prospective buyer the owner hopes will carve up the land into five 1-acre lots.
Many of the trees will one day come down. The house will become “bulldozer bait,” said Preston Hollow historian Peter Flagg Maxson, a DeGolyer grandson.
Nancy will not be sad to see it go: The house has fallen into such disrepair, it makes her sad to see it this way. She said it would break her father’s heart.
“Who knows what it will become — likely just another ordinary mega-mansion development,” said 72-year-old Barbara Fix. She lives in Santa Fe, N.M., but was the last person to live in the house, shortly before her father died in April 2007. She calls herself “a child of the woods,” and, like her older sister, loves to talk about an idyllic childhood spent playing in the creek that still runs through the thicket.
“It was such a hopeful time when that house was built,” Barbara said. “We’d licked the Nazis, we’d licked Hirohito, and the world was going to be a great and wonderful place.”
Robert Wilonsky, City Columnist