Perhaps you’ve been driving north on I-35 recently and glimpsed an odd graying building amid a jungle of overgrowth to your right. Dull grayish-brown walls rise three stories off a sloping dirt path, sandwiched between the interstate and Townview Magnet School’s campus. The inquisitive viewer might also discover the strange, complex detailing of this bizarre structure–pudgy-faced cherubs and arabesque ribbons coil around the front entryway and rear balcony. Besides its interesting location, shape, and artistic details, the most striking feature of this quirky home lies in its building material: concrete.
This unusual choice places 523 Eads Avenue as possibly the first precursor of modern architecture in Dallas. At the time of the Kovandovitch house’s construction in 1914, concrete structures–rare in the commercial industry–were virtually unheard of for residences. The first recorded concrete project had only been fashioned 45 years previously (1871-75) by builder William E. Ward and architect Robert Mook, and had not yet been widely adopted by Texans (see “Concrete Timeline“). While the region overflowed with traditional estates and Palladian architecture (see works by local favorite C.D. Hill), Czechoslovakian immigrant Joe Kovandovitch bucked Dallas-norms in favor of concrete. Kovandovitch was fascinated by the substance’s unique ability to mimic nearly any form while maintaining structural durability. Through utilizing a series of handmade molds, Kovandovitch and his family poured floors, walls, pillars, and decorative pieces alike.
Here is an excerpt from the Texas History periodical detailing the exciting history of this novice builder / architect’s home:
“Joe Kovandovitch, who designed and constructed the house, came to Dallas from Czechoslovakia when he was fifteen. He was a self-educated man who read a great deal but had no formal training as an architect. He became fascinated with the use of concrete as a building material and built an earlier concrete home on Ross Avenue that was torn down in 1922.
The house sits on a bluff overlooking downtown Dallas. Kovandovitch owned a downtown cafe and was involved in other business pursuits and he was able to commute on the Dallas Consolidated Street Railway or a suburban line of the Southern Traction Company, both of which had stops near his Oak Cliff home. After a few years, Kovandovitch sold the house and moved his family back to Ross Avenue to shorten his street car commute.
The building resembles in style both an Italian villa and a Greek Temple. The most unusual feature is its material–concrete. Apparently construction of the house was a family affair. Aided by his wife, Kovandovitch used a series of pulleys to raise buckets of concrete which he poured into forms. He mixed sawdust or wood chips into the concrete for insulation. The windows and doors were wood.
The exterior of the house has a great deal of intricate detail. Two pairs of symmetrical fluted Iconic columns support the front portico, and there is a frieze of cupids across the northern elevation. The back of the house has a slanting roof supported by five Ionic columns and two Doric ones.
The house had a unique air conditioning system designed by Kovandovitch. Water flowed over the gently sloping roof and down the sides. Unfortunately, no evidence of this system remains.
The house has had many owners. In 1984 it was gutted by fire, but the structure and its architectural features survived. The house has recently been purchased, and the new owner plans to renovate it.” – Texashistory.org
Other Dallas homes constructed with concrete:
Interested in learning more? Visit these sources:
Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture, 1750-1950, by Peter Collins
Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture By Peter Collins
For more luxury homes, see briggsfreeman.com. Click here to see the latest in real estate news. CEO Robbie Briggs independently owns and operates Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty with six offices in Dallas, Uptown, Lakewood, Ranch and Land, The Ballpark and Southlake.