Old Oak Cliff Conservation League shows off history with home tour


A potential development, pictured above in artist’s rendering, has residents of Oak Cliff concerned it will change the area’s character. Homes on the tour, middle and below, reflect the neighborhood’s character.


JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

It takes a lot of work to show off other people’s homes, especially homes that took a lot of work to renovate.

So imagine showing off other people’s renovated homes as annual fall home tour director for the expansive Old Oak Cliff Conservation League. The umbrella organization of 30 member neighborhood associations covers nearly 10,000 residences.

What better way to manage the personalities and diversity of the region than form a committee?

Philip Leven heads the committee charged with planning the league’s annual home tour, now in its 42nd year.

Leven hasn’t been chair for that long — it’s only his second year — but the Hampton Hills resident said the process of picking and choosing entrants works. And it’s not that hard to get people to recommend potential sites for the tour.

“We rely on people to recommend themselves or others, but we’re not above knocking on someone’s door [if we like their home],” he said, referring to the planning committee’s dedication to the tour. “We start early in the year, around March or April, and we’ll look at 15 to 20 homes and pick 10,” he said.

The goal is to show off as much as diversity as possible in the neighborhoods.

937-kessler-pkwy“It doesn’t have to be a historic home or a million-dollar home,” Leven said. “The home just has to be interesting.” (Cookie cutters need not apply.)

Homes, however, do not have to be houses. In the past, tours have included condominiums, apartment buildings and even community and commercial spaces.

“We’ve included churches if they have cool architecture, and commercial spaces [for the same reason],” he said. “We like to include good examples of smart design.”

This year, homes span a century of key American design movements.

There’s the 1913 Craftsman-style bungalow in Winnetka Heights. It had sat abandoned for a decade until 2003, when the current owner purchased it after seeing it on the tour. The craftsman bungalow has been refurbished and includes an impressive art collection, including works by the influential group of Dallas artists known as the Dallas Nine.

Then there’s the remodeled East Kessler split-level ranch home built in 1952. It was a home in need of repair. The owners brought life to the home using the Eastern Wabi Sabi philosophy, which acknowledges imperfection and transience, and natural elements.

There’s a special addition to this year’s tour. It costs a little extra, but it’s worth checking out. The home built in 2014 in the Villas at the Belmont development behind the Belmont Hotel, provides an unrivaled view of the city.

The add-on is this year’s “premium home.”

The tours are self-guided but not isolated. Homeowners sometimes prefer to not be around during the tour. Thankfully organizers have planned in advance should that be the case.

“We often assign a person from the league and ask the homeowner for help from friends and family. They serve as docents, providing history and context,” he said.

The tour doesn’t just give design lovers and peeping toms a rare opportunity to see homes. The money it raises goes toward a good cause, too: All ticket proceeds go to member neighborhood groups and area non-profits. Past recipients include AIDS Arms.

“It’s our biggest fundraiser of the year,” Leven said.

Neighborhoods and non-profits must apply for funds, but there’s often plenty cash to go around.

225-s-windomere-aveThe tour also gives the league another opportunity: The tour fits perfectly into the league’s mission to promote and advocate for the multiple member neighborhoods.

Most recently, that advocacy has extended to listening to neighbors concerned over a proposed development in Bishop Arts by local firms Alamo Manhattan and Good Fulton and Farrell. Some are worried the development of multi-story buildings reflects a trend of future developments in the area.

One flyer described the development as indicative of city zoning laws allowing for “sidewalk-to-sidewalk, city-block-wide, out of scale, excessively tall buildings.”

Developments lacking human scale do not reflect the character of the neighborhood.

That’s where the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League comes in.

“Our goal is to always to listen neighborhoods,” Leven said. And to show the neighborhoods off, too.

The 42nd annual Old Oak Cliff Conservation League Home Tour runs Oct. 17-18. Tickets can be purchased online at OOCCL.com. Tickets are $25, $15 for seniors and $10 for admission to the Premium Home during the tour.    

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 16, 2015.