Biography Section of Douglas Newby Hinsdale Hall of Fame Nomination

Biographer Gordon Imrie wrote this biography of Douglas Newby as one of the sections required for a Hinsdale Hall of Fame nomination that reads as follows.

Can Hinsdale ever forgive Doug Newby for moving away?

My own Hinsdale tenure is eighteen years in two blocks separated by twenty-eight years at Stanford, Harvard, and (mostly) Manhattan. Much of my experience after HC (1970) has been in real estate, big city and suburban, and especially Old Stuff—buildings over a century old. Newby’s turf. When I began hearing what he had accomplished in Dallas, I was busy spending years trying unsuccessfully to save the Hinsdale Theater as an arts center in the early 2000s. But it was Hinsdale’s struggle with teardowns where Newby’s magic could have saved many harsh words and lost antiquity. I hope we can forgive him for adopting Dallas, where he managed, as I shall demonstrate, to thread-the-needle of free-market real estate transactions, charm-preservation, and fresh construction in neighborhoods hauntingly similar to Hinsdale’s beleaguered best. I estimate he’s saved a billion dollars of present-valued homes from destruction without onerous (pun intended) regulation. Newby’s success has been by a thousand cuts from skirmishes involving policy, positions, ideas, efforts, and initiatives that changed how people thought about neighborhoods, preservation, architecture, revitalization, and real estate. He, his clients, and his neighborhoods have all prospered. But let’s enjoy how and where this conciliatory and realistic attitude and skill were hatched: Newby is Pure Hinsdale.

Before Hinsdale Central High School

His father came back from a dinner where athletic director Harvey Dickinson said he was having trouble finding kids who could throw and catch a ball. Dickinson was already coaching eight-year-olds from banquet podiums. Also, Newby and friends were going to high school football and basketball games in grade school. He watched the Guards make a homecoming float at a neighbor’s home. Many took swim lessons in grade school from Hinsdale Central High School Guards. While Newby wasn’t a competitive swimmer, he was competent. At the beginning of his freshman year in gym class, when everybody was timed, Newby did an off-the-side of the pool open-turn 50 yards in 31.9 seconds. His freshman year at SMU in an intramural dorm swim meet off a block, he did an open-turn 26.6-second 50 yards. These times weren’t fast enough to be a competitive swimmer, but were fast enough that Newby could say he was from Hinsdale. As he learned from my Harvard roommate Kinsella: old swimmers never forget their times.

Summer junior-high basketball camps were run by HC varsity coaches. When Newby was still in grade school, Hinsdale high school students would be the Boy Scout troop leaders. He was also a patrol leader in Troop 10 of the Boy Scouts. He achieved all of the hard merit badges (the hardest was a physical fitness merit badge because it required three chin-ups, not pull-ups, which were near impossible for what he describes as his spindly arms). In many ways Hinsdale Central permeated kids’ lives from an early age and set an aspirational bar for achievement in citizenship.

Hinsdale shaped Newby’s interest in sports

Athletics is a big part of growing up in Hinsdale. (My own Dad referred to HC as a “juggernaut” as Imries took home eight varsity letters.) In grade school Newby was the age-group speed-skating blue ribbon champion for three straight years at the annual Burns Field contest. In the fourth year, rather than have his age group just go from one end of the rink to the other, they had to go around the rink for four laps and Newby miscounted the laps, pulling up after the third and losing his title.

However, he may have reached the pinnacle of his athletic career in fourth grade when he was one of only two players on the team to play on both sides of the ball in six-man touch football. As an end and defensive back, he helped his team win fourth and fifth grade league Hinsdale/Clarendon Hills Junior Chamber of Commerce football championship. In Boys League baseball, less competitive than Little League, one year he might have batted a thousand. The manager never let him swing at the ball as he counted on Newby to walk or bunt. Of course, he started his career in right field; his athletic career descended from there.

When he made the seventh-grade basketball team as a fourth-stringer, he was actually the last man on the team and the last team member to score a point that came in the last minute of the last game. He maintained his fourth-string position as an eighth grader, but got into games a bit earlier. Coach Hymes made Newby’s later varsity success possible. The junior high team was only supposed to have 15 players and he kept on a couple of more players, which allowed Newby to be on the team, and he said the lad had potential,

Freshman year the two best players from the junior high team were placed on the Hinsdale sophomore team. The next-best 15 players were put on the freshman A team. Newby had the distinction of being one of the 20 players on the freshman B team, and in the first game he was the last person on the B team to get into the game. He made some progress during his freshman year (grew taller) and as a result made the sophomore basketball team as a sophomore. However, there was only room on the scoreboard for 15 players and Newby was the one player left off the board, once again designating him as the last man on the team.

