Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Graf Residence in Dallas

I picked up a fascinating book at an estate sale in Fort Worth recently -- The Super-Americans by John Bainbridge. Bainbridge was a writer for The New Yorker who moved to Texas for nine months in the early 1960s and produced a sociological portrait of Texas at mid-century that outraged many Texans at the time but still makes for interesting reading.

As I thumbed through the book in search of good Fort Worth stories, I found an interesting passage about Mrs. Josephine Herbert Graf, the heiress to a Fort Worth oil fortune that built the house pictured above in the Preston Hollow section of Dallas. The house, which was designed by Edward D. Stone, who also designed Fort Worth's current city hall building and the U.S. Embassy in New Dehli, has been meticulously renovated by current owners John and Jennifer Eagle and Dallas architect Russell Buchanan and earned an award in 2008 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Mrs. Graf's back story is interesting reading. She married the son of a New York millionaire, John W. Herbert III, who came to Texas to get into the oil industry in the 1920s and succeeded quite nicely. The couple eventually settled in Fort Worth after a stint traveling in Europe, but with the outbreak of World War II, John Herbert enlisted in the Army Air Force at the age of 42. With her husband away, Josephine set about learning how to run the business in his absence. Unfortunately, she found out on Christmas Eve 1942 that her husband was lost on a combat mission over New Guinea. With that, Mrs. Herbert became principal owner of the Herbert Oil Company.

After the war, Josephine married again, a European by the name of Bruno Graf, and eventually moved from Fort Worth to Switzerland for several years before moving back to Texas and settling in Dallas and beginning construction on this house as a way to avoid paying capital gains tax on the sale of her $450,000 Fort Worth residence.

Stone's design was modern yet ornate and five to six dozen artisans working on the job steadily because everything is custom-made, including 54-inch squares of white marble veined with gold, seventy walnut doors and custom furnishings from T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings among other touches. The coolest feature: a white marble island above a swimming pool where the dining area is located. Said Mrs. Graf in Bainbridge's book: "When you go into the pool, you push a button and the water level goes down six inches -- that's so it doesn't splash." Yeah, just like at my house.

Over the top? Yes. Accessible modern design? Not hardly. Cool as all get-out. You bet. I'm just glad that as we seem MCM landmarks going the way of the wrecking ball in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, some people have the commitment and the money to preserve some of the landmarks. I hope more people follow their lead.

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