Once upon a time, there was a house.
The house was built in 1922 atop the highest point of a knoll on 22 acres just outside the Dallas city limits. The owner of a casket manufacturing plant named Joseph F. Parks designed the house for his wife, Lucy, and their five children.
It was built in the Spanish Mission style, which was unusual for Dallas at that time, and had touches from the American Arts and Crafts movement. One of the house’s hallmarks was three tile fireplaces, two downstairs and one upstairs, created by a leading designer in the movement, Southern Californian tile maker Ernest Batchelder. Joseph Parks also selected walnut, an uncommon wood choice, to panel the rooms and create the majestic entryway staircase with hand-carved detail work.
Yes, the house was beautiful, but it was meant to be lived in, too. Joseph Parks designed every inch, from the upstairs living room to the sizeable sleeping porch, with his wife and children in mind. Many church parties, women’s auxiliary luncheons and extended family gatherings were held on the grounds.
Years went by, and eventually Joseph Parks divided the 22 acres into a few dozen lots, keeping the acre where his house stood and selling the rest to the new neighbors of Parks Estates, today known as Abrams-Brookside. The children grew up and moved out, two of them to houses in Parks Estates, but Joseph and Lucy Parks remained in the house for more than three decades.
The house became the East Dallas YMCA in 1957 when Lucy Parks sold it for $60,000, and it was another half-century before anyone lived within its walls.
Finally, in 2007, Tom and Kathi Lind discovered the house at the corner or Worth and Paulus.
“When we set foot on this piece of property, we just knew,” Kathi Lind says.
The Linds lived on Tokalon in an English tudor-style home they had restored to its original condition. They had a history of reconstructing history and were itching for a new project — “a firehouse-type building on a huge lot in East Dallas,” Kathi Lind told her Realtor, who cautioned that it would be difficult to find.
But that was before the Parks house re-entered the market.
After four decades of after-school athletics and summer camps, the YMCA decided to sell the two-story brick house in 1999. Abrams-Brookside neighbors expressed a strong desire to see the home once again become a single-family residence, so Veletta Forsythe-Lill, who represented the neighborhood on the city council from 1997-2005, worked with the YMCA to rezone the property. The board then interviewed prospective owners and decided on one with enthusiastic plans to recreate Joseph Park’s original vision.
“Everybody, including the neighbors, was really optimistic about him fixing the house, and it seemed like a lot of really wonderful things were happening over there,” says Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas.
“But as time progressed, we became really concerned with the inactivity that was happening and some of the things we saw going on — historic matter being removed from the house and large amounts of dirt sitting for long periods of time.”
A “series of misfortunes” kept the new owner from restoring the house, says Karen Casey, president of the Abrams-Brookside Neighborhood Association. Eventually, the property was foreclosed upon. By that time, three different banks were involved, and the City of Dallas had multiple liens on the property for code violations.
Forsythe-Lill knew the violations could lead to a court order for demolition, which no one in the neighborhood wanted. Since a historic designation would protect the Parks house from such a fate, Forsythe-Lill began pushing the city’s Landmark Commission for the designation. Preservation Dallas made the nomination, and the city awarded the house landmark status in 2006.
The house still needed an owner, however, so Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Richey began acting as “the broker,” Forsythe-Lill says, trying to work out a deal that would satisfy all parties involved. As Richey put her head together with bank executives and city officials, “the happy result of that was the bank donating it to Preservation Dallas,” Seale says.
“[Richey] is really the hero in all of this because she was helpful and persistent and really worked with the bank and Preservation Dallas to turn over the property,” Forsythe-Lill says.
The house went on the market for $350,000, with Preservation Dallas advising potential buyers that restorations would require at least $450,000. Besides the typical stipulations that come with a historically designated property, the owner-to-be also would have to agree to make it a single-family residence and occupy the home within a certain amount of time.
Tom and Kathi Lind stumbled onto the property late in the application period.
“We really sort of fell in love with the concept of bringing a house like this back to life, and the more we dug into history, the more engaged we became,” Tom Lind says. “We were ready.”
It was a good thing, too, because they had only two weeks to put together a proposal. This would be their “eighth or ninth house, mostly due to relocation,” says Tom Lind, who is responsible for the Neiman Marcus stores in Texas and provides operational support for all Neiman Marcus stores throughout the country. The Parks property wasn’t their first attempt at a restoration project, but it was their biggest. So to complete the proposal, the Linds enlisted the help of neighborhood resident and architect Norman Alston and organic landscaper Ron Hall.