Fortunately, the varsity coach asked if Newby wanted to be practice-fodder for the JV and no longer suit up on Friday nights with the sophomore team, but be relegated to Saturday mornings when the JV played. Under Coach Dave McGann, Newby progressed enough his junior year to travel with the varsity team to its opening game at Proviso East against the eventual state champions led by Jim Brewer. (Brewer also went on to win MVP in the Big Ten and played as an L.A. Laker.) In an interesting twist of fate, Newby was a fourth string forward, so the coach moved him to third string center in case of an emergency. When playing against Jim Brewer and Proviso East, emergencies happened: Red Devils’ first string center fouled out, the second string center was embarrassing our coach, and in disgust McGann grabbed Newby by the jersey and sent him into the game, saying “even Newby could do better than that.” He actually held his own against Jim Brewer and became a starting forward in Hinsdale’s next game. By senior year Newby was Honorable Mention All-Conference and Hinsdale came in second place in the WSC to La Grange, the eventual state champions.

Newby’s other athletic passion was tennis. In summer tournaments he played against eventual two-time NCAA champion Billy Martin (Newby lost) and played in tournaments featuring notables such as Evanston’s Cale Carvel, who beat Jimmy Connors (in three sets) in the state tournament semifinals. Newby went on to letter in tennis as well as basketball at HC.

Hinsdale shaped Newby’s thoughts about neighborhoods, community and architecture

Newby lived on both ends of Park Avenue from nursery school until graduation from HC. In grade school he lived at 18 South Park, which had a profound impact on how he continues to think about idyllic neighborhoods. He loved the bucolic atmosphere and nature of the towering Dutch elm trees creating tree-tunneled streets. He also enjoyed being able to walk to the library, Schweidler’s, Soukup’s, Schoen’s, Hartley’s Bike Shop, Rapp’s Bakery, and the Hinsdale News Agency. Where else would a boy want to go? Being able to buy school supplies in grade school and put them on his family house account at Schweidler’s shaped his feelings about the sense of intimacy, family, community and the interaction with shops. Now at Newby’s favorite restaurant, he’s one of just a few with a house account, established because it reminds him of a much more civilized time he enjoyed while living in Hinsdale. The Village created an environment Newby talks about a lot now: nature and vibrancy.

Hinsdale as aesthetic foundation

Newby’s summer paper route allowed him to go every morning to the front door of every home between Garfield and County Line. He recalls admiring and memorizing the architectural detail of each house. A later route, closer to Oak School, had him delivering papers to houses he’d walked or rode his bike by for years. Triangle Park on Park Avenue and Fourth Street was his early neighborhood playground. Later, when the family moved to 930 South Park, it was the field behind the Methodist church on Garfield that connected all the back yards of the homes on Ninth Street and Park Avenue. Here, the neighbors would spill out and play softball in the summer or touch football in the fall. Organized sports were intense and competitive, but these neighborhood recreational sports with players of different ages were constant fun.

The softball games would continue both in college and after college with the annual 4th of July softball game with all the neighbors. Hinsdale has one of the best 4th of July parade-and-celebrations in the country–kids would always walk or ride bikes in the procession, and then when older would join the rest of the Hinsdale families lining the streets of the parade. Afterwards, many small neighborhoods would have back yard gatherings to continue the celebration. Christmas in Hinsdale extended his affection for the community as Newby returned for the holidays for 20 years after high school.

The time-honored provincial proclivities of Hinsdale shaped Newby’s thinking about neighborhoods. When he was in high school in Hinsdale, he found it very interesting that Hinsdale turned down what would have been the first-in-the-nation Colonial-style McDonald’s with no arches! It was proposed for the edge of town on a corner shared with three gasoline stations at the mouth of the toll road. McDonald’s, at the time, had its world headquarters in Oak Brook and sponsored Hinsdale’s number-two age group swim club in the country. They were a good corporate citizen, and many loved McDonald’s hamburgers, but the village elders said Hinsdale will never have a fast-food restaurant. Newby’s later Dallas efforts in a neighborhood with many established horrible uses was much-influenced by the strong stand Hinsdale took about what many would consider a benign use. When well-liked neighborhood homeowners proposed to put in a restaurant in a little neighborhood service retail building across from a pocket park in Newby’s Dallas nabe, he joined a few other neighbors to object and the request was denied. In the short-term, a nice restaurant would have enhanced the neighborhood, but it would have created a precedent for additional commercial uses when we were trying to eliminate all non-single-family zoning in the area.

