Confessions of Dallas High Rise Living: High Rise History — Dallas’ Original Style Setters

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Jon Anderson fills us in on a little bit of Dallas’ high rise history in his latest column for CandysDirt.com.

(Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in a hopefully regular series from Jon Anderson, in which he dishes on the inner-workings of life in the sky. Anderson’s take on Dallas high rise living is both entertaining and educational. You can read his first installment here and his second installment here.)

By Jon Anderson
Special Contributor

Buildings of the 1950s and 1960s

Beginning in the late 1950s, Dallas saw a decade of building for its first residential high-rises. These Modernist buildings included a quintet of buildings on Turtle Creek – 3525 Turtle Creek, Turtle Creek North, Park Towers, “21” and The Gold Crest – as well as Athena and Preston Tower on Northwest Highway. With the exception of “21” (originally built as low-income housing by HUD), these were tony pied-à-terre or the full-scale residences of those wanting as much urban high-rise living as Dallas could offer. They’re close enough for “city lights” views but far enough away to not actually be in the then lifeless downtown core.

Trivia: These buildings began life as either co-ops or rental apartments that only converted to condos after Section 234 of the Housing Act of 1961 enabled FHA (Federal Housing Administration) to insure mortgages on condos. By 1969, all states had laws governing the creation of condominiums. Puerto Rico passed the first condo law in 1958 and the first continental US building was in Salt Lake City. One side-effect of this heritage is that these buildings have master meters for utilities resulting in a single bill that’s divided between owners (and part of the monthly HOA dues). Something to factor in when evaluating HOA fees – and summer electricity bills.

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3525 Turtle Creek – The First

I call this 1957 building the “prison ship” so you can probably guess my opinion of the polarizing concrete lattice exterior of architect Howard R. Meyer. The folks over at the National Register of Historic Places, where this building is listed, would disagree with me. Correctly called a brise soleil, it’s proof that everything sounds better in French even if it looks like merde to me! Residents love it, but it’s definitely not a mainstream look. Views between the concrete can be pretty wonderful depending on floor and direction.

Lattice aside, the units are HUGE. With an original five units per floor, even the “tiny” one-bedroom is nearly 1,200sft. – almost unheard of in today’s high-dollar high-rises. Heck, the smallest living room in the building is about 18’ x 23’ – the size of a studio apartment! Also, like many buildings of the era, units have expansive patios (most unfortunately enclosed).

The public spaces (lobby, pool, etc.) have, until recently been horrifically dated. The elevators looked like a 1980s disco with polished stainless steel, brass and make-up mirror lighting. Since 2011, a capital expenditure plan has been working to update it all – and it looks GREAT. The building also has hotel-room like guest suites that can be used by visitors. However, those also needed redecorating with one I recall resembled an early American brothel. Trivia: 3525 had an extensive lot. Part of which was sold to make way for Vendome in the early 2000s.

In my opinion, HOA dues are stratospheric. While they cover all utilities, they’re as high as the Ritz Residences and don’t offer nearly the amenity list of the Ritz. The 3525 building says they have “concierge” service. Not quite. The Ritz has a real concierge who books restaurants, gets tickets, etc. whereas 3525 Turtle Creek has porters who help with groceries and package delivery. They do have valet parking, but that’s more to do with the distance to the parking structure.

The majority of units on the market in recent years have been in pretty rough/dated condition and often estate sales. For a lattice-loving renovator, the space can’t be beat. Want open concept living? Knock down the wall separating the kitchen from the living areas in any of the units and bingo, you’ve arrived in the 21st century! Want to know more? Nancy Martinez from Virginia Cook maintains a website that is chock-a-block with information and floorplans (something all high-rises should have).

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Turtle Creek North (3701 Turtle Creek)

This mid-size high-rise is a little gem on Turtle Creek. The building, a mix of one and two bedroom units, aren’t as massive as others, but they’re very serviceable for one or two-person living. The kitchens are partially open-concept but the bathrooms are pretty tiny and some, particularly G and H units, are a little funkily laid out. FYI, Jagger’s ex, Jerry Hall has a unit in the building. Oddly, while Carolyn Shamis’ offices are on the ground floor, most listings seem to go to Grant Vancleve at Coldwell Banker.

Turtle Creek North is the place to be if you want the most bang for your HOA buck. The fees are very reasonable and they cover all utilities. The only downside is 2-pipe vs 4-pipe HVAC which means it’s either heat or AC, not a mix, making in-between temperature days less cozy. For renovators, there aren’t a lot of walls that could/would need blowing out, an update can be done with refreshing kitchen, baths, floors and (job #1) de-popcorning the ceilings.

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Park Towers (3310 Fairmount)

I love the location of this building. I love the floorplans. But as I told my Realtor Alan Hopper from Ebby, the exterior looks like a tenement. Originally planned as two towers (hence the plural name), only one was built – more common that you’d think. The exterior is the most egregious example of the (asinine) 1970-80s trend of allowing spacious balconies to be enclosed. While enclosures at 3525 Turtle Creek are invisible behind the concrete lattice and the Athena on Northwest Highway are at least fairly uniform, Park Towers’ mish-mash of size, color and depth earns my “tenement” label. A building that once sported ribbons of continuously flowing balconies now looks like a grouping of sheds.

But the location is heaven, sandwiched between the Katy Trail, Reverchon Park and literally spitting-distance to Turtle Creek (and your tonier neighbors at the Stoneleigh and Mansion Residences). However, the views are in flux. A recent Gables midrise apartment building blocks city views for lower floor residents and a future deeee-luxe high-rise on the north side will also doubtless impact views.