When Preservation Dallas reviewed the applications, it was immediately clear who the owners would be, Seale says.
“There really wasn’t a whole lot of discussion. The Linds had done their homework, and they wanted to do right by the neighborhood and make it something that everybody could once again be proud of,” Seale says.
“They had done two restorations. They weren’t newbies by any stretch of the imagination, so we were really comfortable that they would do a great job.”
Abrams-Brookside neighbors began to see movement on the property once again. And when Tom Lind visited the property, he was greeted by neighbors thanking him for reinvigorating their neighborhood. Around town, when talking to people about the project, they told him stories of swimming in the YMCA pool or of sneaking into the house during high school and throwing weekend parties.
“We’ve always looked on that home as the gateway to our neighborhood, which it is, and we’re absolutely thrilled that it will be restored to its pristine condition,” Casey says.
They weren’t the only ones. Soon after the sale, Tom Lind received a letter from Frances Parks Rain, one of Joseph Parks’ daughters. The octogenarian still lives in Dallas and had followed news concerning the property over the years. She asked if she could pay Lind a visit.
When she did, Parks Rain brought him a treasure trove of photographs, newspaper clippings and other historical documents concerning the property. She told Lind stories about the family’s move from Swiss Avenue — it was quite an endeavor at the time to move “that far out into the country,” Lind says — and gave him detailed descriptions of the home’s architecture and features.
“Her son told me, ‘I want you to know you have completed my mother’s life,’” Lind says. “I told her, ‘You’ve got to live to see this house brought back’ — and she will.”
The Linds’ renovation team included Alston and Hall. Alston deals mainly with historic properties, and Hall, who worked with Kathi Lind to create an organic vegetable garden on their Tokalon property, also designs period landscapes. They also hired general contractor Rick Carter, who left a large architecture firm to follow his passion for historic properties, Tom Lind says, plus Carter lives on Brookside in a house that was part of the original Parks Estates subdivision.
“Fate is bringing this whole thing together,” Tom Lind says.
When Alston first stepped inside, he was pleasantly surprised to find it “almost exactly as the Parks built it and lived here.” The front rooms, including their Batchelder fireplaces and ornate walnut staircase, “have miraculously survived all these years,” he says.
“Someone could have said, ‘Let’s freshen it up,’ and slapped on paint, but that never happened,” Alston says.
At least two pieces of the property were removed during the Linds’ remodel. First to go was a large brick structure on the north side of the house, which formerly housed activity rooms. The East Dallas YMCA added them to the original structure and hired prominent Dallas architect George Dahl to design the rooms, so Abrams-Brookside neighbors were a bit reluctant to see them come down, Casey says. But the structure didn’t match the Mission style architecture, and once it disappeared, “I don’t think anybody regretted [the Linds] having torn that off,” she says.
Next to go was the YMCA’s aging pool, which Hall is replacing with an organic fruit orchard and a 45,000-gallon rainwater harvesting tank, among other features.
“I can’t tell you how many pool parties I’ve been to here,” Alston says. “In this case, we’re putting it out of its misery.”
The Parks house “may be the perfect project,” he says, and that’s saying a lot from a man who was involved in saving Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson’s house in Austin from a Hilton development.
The reason this one stands out is because “everybody wants the same thing here — the neighbors, my clients, the City of Dallas … it’s a really cool building that everybody recognizes is important,” Alston says.
The Linds moved into the almost-finished house this spring, and they plan to remain there for at least a few years. But their long-term passion is to share it.
“We thought that we could make this house a destination landmark piece of property that someone else down the road would want to own the Parks estate and would appreciate it for everything we’ve put into it,” Tom Lind says.
The Rebirth of the Parks Estate
when/ Saturday, July 19, 9-11 a.m.
what/ Architect Norman Alston and other team members and will offer a tour of the property and describe the challenges faced and the techniques employed to reverse the 50-year journey of the Joseph and Lucy Parks estate from the brink of being only a memory.
to reserve a spot/ call Preservation Dallas at 214.821.3290
The Parks house, also the former East Dallas YMCA, will be on tour during this fall’s 32nd annual Lakewood Home Festival, Nov. 14-16. For information, visit lakewoodhomefestival.com.
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