At the same time, when Newby was in grade school, Oak Brook was not big enough for their own post office but had polo fields, Oak Brook Shopping Center (the nation’s most successful), golf courses, and many other projects bringing national attention. The contrast of two neighboring suburbs feeding into the same high school gave Newby a huge insight: cities are like a garden. Some parts of the garden can have tall trees or robust growth, and other parts of the garden are more delicate and need more protection. Both styles of community are good and have advantages. Often, city planners think that every neighborhood, village or community should be designed or zoned in the same way. Newby recognized that every neighborhood has its distinct characteristics that should be cultivated.

The aesthetic of Hinsdale, with brick-paved streets and historic homes, shaped Newby’s senses and appreciation of architecturally significant homes. The sense of community and neighborhood shaped his appreciation of neighborhood identity and cohesion. Walking or riding his bike to school allowed him to savor the scale, setback, and architectural distinction of each home. At the time Newby didn’t consciously realize the absorption underway–he was unconsciously admiring the homes without any awareness of the historic or architectural significance.

While Hinsdale was removed from Chicago, the rail line or expressways gave it quick access so one growing up could feel the enormity of a big thriving city. When Newby’s father took him to the top of the Prudential building, where they looked down at the Chicago Board of Trade, he told his son that when he was the boy’s age his own father took him to the top floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, which at the time was the tallest building in Chicago.

When Newby first visited Dallas, he felt like it was a minor-league city about to become a major-league city. It was and it has. Now, in the next few years the metropolitan area of Dallas is projected to become larger than the metropolitan area of Chicago! The neighborhood in which Newby made his home after graduation from SMU, was Munger Place. In 1905, Munger Place was developed first as a streetcar suburb of Dallas much like Hinsdale developed as a rail line suburb of Chicago. The difference was that Hinsdale remained among the nicest suburbs of Chicago while Munger Place had deteriorated to become the worst neighborhood in Dallas. Newby’s inspiration was to capture some of the magic of Hinsdale for Munger Place. Now both neighborhoods have become historic districts.

The might of Chicago also gave Newby the vision of a major city. “If you can make it in Hinsdale, you can make it anywhere,” one might say. Fresh out of college Newby felt he could confidently exchange ideas about Dallas with its mayor, owners of large companies, and CEOs. Having attended high school in Hinsdale, he was raised around CEOs, industry leaders and iconic families from an early age.

Newby’s father, William H. Newby, served as the Hinsdale Caucus Chair helping select the village leadership, as well as serving as the president of Union Church. He also received the Chicago State University President’s Award, the Puerto Rican Congressman of the Year and a scholarship named for him at the Hispanic Institute of Law Enforcement. While downtown Chicago was beyond his day-to-day life, the younger Newby was made aware of the importance of civic city involvement along with involvement in the local community. In his father’s obituary, a Chicago Tribune writer emphasized that the elder Newby is credited with keeping the Jewel Food Stores open in the city. At the time, the younger Newby didn’t realize how affected he was by seeing how public sentiment could be changed by clearly articulating ideas.

Newby’s mother was also a Hinsdale “doer” role-model. As a social worker, she became head of the Hinsdale Community Service–Newby had no idea until then how many Hinsdale families were in dire circumstances. She also initiated the Luminaria fundraising that lit up Hinsdale on Christmas Eve, another symbol of community. This participation reinforced the idea that people band together for a good idea or vision. Most profiles or biographies of Newby mention rearing in Hinsdale since this experience still permeates how he thinks about communities. In his TEDx Talk, Homes That Make Us Happy, Newby used Hinsdale as the lens for what people are looking for in a home.

Hinsdale shaped Newby’s college career

As the boys’ social chairman of the Hinsdale High School Varsity Club, Newby was co-chair of the Homecoming. This position also put him in charge of the pep rallies. Speaking into a microphone in front of 2,000 people in the high school gym, announcing coaches, teams, and Homecoming Queen candidates motivated Newby to become a freshman cheerleader at SMU, holding freshman pep rallies, announcing coaches, teams and freshman homecoming queen candidates. He was then elected as a sophomore to be the head SMU cheerleader–now speaking into a microphone, leading cheers in front of 20,000 people at the Cotton Bowl. He had a natural inclination to lead chants of a raucous crowd: his senior year at Hinsdale High school Newby initiated a dues-paying school-authorized cheering section of over 100 junior and senior male students called Sons of Satan. This cheering section survived for many years.

