Getting past the door

Posted on 01 Mar 2007 at 4:50pm
By Howard Lewis Russell

Doorman-staffed high-rises may seem quaintly old-fashioned, but while styles have changed they are still essential to urban life



AT YOUR SERVICE: F.C. Brown Jr. has worked as a doorman at high rises along Turtle Creek for more than 40 years. (Photo by A.W.J.)

So you’re in the market for a new condo an upgrade perhaps to one of Dallas’ swanky high rises. But you don’t have the slightest inkling of where to look and you’re feeling a bit intimidated.

In the world of real estate, there are usually two camps: Those whose primary concern is cost, and those concerned with prestige.

For many potential gay tenants, however, it’s not so much the prioritization of amenities over amounts, but price versus privacy. The real deciding factor boils down to a single, gray-area question: How much can I afford to spend versus how much can I afford my private life revealed?

Enter the doorman building.

Tenants often know little about their doormen, but doormen know much about their tenants. A good doorman, beyond the obvious roles of security and surveillance, is a master at delicately negotiating the social dynamics of residential life in large high rises.

Unlike other client/service relationships (the one between patient and dentist, for instance), tenants and doormen are bound together through interactive sequences of daily service and contact stretching out for years if not decades. It creates an atmosphere that is simultaneously socially distant and casually close.

It’s a tightrope that no doorman in Dallas has walked more successfully, for more years, than F.C. Brown Jr., 63, who began his doorman career back in 1963, when Turtle Creek’s “high rise corridor” consisted of exactly two residential high rises. He now divides his time between two buildings.

“The marketplace has changed a bit since the “’60s,” deadpans Brown, dressed elegantly in gray slacks, a blue shirt and blue blazer. “When I first started, we had the blue pants with the yellow stripes down the side, just like the police department, and the gold epaulets on the shoulders.”

The days of the epaulets are long gone, but according to Brown, the qualities that make a good doorman haven’t changed a bit. They’re the same ones that have always made him good at his job: “Be able to meet the public and be able to know how to get along with your residents.” The job, after all, is more one of cordiality than security.

There is no down-time, no boredom on the job, Brown says, because, “You never know when your busiest time is going to come, and being discreet is the best way to be. The less you know about your residents, the better off you are,” he says coyly. “You can’t say, “‘Well, he said, she said, they said.’ It’s why I’m here 40 years.”

Brown admits that a successful doorman develops a special relationship with most tenants, whether it be taking an extra trip up the elevator to personally deliver a package, or even going that extra mile to water the plants or feed the cats when they’re away. “If somebody wants something extra, we do it. If they tip, fine. If they don’t, still fine, we still do it. We get paid a salary for eight hours a day,” he says.

When asked how, if in any way, he has seen attitudes toward gay tenants change through the years, Brown shakes his head.

“Not that I can tell. It’s only the market that hasn’t changed since the “’60s. Residents are residents regardless of who they are.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 2, 2006.

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