Experience: my house was demolished by mistake

I met Mary Ann in 2001, when we were both working at a Gap store in Dallas. I was 21 at the time and although Mary Ann was more than twice my age we quickly became friends, bonding over our love of cooking and cars.

Most of Mary Ann’s family were dead and she had no children. But she always felt like family to me – not just a friend, but a mother figure. I hung out at her place all the time, often with my partner Robb. She kept an open house: the door was open night and day, there was always music playing, and people would come and go freely, gathering on the porch or having cookouts and drinks in the yard.

Her home was almost 100 years old and known locally as “the pink house”. Mary Ann had given it a complete makeover in the 90s while caring for her ailing mother, and told me she went through seven shades before she found the one she wanted: a distinctive strawberry milkshake. The house felt like an extension of her.

Robb and I maintained our bond with Mary Ann after we moved to Los Angeles in 2008. In 2017, we found out that she was terminally ill, which was a tremendous shock. When I went to see her she was very keen to talk about the future of her house. Dallas has a culture of razing old buildings and replacing them with jarringly inappropriate new builds, but Mary Ann was determined to find a way to ensure the pink house remained in place. She had thrown so much energy into her friendships and her home; she viewed it as her legacy.

“Maybe you could take the house on?” she asked me. That felt like a huge responsibility and I wasn’t sure it was a project I could manage by myself, but I talked to Robb about it and he thought it was a fantastic idea.

Even with Mary Ann’s blessing, it took a long time for us to acquire the title. She died in April 2018, and legal complications meant that we didn’t get control until more than 18 months later. By then, the house really needed some love, and we were desperate to make a start on renovations. By the start of 2020, we finally had a contractor in place and work had begun.

Then, very early one February morning, Robb received a phone call from one of the neighbours. We’d spoken to him face-to-face a month earlier and assured him we were going to save the pink house and look after it. “You lied to me!” he shouted. “Why are you tearing down the house?”

Robb couldn’t understand what he was saying until he sent a text with a picture of himself standing in front of a pile of rubble. When I saw it, I was in shock. It didn’t yet make sense, but I realised there was already nothing we could do to bring the house back at that point.

We called the contractor, who raced to the scene. But it takes only 10 minutes to drive a bulldozer through a house of that size, and by the time he arrived the damage had been done. He ran up to the demolition crew and demanded to see their permit – the address on it was two blocks away.

The crew called their boss and he came over to survey the damage. He was very apologetic. He said his company had overseen thousands of demolitions in the past without ever making such a mistake, which wasn’t much consolation.

Since then, the only communication we’ve had with the demolition company has been through lawyers. The owner has offered to buy the lot, but it was never our intention to sell. I had planned to visit the site, but lockdown put a stop to that and actually I’m quite relieved: we haven’t been able to clear it yet and I don’t want to see the wreckage.

We haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. Thus far, we’ve been unable to fulfil Mary Ann’s dying wishes, and that brings a feeling of great despair. We still want to honour our friend, but I feel that trying to recreate the pink house would be an empty gesture. Whatever replaces it must reflect her spirit and have a positive effect on the neighbourhood, just as she did.

As told to Chris Broughton.

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