Writing for several sections of the HC newspaper (sports, teacher profiles, op-ed columns) gave Newby the confidence to occasionally write for the SMU Daily Campus newspaper and to continue writing an occasional op-ed column for the Dallas Morning News after graduation. He recalls that classmates at SMU would often come to him if they had a question about SMU procedure, organization or where to go to take care of a matter.

At some point, he realized that his deep understanding of the hierarchy and inner workings of the academic bureaucracy came from working for the infamous Helen Raymond in the Hinsdale Central bookstore. He worked for her during the two weeks before school started and then one hour a day at the bookstore in lieu of study hall. For four years at Hinsdale High School, Newby was the Planning and Leadership Home Room Student Representative. At SMU Newby was on faculty/student department committees, oversaw a sizeable budget at the Student Activities Directorate, and was one of the twelve in his class to be tapped for the Knights of Cycen Fjodr, an honorary society and the oldest senior society at SMU, founded in 1920, recognizing leadership.

After his SMU degree, Newby enrolled in the SMU Master’s of Public Administration program. This is basically a city manager program in which classmates became future Dallas city managers (and one classmate a congresswoman). Adjunct professors were often assistant city managers. The (precocious?) emphasis of his master’s thesis and position papers was on the economic advantages of single-family zoning: Economic Incentives to Reverse Migration in an Inner City Neighborhood. When still a graduate student, the mayor of Dallas would call in an assistant city manager, sometimes even one of Newby’s professors, and tell them to assist him and provide the support Newby needed for his neighborhood rezoning project. Newby has met with every subsequent mayor, not as a donor, but to exchange ideas on the city. Several of these mayors, at Newby’s request, would present the Dallas Restoration House of the Year Award, an award Newby created, and the first award of its type in the country.

Newby’s Dallas blast-off

The first award Newby received after college came from the Historic Preservation League for successfully initiating and rezoning one hundred blocks (2,000 lots) of Old East Dallas from multifamily zoning to single-family zoning. This remains the largest rezoned area in the history of the city. This single-family rezoned area became the foundation for the revitalization of Old East Dallas. The Federal National Mortgage Association selected this sector as its demonstration area for its first inner-city loans in the country. Simultaneously, Newby initiated the first single-family historic district in Dallas, the neighborhood in which he still lives.

The shopworn approach of many preservationists is to stand in front of bulldozers, trying to prevent a building from being torn down. From the beginning of his preservation interests, Newby approached it as a property rights preservationist. Most preservationists take the approach that preservation is beneficial to everyone even if not to the affected property owner. Newby’s refreshing tack is to have the affected property owner also benefit. Realizing he was in a city that at a DNA-level embraced property rights, he proposed changing the zoning of a multifamily-zoned area made up primarily of apartments to single-family zoning by not making aesthetic or preservation arguments, but by making it about economics. He researched and developed the argument that single-family rezoning would benefit apartment owners, vacant lot owners, retail owners, schools, renters, banks, businesses, and homeowners. His case-making won the day and received 80% written support from property owners including apartment owners.

While others just out of college were playing…or seriously starting their careers, Newby decided that since the Vietnam war was over, he had two or three years during which he would have been in the miliary which he could spend on civic activities. He also saw that most nonprofit boards were made up of citizens in their 40s or 50s or older. They devoted time to civic activities after they had been successful in their careers and could then afford to volunteer time to nonprofit work. Newby decided that while he was in his 20s and early-30s he could make a greater impact in the nonprofit arena than he would be able to make at a firm or a corporation.

So he served on the Historic Preservation League board, the Old East Dallas Design Committee executive board, founded the Munger Place Homeowners Association, and then in his late 30s and early 40s served on the executive committee of the Dallas Historical Society, was a founding advisory board member of Preservation Park Cities, and served on the board of the Greater Dallas Planning Council and the Dallas Architecture Foundation. He was Everywhere.

Newby also served as president of the almost 100-year-old organization, SMU Town and Gown. For the Dallas Preservation League he initiated and was a principal writer of the number-two best-selling nonfiction book in Dallas: A Guide to the Older Neighborhoods of Dallas. For the Dallas Chapter AIA Newby initiated and chaired the first architectural survey of Dallas for the Chapter’s 50th Anniversary. He also reproduced the Munger Brothers’ original sales book that articulated the first planned development in Dallas. Newby wrote several articles for publications including the historic journal Legacies, and D Magazine. Several publications have featured him in articles on architecture and preservation.

