Photography by Danny Fulgencio

Neighbor Jeff McCroskey is the ultimate recycler — without the big, blue bin.  He sifts through the rubble of bulldozed Craftsman bungalows and Tudor cottages, making use of wood, knobs, shelves, hinges and other bits and pieces to build birdhouses and bat houses so unique that celebrities are placing orders.

McCroskey says he stumbled into the business of building abodes for birds and bats. Flashback a few years ago when he became acquainted with “ Mr. Jones,” an elderly employee at Orr-Reed Wrecking Company, an establishment McCroskey frequented for his sideline remodeling business. McCroskey found that he enjoyed chatting with the friendly Mr. Jones in the makeshift shop he created on the Orr-Reed lot, a shop where the old gentleman had a practice of building one birdhouse each day from bits, scraps and found objects.

McCroskey, who worked at Sun and Ski as a bike builder at the time, began bringing spare bike parts — sprockets and chains and such — to Mr. Jones to use on his birdhouses. Mr. Jones presented an “Authentic Mr. Jones Birdhouse” to McCroskey. He hung it on his fence facing the street in his Vickery Place neighborhood.

Sadly, Mr. Jones died a short time later. Soon after, a stranger driving by McCroskey’s place spotted the birdhouse and offered him several hundred dollars for it. McCroskey declined, but in that moment, inspiration took hold.    

McCroskey built his first birdhouse, mounted it on the fence and soon scored a commission from a realtor for a custom-made birdhouse.

He set up a workshop in his backyard underneath a treehouse-type structure he dubbed “Fort ObKnoxious.” He built it with repurposed, no-longer-wanted deck wood. Beneath the contraption are workbenches overflowing with band saws, woodworking tools, bike chains, sun faces, chandelier crystals, drawer pulls, knobs, even a few animal skulls and other bones left on his doorstep by an anonymous admirer of his quirky work.  Scattered throughout the yard are wood fencing and copper solar panels.   

McCroskey says he never buys anything to make the bird and bat houses, except for the occasional nails and screws. “There’s somebody throwing something good away every day,” he says. He also hunts at the dump and barters for objects, such as his current trade of home-cooking for chandelier crystals from the caretaker of the old Ambassador Hotel downtown.

But he says his best source for materials is teardowns. He sits and watches the bulldozing, then begins sifting through the rubble for whatever catches his eye. Old-fashioned knobs are the “most sought after.” He remembers a bit of wisdom from Mr. Jones about embellishing bird and bat houses with those sparkly knobs: “That’s what sells them,” Mr. Jones advised.

Lately, McCroskey is focused on building what he calls “Bat-O-Casters,” bat houses in the shape of a guitar. They’ve gained a following. The Sundown at Granada on Greenville Avenue will soon install one of his Bat-O-Casters, which has metal shelving for strings, chandelier crystals for frets, a ceiling fan motor for tuners and a bicycle kickstand for the whammy bar. He’s been commissioned to build pieces for a local celebrity chef and musician, personalized with vintage forks, knives and spoons. He is also in talks to build one for singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen Jr.

McCroskey enjoys the craft and never takes himself too seriously. He grins mischievously and gestures to his cluttered backyard. “I’m a hoarder, and I’ve got to get rid of this stuff somehow.”

Patti Vinson is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 15 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine. 

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.