Monday Morning Millionaire JFK Week: Sunken Living Rooms. What They Were Building in Dallas in 1963

5333 Walnut Hill Lane extIt’s hard to imagine, but in 1963 Walnut Hill Lane was the new frontier of building in Dallas. Nothing typifies the period more than 5333 Walnut Hill Lane. Built in 1963, this sprawling ranch has all the ingredients that consumers were groovin’ back in 1963: port-cocheres with pebble aggregate driveways and patios; brick walls in the house. Sliding glass doors, oh my, they couldn’t get enough of them. Low ceilings were more typical of the 1950’s but they still abounded; however, in the early sixties we started to see a lot of these new things called “A-frame” ceilings where one edge of the room was at standard ceiling height, say 8 feet, the other soared up to a new height. Also so hot: brick and tile floors, aggregate marble, linoleum and even some stone. Very little wood was used as flooring unless specified. Iron gates as interior doors, barbecue grills right in the kitchen, and pendulous light fixtures that my dad once said reminded him of boobs.

I was a wee child in 1963, but I do recall a cool house my parents’ friends built somewhere outside of Chicago: Roy and Evelyn Scacia. Evelyn was one of my mother’s most sophisticated friends and she wore these flowing, Loretta-Young type dresses when she entertained. Their home had two sets of triple sliding glass doors, a double door entry that made my mother drool, an avocado formica kitchen (the built in oven was the talk of the day) and a sunken living room.

Of course, being young I first thought that a “sunken” living room was underwater or something, but later I would learn that it was designed to be two or three steps down from the main house to “define” the room and create an elegant gathering space for cocktail parties.

Thus 1963 was a huge year for step-down or step-up rooms in homes. Lawyers had not yet figured out the bucket-loads of money they could make for suing people who tripped in these rooms after too many martinis.

5333 Walnut Hill Lane has one of these step attributes, but this being Dallas the step-down comes after a dramatic entrance right off the double-doored foyer. This dramatic room has another element that was just coming to vogue: the skylight. The idea was to walk in and just be wowed. At 5333 Walnut Hill Lane, you are “wowed” by this columned, octagonal-shaped structure with a skylight that steps you down into the cocktail-party social scene. I can just see the men lighting cigarettes for the ladies.

5333 Walnut Hill Lane front door5333 Walnut Hill Lane sunken living roomI have a feeling Dave Perry-Miller agent Ryan Streiff is selling this pup as a acreage lot for homebuilding at $1,595,000 — my Lord there are 1.921 of them, wooded, far back enough from Walnut Hill Lane which was, in 1963, probably a two-lane highway. Now it the acreage is gated, and since it has never been on the market I am assuming these are the original owners. There are formals, five bedrooms, five full baths, which tells me this was a home built extremely well and without regard to cost. The laundry room even has a drain in the floor. There is a redwood sauna, which Stanley Marcus probably made popular in Dallas. Let me add that this is a pretty jazzed up laundry room for the era with a sink, counters, storage and room for a second refrigerator or freezer, which was also considered a sign of affluence. The pool is surrounded by aggregate stone, and I suspect this one has undergone some updating, as has the kitchen: it’s white, not avocado.5333 Walnut Hill Lane double doors

5333 Walnut Hill Lane breakfast 5333 Walnut Hill Lane study 5333 Walnut Hill Lane living room 5333 Walnut Hill Lane kitchenTake a look, too at the master bathroom: sunken bathtubs were quite the rage in the master bath and in 1963, they were sunken — you really stepped down into them, like a pool. The more brass and gold the faucets, the better.

5333 Walnut Hill Lane master sunken tub 5333 Walnut Hill Lane poolI don’t know. I think I would have a hard time tearing this house down. Yes, it’s 50 years old, but it is just a beautiful tribute to an era of elegance and all that we craved back then: youth, vigor, growth, sophistication.

So very like Jack and Jackie.



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