All is Fair
By Linda Blackwell Simmons
Photos by Ralph Lauer
A history buff, world traveler and unrepentant collector painstakingly restores a neighborhood icon to its authentic best — and furnishes it in his own global style
It sits on a rise in Arlington Heights, a hill that once allowed a view of the valleys below, including portions of the Trinity River and nearby Lake Como, only a short carriage ride away in a bygone time.
Today, the three-story house known as Fairview is a stone’s throw from busy Camp Bowie Boulevard. The red brick home on the large corner lot at Bryce Avenue and Eldridge Street is a well-preserved monument to the neighborhood’s past.
Scottish-born William Bryce built Fairview in 1893 on a street that was ultimately named for him, having once commented he wanted a “fair house with a fair view for a fair lady.” Fairview was a showcase in what was then a premier subdivision, one that would not be part of Fort Worth proper until the early ’20s. One of the first residents of Arlington Heights, Bryce was a successful brick manufacturer and building contractor. He also served as mayor of Fort Worth from 1927 to 1933. He built several other upscale homes in the area, including the homes of architects Marshall Sanguinet and brothers Arthur and Howard Messer. Only four of the original 16 homes built in the early 1890s are still standing.
“Fort Worth has failed to hold on to many of its historical treasures,” says local historian Mike Nichols. “Fairview was one of the first and finest.”
Following Bryce’s death in 1944, the new owners’ modifications included painting the exterior brick a light pink shade (much to the chagrin of the neighbors), filling in the sleeping porches and adding bathrooms. The home originally had only one spacious bath on the second floor that served four bedrooms.
Seven decades later — seven years ago in July 2014 — Fairview found a savior when Fort Worth native Brent Hyder purchased the home. Hyder, who grew up on nearby Crestline Road, has long been a proponent of restoration. A partner of three commercial real estate companies in Fort Worth, he’s also president of three private foundations and owner of the Flying Carpet Turkish Café near Magnolia Avenue. In addition, he’s a member of the Tarrant County Historical Commission.
He also was acquainted with Fairview’s then owner, Dr. Irvin Clayton.
“I was attracted to Fairview by the stunning architectural elegance and quality of workmanship,” says Hyder, who loved the fact that the home’s name was carved on a large stone in front of the house. “I knew nothing of the home’s history and little about the Bryce family. Being something of an incorrigible collector of furniture, carpets and art amassed from my years living in the Middle East, I had doubts that I would be able to fit everything into the house.” Hyder recalls a close friend telling him if he didn’t buy the house, it would be a big mistake, and that if he did buy the house, it would be a big mistake. The biggest challenge? How to remove the pink paint from the old cold-pressed bricks (that no one makes anymore) and replacing missing masonry.
Hyder was up for the challenge, however, which included getting 3,000 new bricks hand-cut and fired by a Kentucky family still using original methods. The restoration took three years, including lowering the level of the property by a foot — a massive undertaking — to fix major drainage problems. And, yes, all that pink paint was removed.
Today, Fairview’s beauty shines inside and out. Hyder redid the landscaping, including removing overgrown shrubs. He reopened the home’s sleeping porches to showcase their many arches.
During the renovation, Hyder was featured on the History Channel’s Lone Star Restoration with Fort Worth’s Brent Hull, a specialist in restoration and preservation. Hull built the Hyder-designed front door, which incorporates a Persian curtain motif in white oak, in keeping with the theme of the home.
And while the exterior is stunning, the interior is equally as impressive. Perhaps the most magical portion of the house is the foyer with its paneling made of longleaf pine, which also is used throughout the home.
“When I bought the house, all the wood had been painted a rather dull gray-green,” says Hyder. “To restore the wood to its original splendor, we relied on the expertise of an English craftsman from Dallas, who spent a whole month stripping, bleaching and then waxing all the paneling just in the stair hall.” The original wood floors were stripped but left unfinished. Hyder’s impressive collection of Middle Eastern rugs is showcased throughout the home. The walls have been redone in hand-rubbed Venetian plaster, and Hyder continues to search for worthy chandeliers to hang in the hallways and other rooms.
The second floor is again the location of the only full-size bathroom in the house, still serving four bedrooms. Hyder says he receives some flak from his female friends, but he was determined to return the home to its original
floor plan. Among Fairview’s more unusual features are the five jib-head windows, glass doors that slide vertically into pockets within the ceiling, popular in the 19th century for allowing cool breezes into a home. Hyder has added custom screen doors, handcarved in Mexico, a unique touch that suits Hyder’s eclectic style. The third floor, originally an attic, has been converted to a library with 20-foot ceilings. The old rafters and leaded-diamond pane windows all add to the cavelike feeling. It’s the perfect place for Hyder’s extensive book collection.
In the rear are two outbuildings — a carriage house and a one-room cabin — each with its distinct history. “The cabin had been built as a second home for a Mr. Thomas Hubbard, who worked for Mr. Bryce for more than 50 years, so I started referring to the cabin as ‘Old Tom’s Cabin,’ ” says Hyder. “An old Tarrant County tax map revealed the original location of the cabin. Once I had ascertained its original location, I tore down the newish garage and with the aid of a crane, we picked up and swung the cabin back to its original location. It is now restored with only an add-on side porch in the ‘board-and-batten Carpenter Gothic’ vernacular.
“The restorations could never have been accomplished without a dependable, skillful and experienced family of artisans — John, Randy, Mike and Joe Massey — who brought their own great enthusiasm for the challenges to work bright and early every morning,”
Hyder says. “The house is 15 rooms of solid masonry, three bricks thick and very quiet even when the wind howls outside. At night, there is hardly ever even a creak or sound of anything settling or moving. In the 19th century it is clear the architects were unfamiliar with the notion of planned obsolescence. They built to last, with attention to detail and craftsmanship not often seen today.”
There is a calmness and reverence upon entering Fairview, a sense of another era, a tribute to the past. If, one starlit evening, Bryce could visit his home and stand on the east terrace, he might be surprised that he could still see the downtown skyline of the city he once served.