Beautiful Residence Designed by John Scudder Adkins
In 1929 Colonel Alvin and Mrs. Lucy Ball Owsley built one of the most important homes in Dallas. They retained John Scudder Adkins of Cincinnati, Ohio, to design this neo-classical home with French influences in the architectural spirit of McKim, Mead and White. They christened this three-story home faced in a random pattern of Indiana limestone “Mansfield.” Mrs. Owsley was the heiress to the fortune of the Ball Jar Company, as Mrs. Owsley was meticulous and involved in the original design; the current owners were equally involved in the renovation. They worked with Peter Marino of New York and Bill Booziotis of Dallas. This project introduced Peter Marino to Dallas where he has completed two other important projects. The exquisite renovation that took place over 3 1/2 years from 1991 to 1994. This successful endeavor rejuvenated the interest in Volk Estates, now the most prestigious neighborhood in the Dallas.
The restoration of the Owsley home set a standard in Dallas. The materials were carefully chosen to reflect the era. Europe was scoured for the appropriate hardware and special components. The slate roof was numbered, repaired, and put back. The home is very formal with clean and simple lines. The judicious use of almost primitive textures against the glass-like finish on the walls and flat surfaces, create a home that becomes warm and inviting.
Neoclassical Style Architecture in the Tradition of McKim, Mead and White
6801 Turtle Creek is a beautiful residence designed by John Scudder Adkins of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1929 for Colonel Alvin Owsley and Mrs. Lucy Ball Owsley. The residence was inspired by Mrs. Owsley’s visit to the seventeenth and eighteenth century French country houses, as well as French styled homes in Long Island such as Harbor Hill on 600 acres. The architect appropriates classical design for this American home. It is faced in an Ashler pattern of different shades and sizes of Indiana limestone. The thick Vermont slabs of slate are laid in the overlocking French style. The current owners took off the roof in numbered pieces and returned them to the rightful spot. The home has a strong sense of order and symmetry as the windows are balanced on both sides of the centered front door under the stone carving of the broken pediment.
Speech presented to Fellows of Dallas Historical Society by David Owsley Regarding the Family Home on Turtle Creek
Thank you, George. It is nice to be home again. George Charlton has asked me to say a few words about how my family’s house came to be built, and what our lives were like while we lived in it from 1929 to 1933, while my father served as U.S. Minister abroad, and when we reoccupied it in 1945-until after my mother’s death in 1990 when we sold it to Jeff and Nancy Marcus.
In a 1984 tape-recorded interview by Gordon Dyshart of the Park Cities Historical Society Mother said: “We were living in Oak Cliff in 1928 and we had decided because the traffic was so terrific going across the viaduct, twice cars were catapulted down into the Trinity River and one time a wheel, or a tire, came whirling at us and missed us just by a whisper, and the friends we were making were on this side anyway, that we would look around for some property. I happened to sit next to Mrs. Everett Owen and she and her husband were building a house in the Volk Estates in University Park. She said that there was a vacant lot very near her that I might like to look at. So I did, and then I told Alvin, my husband, and we came out and saw it. It was almost two acres of land. And we decided to buy it, because it was high and dry and we didn’t want to live along lower Turtle Creek because our children were tiny and we were scared that something might happen to them. So we decided on this piece of property, which was across the street on Turtle Creek from Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Volk, the senior Volks, and Harold Volk was on Baltimore Drive just a few doors up the other way on Baltimore.”
Of course, this oral history is rubbish and quite beside the point. The real reason this house was built was that in 1928 mother was pregnant with me and my parents realized they would have to have bigger and more elegant digs to accommodate me and my nurse, Mrs. Bryant. An Oak Cliff bungalow just wouldn’t do! I was conceived in the heat of my father’s campaign against Tom Connelly for his U.S. Senate seat. Father lost the seat but gained a son – me! Sex and politics were not invented by the present administration. To immortalize these historic events I have brought with me a genuine “Alvin Owsley for US. Senate” campaign artifact, an enameled thimble, which I hereby present to Mrs. Coffee for the Dallas Historical Society for permanent exhibition!
Mother wanted a sunny light-colored French house because she had been brought up in dark-paneled and brown velvet-curtained Edwardian surroundings in soot-drenched Muncie, Indiana. My father was brought up in more modest circumstances, one of eight children of a Denton Judge in a white frame farmhouse. Although he thought Mother’s choice of a petite chateau, or “manoir”, was rather too grand for a young lawyer and his bride of three years, since Grandfather Ball was paying for it, he went along with Mother’s Choice.
