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Historic houses come tumbling down

Teardowns are threatening the character of some older communities

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Mike Matthews doesn't claim that Davy Crockett hung up his coonskin cap in the Park Cities neighborhood of Dallas or that Texas hero Stephen Austin slept there. Still, he strongly believes that the historic character of the area – filled with homes originally constructed from 1910 through 1940 – is worth saving.

The threat to his community? Teardowns.

Teardowns aren't new, of course. The practice of demolishing a small house in a desirable neighborhood and building a huge new house on the lot has been around for a number of years.

But now the practice has gained a new wrinkle: Homes with some historic significance are being torn down and replaced by oversized McMansions out of character with the neighborhoods in which they're located.

It's becoming such a pervasive trend that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named teardowns in historic neighborhoods to its annual list of 11 Most Endangered Places.

"In just the last two years we started hearing more and more about this trend," says Adrian Fine, who tracks and writes about the teardown threat for the trust. "We had no idea it was so pervasive."

More than a hundred communities in 20 states have been identified as dealing with actual teardowns or threats of them.

Losing 100 old houses yearly

Mr. Matthews estimates that about 100 homes are bulldozed in his community every year. Many incorporate hard-to-find craftsmanship and features such as slate roofs, Tudor styling, and stained-glass windows.

The trend really hit home for Matthews when the house next door was leveled. It was similar to his own home, a charming 2,400-square-foot Tudor, built in 1929. In its place is a nearly completed 6,500-square-foot French country-style home, with an asking price of about $1.4 million.

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