Newby served on the mayor’s Southern Dallas Task Force in 1986 and today serves as a real estate and zoning consultant for the Southern Dallas City Council District 3 in their efforts to bring more quality single-family home development to their district and to stop being the dumping grounds for low-income tax-credit apartments. For over 45 years Newby has organized, promoted and helped sponsor dozens of home tours across the city. In addition, he has spoken to neighborhoods seeking to become a conservation or historic district.

Jumping into Big City real estate on a shoestring

Newby’s real estate business was developed to support and augment his civic interest in neighborhoods, preservation, architecture and revitalization. With Virginia and Lee McAlester, who wrote the book A Field Guide to American Houses, Newby initiated a Revolving Fund in Munger Place to purchase 22 options coming due over two years in the twelve-block Munger Place neighborhood. Once the organizational structure was set up and the committees filled with volunteers, there was a realization that there were no realtors working in the area who had the interest or knowledge on how to secure these options. The McAlesters suggested Newby was the best candidate to do this and asked him if he would be willing to obtain a real estate license to do this task. Newby realized this was the only way the Revolving Fund would be successful, so he agreed to get the license. Note well: the sales agent commission on a $10,000 house was about $150, less than the commission for selling a Kirby vacuum cleaner at the time. Newby made more money in his Hinsdale summer job as a janitor in the Jewel warehouse than he made in a year as a real estate agent selling four-unit apartments to buyers that would turn them into single-family homes.

Newby recalls speaking to Hinsdale friends who were horrified that he would specialize in a neighborhood where prices were 100 times lower than Hinsdale’s. Since then, Newby has sold probably the least expensive home in Dallas and the most expensive home in Dallas (one that out-priced anything in Hinsdale). At the Luxury Conclave, a convention made up of the most-successful luxury real estate agents from across the country, Newby won the Best Property Marketing Award three times in a row. The last time he was announced as the winner they said they were giving the award to him as a “Hall of Fame” winner (hmm) … and Newby could no longer enter the contest! The winner of the award was selected by the Wall Street Journal and a New York advertising company specializing in real estate.

Originally Newby specialized in a deteriorating neighborhood that became a historic district in which the prices of the homes became one hundred times higher. His real estate business expanded to the most expensive residential corridor of Dallas where he still specializes in historic and architecturally significant homes. Besides registering the trademarks for ‘architecturally significant homes,’ ‘significant homes,’ and ‘architecturally significant,’ Newby introduced the concept of the term “architecturally significant homes” to Dallas and across the country. Twenty-five years ago, realtors were generally only mentioning the builder, not the architect, when they sold a home. Feature writers for magazines and newspapers never used the term. Now, one sees homes being described every day as architecturally significant in legacy media, social media and in the real estate industry.

Newby loves antiquity, but in a thoroughly modern way

Newby’s Facebook business page, Architecturally Significant Modern Homes, was the first architecture or real estate Facebook business page to have over 500,000 fans. This made it the largest architecture/real estate Facebook page in the world. His YouTube channel, Architecturally Significant Homes, has 25,000 subscribers and one of his videos has over 11 million views. Newby’s ArchitecturallySignificant website comes up first when anyone in the world does a search for “architecturally significant homes.”

Only a small percentage of his own website is devoted to the homes he has for sale He’s dedicated most of the site to education on architecture, neighborhoods, preservation and cities. In the Neighborhood section he features 173 distinct neighborhoods, providing photographs and information on an average of 10 homes
as an example of each neighborhood. The website includes almost 20,000 images! It introduces 223 architects who’ve done work in Dallas and provides photos of their work. It also features 54 architectural styles. The website has over 20,000 unique visitors a month.

Newby’s TEDx Talk, Homes That Make Us Happy, has 2,000 views. His Instagram account has almost 2,000 followers, and 400 posts with an average of 200 words of text commenting on Dallas history, architecture and aesthetics. The Douglas Newby blog has 114 blog articles averaging 1,500 words apiece, discussing organic urbanism, architecture, Dallas, preservation, neighborhoods and real estate. These articles are read by 12,000 people a year.

In his spare time, Newby served on the board of directors of the Metrotex Association of Realtors and chaired the Dallas Association of Realtors Breakfast Caucus. The latter is a speakers’ forum where, for example, Newby introduced Governor Bush just before he announced his candidacy for president.

In conclusion

Douglas Newby is a giant in his field, and credits much of his inspiration and finesse to Hinsdale Central. If he is selected for this honor, I think it will give fresh impetus to the peaceful preservation of spectacular historic homes in his Hometown, as well as providing more “good company” in the Hall for present and future occupants.