Late gay architect Philip Johnson’s famed Glass House to offer tours

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Philip Johnson, the gay American architect who introduced the International Style in 1932, died in 2005 (at age 100), but is back in the news again.

Johnson, who designed the Interfaith Peace Chapel and other Dallas landmarks, is possibly best remembered for his Glass House, a one-room weekend retreat he built in 1948 New Canaan, Conn., using mostly glass and steel — unusual materials for home building at the time.

Although the house has been open to the public since 2007, beginning May 1 (and continuing through Nov. 30), visitors can choose between the guided tours offered and the unique new opportunity to tour at their own pace, spending as much time as they wish in the house and several other Johnson-designed buildings on the 49-acre grounds. The sites include the underground Painting Gallery, the Sculpture Gallery, the Library, “Da Monsta” (a collection of sculptures), and the lower landscape’s Pond Pavilion and Lincoln Kirstein Tower. Glass House guides will be available to provide background and answer questions. (They do ask you not throw stones.)

Visitors this year also will experience a special event, “Veil,” an installation by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. A veil of mist that will gradually disappear to reveal the landscape will periodically enclose the house. The landscaping designed by Johnson and David Whitney, his long-time companion, features manicured areas of gravel or grass and trees grouped in what Johnson called “outdoor vestibules.”

The house was named a National Historic Landmark in 1997.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Do you need just a piece of a church?

Oak Cliff Christian Church

Earlier this year, I wrote a story about a historic church that the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League was trying to save.

OOCCL president Michael Amonett reports that the group wasn’t successful but did get a temporary reprieve of sorts. Dallas Independent School District Trustee Eric Cowan and OOCCL past president and counsel John McCall negotiated a deal. Anyone who can use part of the building and will haul it off, can have it for just a small payment.

They wrote:

Want it? Want just the front and sides? Want to build your new building with brick that doesn’t come in sheets?

Make an offer and it might not be refused. Let’s just say it’s been marked down to sell from the previous 1.2 million. The only catch is that it can’t stay here.

So if you want a beautiful facade, you can buy this one for a nominal fee.

We don’t know how many feet tall it is but would be happy to stand on the roof and hold the tape measure, that way we could see which lucky area could benefit from this beautiful piece of architecture.

This is the last chance for some form of this church to live on elsewhere … as well as evade the landfill which as far from green or sustainability as one could possibly go.

Wouldn’t those pillars look great somewhere, maybe in Bishop Arts? Bet those bricks could be re-used in some renovation project. Bid on it by Sept. 15 and haul it off by Dec. 31, when DISD tears down the building to make way for the new Adamson High School tennis courts.

For details, contact Amonett at president@ooccl.org

—  David Taffet