By Deb Silverthorn
A change of address card is in order. The Rosenfield House, also known as the Blue House, has, over the past year, made its way from its original home, at 1423 Griffin St. in Dallas, to where it stands now, just blocks away, at 1419 Beaumont St. The fifth oldest home in Dallas continues to stand strong. What began in April 2017 became reality 10 months later, in May 2018.
The move enabled the architecturally and historically important house to be rehabilitated and re-used, and to fill in a vacant lot with other single-family homes.
“This is a great story of restoration magic and a confluence of people who came together to save this home,” said Debra Polsky, executive director of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. “It’s the last of its kind in an area that was the heart of the Jewish merchant community. The Harrises, the Sangers and the Tychers lived there before moving north.”
The two-and-a-half-story Queen Anne-style house in The Cedars was built in 1885 for Jennie and Max J. Rosenfield. It was the model home for its subdivision, and within the confines of what was then the heart of the Jewish community.
These days, the home has local connections. Dallas’ Alex Ray (husband of TJP publisher and editor Sharon Wisch-Ray) is the great-grandson of the couple. The couple’s son, John Rosenfield, Jr., began his career with The Dallas Morning News in 1923 and served as its art critic for 41 years.
“My mother would’ve been beside herself knowing that her grandparents’ first home was still intact,” said Ray. “I want to personally thank the people who have brought it back to life and, when moving it, kept it in the neighborhood that my great-grandfather developed back in the 1880s.”
The Blue House was sold in 1889 and in 1897, and its last inhabitants owned the home from 1942 to 1980. Vacant for five years, it became the Trinity Center drug rehabilitation center. In the last decade, the property was used as a halfway home, then vacated. Time Warner acquired the home in 2015.
Jewish community member and journalist Robert Wilonsky saved the house; it was he who first saw bulldozers in front of the property, then called David Preziosi, executive director of Preservation Dallas. Katherine Seale, chair of Dallas’ Landmark Commission, addressed City Hall as the next step to halt Time Warner from demolishing the house to make way for an office and parking lot. Two-plus years later Time Warner stopped demolition, and paid for the building’s move.
“It was a great save and while we wish it could have stayed in place, it was the only residential home left there,” Preziosi said. “Now it’s in a neighborhood.”
“It’s in surprisingly good shape, with a good roof and strong foundation. This isn’t a fix-and-flip project, not a lucrative project, but one to save a bit of our history from demolition,” said Mark Martinek, who lives three blocks away, in a home built in 1902.
Lots of heart and hope for the home has been drawn from the hands of Martinek, whose “day job” is designing and building modernist architecture. This project, which was “modern” almost a century-and-a-half ago, is new again. “It’s been about three years since the property was sold, and we almost lost it. Instead, history reigns. I’ve always been working on a restoration of one sort or another, warehouse conversions to loft space and other homes.”
To make the move, the home was cut into sections and the main house was stacked like great shelves in five major pieces, the piers and the carriage house following. Once the new foundation was in place, the house was reassembled at its new lot. It was first built long before Facebook or even Polaroid pictures were popular, so there are few photos of how the house first stood. What needs to be reproduced is happening here in Dallas.
Martinek, who is partnering with Jay Baker on the project, is not on the clock for the house’s completion. The expense — and it’s grand — and the methodical care and trueness of the work are his priorities. The team is working with the pine trim and moldings, the stairways and historic windows, to reproduce what was. However, they are updating the wiring and plumbing. What the eye sees on the exterior will be how it was. Internally, this will be an energy-efficient and in-every-other-way-appreciated home of 2020, when move-in is likely.
Following the story has been documentarian Mark Birnbaum, also a Cedars resident, who, with Robert Wilonsky and other neighbors, first saw the excavator in front of the home. “The Blue House” is a docufilm in part about Dallas’ Jewish history. “I started out wanting to make a film that brings us back to the 1880s, to when Congregation Shearith Israel and Temple Emanu-El were still visible from the Rosenfields’ home.”
Birnbaum, who has won numerous awards including Preservation Education and Texas Media awards from Preservation Texas for his film “Restore,” is excited to have his film covering the Blue House, as it begins its second life in a third century.
“We are trying our best to recreate it back to its origin, with materials as best we can. Our first job was to literally move the building and put it back together — an amazing jigsaw puzzle of sorts,” Martinek said.