The Architect was John Scudder Adkins of Cincinnati who had built the William H. Ball House and Ball Hospital Nurses’ Residence in Muncie, Indiana, and in Cincinnati, Grace Episcopal Church, the 2nd National Bank, and the City Athletic Club & Gymnasium, and the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort, Kentucky. Mother had been to France and seen the lovely 17th and 18th century country houses there, as well as French style houses in Long Island, such as “Harbor Hill”, Clarence H. MacKay’s 600 acre Long Island Estate where the Prince of Wales was feted in 1924.
Adkins faced “Mansfield” with different sizes and shades of Indiana limestone – a technique known as random ashler. The pre-mansard style sharply slanted roof was laid in the French style using overlocking slabs of thick Vermont slate. The limestone and slate materials were shipped to a railroad siding in Highland Park. Louis 16th decorative details were hand carved. Although classical they betray the Art Deco style of the period. Pictures taken September 1st, 1929, from George T. Lee’s red brick Georgian style house on Baltimore Drive show the roof construction of the house and garage, as well as an aerial view of the Everett de Golyer house and garage on Turtle Creek – Which later became the J.A.R. Moseley house where Ellowoine Moseley Clark lived when I first met her in the lat 1940s and which now belongs to Mrs. Singleton.
The loggia, which was originally open to the breezes, was paved with polished Texas travertine, soft stone which once formed the bed for a vast inland sea and which incorporates thousands of tine marine creatures. The same native Texas material was used to face the San Jacinto Monument outside Houston.
My father said this was the best constructed house in Dallas – “built like an office building, the first two floors concrete and steel anchored in the bedrock twenty feet below the ground, hollow tile walls to keep the house cool during the summer and warm in winter.” The house was oriented to catch the breezes. The extensive use of French windows also took advantage of the breezes in warm weather. Of course, there was no air conditioning then.
The interiors were cool and decorated in light pastel colors, except for the library which was paneled in Circassian walnut and had gold galooned and tasseled red Venetian velvet draperies, a crimson Persian floral rug, a French gray marble chimneypiece, and a Spanish red, purple and rock crystal chandelier made at the royal factory at Aranruez in the 1850s.
The long off-white and beige marble hall paralleling the living room and dining room was also cool in summer, though in winter it was warmed by three colorful wool tribal rugs I bought for the house in Morocco in 1957.
The 36-foot living room was French blue and gold with French floral brocade silk draperies, with a large portrait of my mother over the reddish marble mantelpiece wearing the long champagne colored dress she wore in 1936 when she was presented to King Edward VIII at a Buckingham Palace garden party. Mother said she was told that Mrs. Simpson was present, but she didn’t see her. There was a huge savonnerie type carpet and, at the west end, a large landscape painting of Texas bluebonnets near San Antonio by Julian Onderdonk, and a small oil of old San Antonio by R. J. Onderdonk. There was a large Mason & Hamlin grand piano with Ampico player attachment, Van Cliburn often played it while my sister sang to his accompaniment. I played the Ampico rolls.
The dining room was also greenish blue and gold with yellow silk draperies, the large table often set for tea parties, buffet lunches or formal seated dinners. The oval walnut Louis XV style table and fruitwood chairs were made by Jacques Bodart, though the smaller marble topped round table in the bay was period Louis XVI. The crystal and gilt bronze chandelier was early Victorian French. The walnut and gold cabinet at the end of the room was Danish.
But when we were little the real fun was up in the third floor, Circus Room. We had lots of parties there and played all sorts of games. Nina Claiborne, then a decorate at Neiman Marcus, painted circus scenes around the walls and created individual side shows I the recessed dormer windows such as, “Wanda the Snake Charmer”, “Phoebe the Fat Lady”, and others. Point out myself, Alvin Jr., little Lucy (Constance), Edwy Lee, John Lee, Martha Muse, Henry Exall, Carolyn & Bill Burford, Mary McClain, Benetta Purse, Lenny Volk. I think that looks like Fred Penn crawling on the floor there.
Although defeated by Tom Connelly for the U. S. Senate, Father hadn’t given up politics-and in 1932 he was one of Franklin Roosevelt’s national speakers. President Roosevelt appointed Father United States Minister to Romania in the summer of 1933, so we rented this house to Pio and Florence Crespi and moved to Bucharest in August, but finding it too hot and the house not ready, moved into a villa at Sinaia in the Carpathian mountains where the Court centered around King Carol II at his Summer Palace, Castle Peles and Father’s old friend, Queen Mother Marie was a few miles away at Bran Castle (once the home of Count Dracula). Since the King had the mumps Father could not present his credentials until October 17th and we had no official status. After that, though, we had to behave ourselves and be good representatives of our country. (Slide: In cowboy costume we were in when Will Rogers and Wiley Post visited us in 1934.)
Father was transferred to Dublin in 1935 and we fell in love with Ireland. All of us were red-heads so we were right at home. Our house was always open to my parents’ Irish and American friends. (Slides: 4th of July reception and A.M.O. with Taosich de Valera.) U.S. Ambassador Gene Kennedy Smith lives there now.
