This Sunday, May 1st at 2PM you can tour an important piece of American architectural history right here in Austin—the Barrow Residence by Harwell Hamilton Harris. A protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the fathers of the Midcentury Modern style, and the first dean of the UT School of Architecture, Harris has a house on the market at 4101 Edgemont Drive in the picturesque Mt. Bonnell neighborhood. And TVOA is so lucky to be a part of it.
The American Architectural History:
It all starts with a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright, who was in Southern California attempting to develop his own architectural art form. Harris had seen Wright’s Hollyhock House while he was studying sculpture at Otis Art Institute, and was inspired to study architecture, seeing that it offered tremendous artistic opportunities and challenges with form and design. He enrolled at UC-Berkeley, but was convinced by two guys—R.M Schindler and Richard Neutra—to not study architecture, but rather, to learn by doing. Later, after having his influence come from the International Style of Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Harris combined modernist principles to a regionalist approach to design which emphasized using local materials and local culture.
Hence, the Barrow Residence in all its Texan majesty was born.
The Incredible Story Behind the Barrow Residence, as told by Sarah B. Duncan (the current proprietor):
During Harris’s tenure as dean, he became friends with a young architecture student named David Barrow, Jr. At about the same time, David’s father and his Uncle Edward acquired 2000 acres of land north of 38th Street and west of what is now Mopac (Loop 1), which had been occupied by Texas Crushed Stone. Their intention was to develop the land as residential home sites. The Barrows’ role in the development of this area is memorialized in nearby Barrow Preserve and Edwards Mountain.
Although the Barrows had grown up on Windsor Road in the heart of Tarrytown, David Sr. somehow met and fell in love with a woman named Nelle, who had grown up near Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch. When David asked Nelle to marry him, she replied, “I will consider your proposal, Mr. Barrow. But you know I don’t go anywhere without my cattle.” The Barrows later personally selected and purchased this lot because not only did it back up to Camp Mabry where Nelle’s cattle could at that time run free but, as Nelle told my next-door-neighbor in a very charming manner, it was “obviously the best lot.”
Having selected their lot, the Barrows needed an architect. Enter David Jr., who introduced his parents to the new dean. As evidenced by their subsequent correspondence throughout the design and construction process in 1954 and 1955 (maintained, with the home’s original plans, in UT’s Alexander Archives), the Barrows had found their architect. In keeping with mid-century modern principles, Harris and the Barrows designed and built a gracious and beautiful home but no more than was needed—large, open “public” rooms for entertaining; a bedroom and separate bathrooms for Mr. and Mrs. Barrow with an adjoining home office for Mr. Barrow and a “sewing closet” for Mrs. Barrow; a separate bedroom and bathroom for David Jr.; and, of course, several “outdoor” rooms.
David Barrow lived in this home until his death. After the death of her husband, Nelle continued to live in this home until shortly before her death. [Later], Nelle had grown too old to personally tend her garden and asked her son David to build her an addition from which she could at least see her hillside garden of (depending on the season) red columbine or red amaryllis. David of course honored his mother’s request and built a room of glass and, in keeping with the original house, used straight vertical grain fir. Shortly before her death, Nelle sold the house to Peggy Marchbanks, who lived here before selling it to two realtors, Susan and John Gould, who in turn sold it to the Myers. As luck would have it, within weeks after the Myers purchased this house, a home they had both loved growing up, was listed for sale. The Myers bought that home, lived here while renovating it, and listed this one for sale. I purchased the house from the Myers in 2012.
And now this captivating property, which is built for comfortable living where you can host leisurely dinner parties on the deck under the Texas sky, but is also a cherished part of our unique cultural identity and American architectural history, is again for sale. It’s a place where you can get away from the hustle and bustle to get some thinking done, live a peaceful life, yet still reap all the benefits of an urban cultural center. We hope to see you on Sunday!
By: David Plick