Ray and Wendy Gallagher moved 12 years ago from a tiny cabin in the woods to a mid-century modern in Tyler, designed and built by one of the city’s prominent architects, the late E. Davis Wilcox.
They didn’t start out looking for modern design, only a house to make into a home.
“We sold our house immediately,” Mrs. Gallagher said. “We had put it on the market on a Friday and we went to Tyler for Mother’s Day.”
That same weekend, the couple accepted a cash deal for their old house and started searching for a new place to call their own.
Wilcox’s former residence at 526 E. Lake St. was on the market so they decided to take a look.
“I literally walked in, walked to the bedroom and told (Tyler Realtor) Cathy Shipp we’ll take it,” Gallagher said. “The architecture suited us … it’s just a real special house.”
His wife agreed, saying, “We just knew.”
The late architect’s 1952 home, built of salvaged brick from an old Tyler fire station, was just selected by Historic Tyler’s Modern Committee, known also as the “Mod Squad,” as the focus of its first mid-century modern open house tour.
The open house event, featuring the Gallaghers’ home, is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 16 and organizers predict it will be the start of something unique for old house enthusiasts.
“There’s a lot of interest in mid-century modern,” Historic Tyler Director Cassie Edmonds said. “A lot of people don’t realize what it is … there’s actually a lot of it in Tyler.”
Next month’s tours of the Gallagher home are expected to help fulfill the mission of Historic Tyler, to educate and promote older structures as well as honor those who created them.
Wilcox was widely known in East Texas for his striking sensitivity to the natural environments.
Most of his designs feature large windows so people can enjoy the outdoors from indoors.
The architect is credited locally with designing the Tyler Museum of Art, Andy Woods Elementary School, John Tyler High School and about 70 homes, including his own.
Tyler is filled with traditional homes, and many of the city’s modern homes blend in well to their surroundings.
Step inside these modern-looking beauties, however, and it becomes immediately clear why they are developing such a following.
“That’s what is going to be shocking to a lot of people,” Ms. Edmonds said. “They’ll walk in and go, ‘Wow.’ There may be people with mid-century modern construction who don’t even realize it.”
The new Mod Squad, comprised largely of interior decorators and architects, is charged with highlighting the unique beauty of the construction and hopefully, preserving it at the same time.
Part of what sets the Gallaghers’ home apart is its interior, comprised largely of floor-to-ceiling windows that illuminate the home with an abundance of natural light.
Inside, there are floor-to-ceiling windows, a plant-filled atrium and redwood built-ins in every room — china cabinets in the dining room and wall-length closets in the bedroom.
The Gallaghers spent the last 12 years fine tuning Wilcox’s design — they took in a breezeway, added a small powder room and incorporated a screened-in porch to create a new, larger modern kitchen with a sitting area.
An attached greenhouse provides an attractive locale for growing and enjoying plants.
“The house had great bones, it just needed a little updating,” Mrs. Gallagher said. “He (Wilcox) was certainly part of the mid-century modern movement.”
The new owners experienced few surprises during construction but delighted in discovering traces the previous owners left behind.
“In a back bedroom, we found a pair of white leather gloves, those long white ones, and a comb with a tortoise shell,” Mrs. Gallagher said.
Today, the comb rests on a dresser in the back bedroom, the same room Wilcox’s wife once occupied.
“We just appreciate his design so much,” Mrs. Gallagher said. “We’ve been very careful to stay within the footprint and maintain the integrity of the house. … We just appreciate everything about it.”
Gallagher said he never tires of being home or studying the elements that make it so unique, saying his mother’s art deco flair seemed to fuel his interest in modern architecture.
“This is the first home I’ve ever lived in that gives back,” he said. “It’s the mid-century modern jewel of Tyler and I think that’s what the Mod Squad picked up on. … We just love it.”
Historic Tyler officials predict similar reactions from people who experience the design firsthand.
“I think it’s time,” Ms. Edmonds said.