Text by Charlotte Aguilar/Photos by George Boehme
In a time of limits, a little white cottage on Auden Street at Tennyson is providing possibilities for West University residents, thanks to the imagination and generosity of a neighborhood family. Enlivened by paint, chalk, images and slogans, it has become a creative release for young and old and a drive-by tourist attraction when venturing afar is off-limits.
Now known informally as “The Art House,” the 1945 structure was purchased by the Smith family next door and was destined to be torn down, to expand their yard.
But when the demolition process slowed with the global pandemic, 18-year-old Julia Smith — a St. John’s School senior who’s holed up with her parents and three siblings — got her parents’ permission to repurpose it temporarily.
She made signs with strict rules about social distancing and materials, at her dad’s insistence, and the reimagining of the house began.
“It’s been pretty cool to see,” says dad Creighton Smith, who moved his family to West U in 2006. “We’ve got everyone from 2-, 3-, 4-year-olds to high school students and adults coming by to use the house as their canvas. Both days on Easter weekend we had artists in their mid-20s working there.”
And as the creativity has flourished, spectators have come, too. “There’s definitely more traffic through the neighborhood,” says Smith. Glowing social media posts from passersby, complete with photos, have helped build interest.
Smith set a no-spray-paint rule and keeps a close eye on the property. “I want it to be the art house next door, not the crack house next door,” he says. He’s been vigilant about tidying up when the artists and art lovers have gotten a little overzealous.
For the Smiths, who have participated in the fabled Art Car Parade that was scheduled for this weekend, the project has helped heal the hurt from the event’s cancellation this year due to the pandemic. And it’s given Creighton a new appreciation for his teardown.
“I’m starting to grow attached to it now,” he said.