From 1937-9 we lived outside Copenhagen in a Louis SVI style house built around 1799 by French aristocrats who had escaped the guillotine. (Slides: aerial view and garden party for Annapolis summer cruise. When Mother heard that the Battleship Texas, as well as the New York and Wyoming, were in Copenhagen she told Father we would invite all the boys to our party. Over 1200 midshipmen came, they were so hungry that they ate 5000 sandwiches, drank 30 kegs of Tuborg beer and 50 gallons of lemonade in the first twenty minutes, and so randy after weeks at sea that they stood in lines for twenty minutes for one turn around the dance floor with one of the 30-odd girls mother had invited, including my twelve-year old sister!
In 1939 Father resigned after refusing to support Roosevelt of a third term. We lived in Indiana during the war where Father helped gear the Ball Brothers Glass, rubber and zinc factories to the war effort. In June, 1945, when the war was near an end, Mother and I came home to Dallas and opened the house. All the telephones had been stolen and a wisteria vine had broken into the upstairs sitting room, crawled across the floor, and was pulling out the white marble mantelpiece from the wall. Our driveway had become a hangout for young lovers who didn’t realize for several weeks that the house was occupied and the real “Lovers’ Lane” was a block north. (Sorry, but I don’t have a slide of this action.)
The Lees still lived across the street and let us use their phones, and young George did some errands on his bike for us until Mother and I bought a car. I helped clean windows and painted the furnace black. It was very hot, but my reward was an end-of-the-day swim and a club sandwich at the Dallas Country Club.
Father joined us in August 1945 and concerned himself thereafter with civic affairs, headed the bond drive and Community Chest campaign and brought the national convention of the American Legion to Dallas. For several years he hosed a current events television show called “Over the Coffee Cups”. His first sponsor was Mr. H. L. Hunt. Father also spoke around the country and campaigned for Thomas Dewey. (Slide: A.M.O. is addressing the annual meeting of the Order of Lafayette after receiving its Medal of Freedom at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Admiral Nimitz and Hamilton Fish, Jr. flank him. General MacArthur is off-camera.)
Mother reactivated her club and musical interests, became President of the Woman’s Club and was officially named “Sweetheart” of the Dallas Opera. But in 1947 the big news was my sister Connie’s debut. The whole household revolved around her. Connie’s fellow debs were Lela Housemann, Kay Harrington, Nancy Burrus, Suzanne Sailor, Beverly Smith and Joan Adams. Her escorts included: George Parker, Jr., Neil Platter, Everett de Golyer, Harry Rankin, Dick Potter, Tom Norsworthy, Jimmy de Loche and others.
Sent east to boarding school and college we all headed for Dallas for Christmas and Easter. For Christmas there was a huge tree in the living room with presents underneath and stockings filled with goodies hung on our doorknobs to greet us when we woke up. My parents gave an annual dinner dance December 23rd “So that you young people can meet friends” and, of course, we attended the many Dallas Christmas season parties.
In 1951 in his book, The Lusty Texans of Dallas, John William Rogers, then book critic for the Dallas Times Herald, wrote: “In 1923 a Dallas citizen was elected to the post of National Commander of the American Legion, Colonel Alvin M. Owsley. Colonel Owsley followed his service in the Legion with a diplomatic career which took him successively as Minister to Rumania, Denmark, and Ireland. When he retired to private life, he returned to Dallas with his wife (the former Lucy Ball of Muncie, Indiana) and their three children. In their handsome home on Turtle Creek Boulevard they entertain graciously and, periodically, on the scale of a Fourth of July embassy party. About the house are souvenirs and objets d’art collected in their official European years, and in their hospitality still lingers a suggestion of the diplomatic way of doing things, a suggestion that adds a pleasing grace and stands out strikingly in Dallas where hospitality, though lavish, is usually breezy and informal and completely lacking in any overtone of protocol.”
Mother carried on for 23 years after Father’s death in 1967 until her death in 1990, and continued to entertain friends and groups here and at the Dallas Country Club. Her favorite honorees were Connie’s daughters, Wendy (here tonight) and Gloria Garrett, and my brother Alvin’s children.
So, you see, Nancy and Jeff’s party here tonight is merely a continuation of this house’s tradition of entertaining.
I noticed recently in the New York Times that our new Ambassador to France, Mr. Felix Rohaytn, is following Nancy’s example of displaying works of art by the same contemporary American artists in his Paris residence.
When Nancy asked me a couple of years ago if she thought my mother would approve of her changes to the house, I replied, as I knew Mother would have – “Nancy, you and Jeff make it your own – Enjoy it with your family and friends as much as we have.” (Slide: Mother and Nancy)
Thank you all very much for inviting me home again.