The Bianchi House

Rick Leggio bought a pair of stereo speakers in 1984, and the rest is history.

If he hadn’t bought the set of monolithic eight-foot speakers, he might not have needed to move from his low-ceilinged Oak Lawn apartment. His friends might not have advised him of the Old East Dallas area, with its airy vintage homes. He might not have moved to that quadruplex between Peak and Gaston, where his commute took him right by THE HOUSE every day. And he might not have fallen in love with the Bianchi House, built in 1912 at the corner of Carroll and Reiger Avenue by the architectural firm of Lang & Witchele.

On the other hand, who can say?

Leggio recalls he’s always been drawn to the Sears Building and the Higginbotham house on Swiss Avenue. Turns out, these local landmarks were also designed by Lang & Witchele. Perhaps he and The House would somehow have ended up together anyway. It would be impossible to drive by and not notice the unique architectural charm of the Mission Revival house, dubbed a “small treasure” by the National Register of Historic Places. A Mission-style parapet of brick and decorative cast stone crowns the facade and features a distinctive quatrefoil window. (The window was badly decayed when Leggio acquired the property in 1989; he found an artisan to fashion an authentic replacement.)

This was the home of sculptor Didaco Bianchi, a general contractor for Lang & Witchele and part owner of the Southwest Architectural Cement Stone Company, which produced high-grade concrete with marble chips for pilasters, capitals and inlays in buildings that in large part no longer exist — like Dallas’s Tabernacle Church and Oriental Hotel. He built the home himself; that explains why the interior of a Mission Revival house would have decorative plasterwork, ornate pilasters (which he cast himself) and an incredible mantel cast from a single piece of concrete.

According to Didaco’s son, Teddy, whom Leggio was fortunate enough to meet, the home was presented as “House of the Future” at the 1936 Centennial State Fair, because of its advanced ventilation and plumbing systems and novel features such as closets in every room — with lights that would come on automatically when one opened the door! Mind you, the home was already 24 years old at the time it received this distinction.

Teddy Bianchi told Leggio that when his father was setting the piers for the home —17 feet down! — the neighbors got an injunction to stop him because they assumed he was building a commercial structure. Without that kind of construction, the concrete mantel would be infused with cracks today. It is smooth as satin. Unfortunately, after all the work he put into his home, Bianchi didn’t get to enjoy it. He died of a stroke in 1914. His wife Ida raised their two sons there, and she remained in the home until her death in 1979.

Leggio feels a number of strong ties to The House. His paternal grandparents came to America from Italy about the same time Bianchi did. And The House has an Italian sensibility he appreciates; examples: the terra cotta tile in the kitchen, the kitchen hearth (the heart of any Italian home, this was an incinerator until converted by Leggio in a careful remodel), and the double doors opening from the master bedroom onto the porch. “You’ll always find that in an Italian home, so that the mother and father can have breakfast without the kids,” Leggio explains.

Changes to the kitchen were designed to look “unslick,” and he made sure to keep the original hand-laid floor. Glass and granite would have ruined the rustic appeal of this space. Another bond is Leggio’s longtime love of Mission furniture, which he has collected since age 17. It’s found a perfect setting in this home, with its architectural elements of quartersawn oak and cypress.

Finally, cherishing a historic home in an older area fraught with inner-city challenges pushed Leggio into local politics. Over the past decade, he’s fought for a number of improvements in his neighborhood, including the rerouting of traffic on his street. He got so involved, in fact, that he ended up as Planning & Zoning Commissioner. And, a few weeks ago, he helped lead the effort to gain historic designation for his block of Reiger Avenue.

“I love the flow of these rooms, and the scale!” says Leggio expansively. “It’s not overblown like so many of the homes from that era. Yet, it’s open and spacious. It’s just sensational!”

Leggio particularly likes the way the entry, living and dining rooms come together to create one large area. It’s the perfect architectural–and acoustic–setting for those eight-foot speakers.


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By |2011-02-13T12:44:28-05:00April 1st, 2000|All Feature Articles, Architecture, History, Home and Garden|5 Comments

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