Townhomes surround 93-year-old house
At a time when many gay residents are fleeing the high cost of living in Oak Lawn or cashing in on the wildly escalating value of their land, it was nice this week to come across Mark McCaffrey and Eric Newcomb.
The couple, who celebrated their 20th anniversary last year, has hunkered down in their stately, 1914-era Oak Lawn home on Bowser. They routinely refuse the offers they get every three or four months from developers who want to bulldoze the 93-year-old, two-story home to build townhouses.
The house faces a parking lot, and it is surrounded by townhomes. They refer to it as their island “oasis” in a sea of redevelopment.
“Everyone has a price, but I don’t think they could match it,” said Newcomb, who found the house in 2003 after his partner mentioned he wanted to live in a house with character rather than their new home in Plano. Newcomb said he refers the callers to McCaffrey, who is in charge of sending them on their way.
McCaffrey, who is president of Dallas-based OilTracers, LLC, noted that they have lived in 15 homes, stretching from the East Coast to the West Coast, since they met in Boston.
McCaffrey was a student at MIT, and Newcomb was in the Air Force when they met. They moved to Dallas from Los Angeles for professional reasons in 1995.
“I never want to move again,” said McCaffrey, a New York native. “I’ve been moving my whole life, but this is the first place where I’ve felt like I was at home. I don’t ever want to leave.”
It’s a home they are slowly restoring to its previous glory. On a tour of the 2,800-square-foot house, McCaffrey proudly points out the stained glass windows, the detail on the wooden banister that had been hidden by layers of paint and the second floor fireplace mantle that they had constructed to replace one that probably was torn out during a redecoration decades ago.
When they bought the home, the floors were covered with white carpet, and mirrors covered the walls in an upstairs den. The carpet was stripped away, and hardwood floors now gleam in the carpeting’s place.
McCaffrey and Newcomb, who is director of worldwide travel sales for Hilton Hotel Corp., said they were able to afford to buy the house because it was not in prime condition. The previous owner, a lawyer, had died, and the house was being sold to settle the estate.
A garage with an apartment above it was one of the first problems they tackled. It was on the verge of collapse. While cleaning debris out the garage, they were startled and a little amused to find a metal “For Sale” real estate sign that had the message “No Queers” written on it in black magic marker.
Presumably the sign dates back to the early 1970s when older Oak Lawn residents began to notice their neighborhood was being invaded by throngs of fashionable gay men who were in the process of coming out. Aghast, many of the older residents who had rental property in the neighborhood began renting to “girls only,” apparently not realizing women were also embracing the sexual revolution.
McCaffrey and Newcomb said the sign was especially humorous to them because they believe the house was destined to belong to them.
On the day Newcomb found the house, another buyer put a contract on it. But undeterred, the couple put a “really strong” back-up contract on the house with the stipulation that the other buyer could not be advised about the second contract’s existence. Their ploy worked. When the other buyer presented a list of demands for repairs, the owner decided to sell the house to McCaffrey and Newcomb.
As they waited for the deal to go through, McCaffrey, who works a short walk from his home, and Newcomb met at the house every day for a month for a picnic lunch on the covered front porch. They would look in the windows and plan their renovation.
McCaffrey’s next goal is to research the history of the house and hopefully find descendants of previous owners who might have photographs of the way the house once looked. He has already learned that 12 owners lived in the house between 1915 and 1970, with the longest length of residence being eight years by a music teacher named Mrs. Lorelie Clift. Alfred Oscar Andersson, publisher of the Dallas Dispatch and the Dallas Dispatch Journal newspapers, was the first.
Newcomb, who works at home in an office on the second floor, said he now can’t imagine living anywhere else. Just about everything they want is in walking distance from the house, he said. And they have the excitement of urban living coupled with the comfort of an elegant home that is approaching 100 years of age.
So while others say they are giving up on Oak Lawn and letting developers have their way, these guys are making plans to stay. That’s the way they think it was meant to be for them to break the record and become the house’s longest residing owners.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 16, 2007.