Texas Primer: The Tract House

Believe it or not, it’s as Texan as bluebonnets.

When you think “tract house,” you probably don’t think “Texas”; you think “suburbia,” and that’s a region blander and more homogeneous than we want Texas to be. But the truth is that Texas today is the tract house capital of the world. The nation’s biggest homebuilder, U.S. Home, moved from Florida to Houston in 1979 to be in its most important market. The second biggest, Centex, the parent of Fox & Jacobs, is in Dallas. In the past decade there has been far more tract house action in Texas than in New York and California, which have larger populations. So it seems that the facts would warrant the inclusion of the tract house in our mythology.

Arguably, the best-selling single model of modern times (nobody keeps exact figures on such things) was developed by Fox & Jacobs, and it’s called the 402, or more colloquially, the North Dallas Special. From its inception somewhere back in the mists of the mid-fifties until its discontinuation (because it was getting too expensive for the average family) last year, it was replicated perhaps five thousand times as the farmlands north and west of Dallas fell before the juggernaut of civilization.

The 402 covered about 1,900 square feet, and it always cost just about whatever the average price of a new home happened to be—in its final days, $75,000. It had three bedrooms, a family room, a living room, a dining area, a “garden kitchen,” a breakfast nook, a patio, and a two-car garage, which was in the back because Dallas suburbs have alleys. The walls were framed at a Fox & Jacobs assembly plant. Both inside and out, it was capable of the same range of appearances as Elizabeth Taylor—if everything was carefully maintained it looked terrific, but it also had the potential for quickly going to seed.

As a product, it was aimed at a young, middle-class, white-collar couple with one or two kids, probably new to Dallas and just making the big move from an apartment to a house. Its theoretical underpinning was that people


More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...