The 6-per-floor units are all 2-bedrooms with the corners having side-by-side bedrooms and the middle pair having split bedrooms. There are three stories of “penthouses” that contain 3-bedroom units. (Yes, multiple stories of a “penthouse” makes as much sense as “jumbo shrimp”, but many enjoy the additional spit required to say “penthouse” to the assembled of the Zodiac lunch bunch.)

Beware, Park Towers is one of those buildings I referenced in my last column that postponed maintenance that came back to haunt them. A couple of years ago they passed a heart-stopping special assessment amounting to about $30,000 per unit! They may be caught up now, but owners need to keep short-term thinking in check.

Renovators will likely face outdated everything and (shudder) popcorn ceilings.

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“21” (3883 Turtle Creek)

Built as HUD housing, 21 is the oddity on tony Turtle Creek. It gets the name 21 from the number of stories. It’s by far the largest of the era’s buildings with about 400 units (unrivaled until 1998’s Renaissance stuffed 600-ish units on its plot). There are 18 units per floor ranging from 667 square feet to 1,337 square feet, with most in the 750- to 850-square-foot range. If you recall, 3525 Turtle Creek’s one-bedroom was nearly 1,200 square feet, compare that to 21’s three-bedroom unit at 1,337.

The biggest pitfalls of this building are the microscopic bathrooms and communal laundry facilities. The washer/dryer prohibition is so strong, there are rumored to be 5-figure fines for installing them. I don’t know about you, but my days finding a random pair of skid-marked panties in my laundry are long past. The bathrooms are so small (and have the typhoon flush of a grade school) you can literally sit on the toilet, have a leg in the tub and still be brushing your teeth at the sink. Conversely, some units have surprisingly good closet space.

A few years ago, the exterior was overhauled and now looks better than ever. With modest prices, it’s the Turtle Creek starter-home in the sky for swingles.

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Gold Crest (3601 Turtle Creek)

The Gold Crest is Dallas’ secret society. Built in 1964 with just 54 units, there are usually only one or two listings per year (usually after probate). It’s a beautiful 11-story George Dahl building wrapped in white bands of sweeping patios. Of the units I’ve woken up in (huuuush!), every room has patio access.

Units range from 1 to 3 bedrooms and have about 1,000-4,000 square feeet of space. Very luxuriously and smartly designed, many units have true walk-in closets and bathrooms with an original separate tub/shower. Over the years some have been combined into larger units, but thankfully the patios are intact.

HOA is pricey in part because the building’s small size limits the ability to spread the costs, but like the other buildings of the era, includes utilities and one guest suite. I’ve also heard tell of an intractable, viperous HOA board, so do your homework.

Renovators… it may be a patiently-waited-for gut, but it’ll be a fabulous, fabulous gut.

Stay tuned for next week’s column by Jon Anderson, which will showcase the rest of the era’s buildings. 

8 Comment

  • Really love reading this series! I wonder, do you think a coop building would be a viable thing in Dallas these day?

    • Thanks for the compliment, there’s more to come!

      I’m not sure new co-ops are really viable anywhere these days, a condo is a more convenient real estate form. Co-ops are harder to get financing on and one of the reasons they existed would be considered discriminatory (keep undesirables out). I’ve owned a co-op in another city and it lasted as long as it did because the co-op had acquired a large debt (purchasing the land under the building – originally leasehold). Because individuals couldn’t legally buy their share of the debt and be released, the building was converted to condo after the past parcel was purchased (and individuals could buyout their portion of the debt). Everything I read about New York co-ops comes down to how owners exclude and manage their neighbors — definitely a 1/10th of 1% problem.

      • Thanks for the reply and cant wait to read more.I wish that the highrise developers would show floorplans of units like they do in NYC. It really helps see the space since pictures can only do so much.

        • I couldn’t agree more. Floor plans are a must! I look at listing photos and try to match up where furniture overlaps to get a sense of how things are laid out.

          It’s funny, when you look at the UK version of the MLS, nearly every home (not just high-rises) has a floor plan…whether it was built in 2015 or 1415…it saves TONS of time to see a floor plan. With highrises, it’s especially STUPID considering they were published somewhere when the building was built. It’s really a waste of time…some people aren’t spatially-challenged and know what will work and what won’t.

  • A statement about 21 Turtle Creek is incorrect. The building is called 21 because it was part of a 21 acre tract purchased from the Catholic Church. The tract used to have a boys high school on it. The tract now has the 21 building and the shopping center where World Market and Good Eats are/were located. The building actually has 23 numbered floors (22 actual floors because there is no 13th floor).
    Your comment about the laundry machines is so sad. Has our society really become so selfish and wasteful that we can’t share a washing machine? Talk about rich people problems……
    I moved into the building 4 months ago and love it! It has beautiful views, a great pool, great location, and wonderful friendly people. It’s fantastic!

    • I stand corrected on the history of the building name. I’m glad you enjoy living at 21. We should all like where we live. I’m unsure how shared versus in-unit laundry is wasteful. Aside from the machines themselves, I can’t imagine people do less laundry because they share versus having their own. At the end of the day, we all have criteria which is important to us when choosing a home. What is a deal-breaker for one isn’t a blip at all for another. Overall, I believe my assessment of 21 was fair, it looks better than ever and it’s a popular starter-home. But no building is perfect and I suspect the building loses its share of buyers because of the smaller unit sizes, small bathrooms and communal laundry. I’m sorry you seem to think my assessment was a personal indictment of your choice to live there.

    • I also love living at “21” as well and there are actually 23 floors. The terrace level thru the 12th floor make up the first 13 floors, allowing for the skip of the actual number 13 with floors 14-23 numbered accordingly.

  • mm

    How do you think Jon and I met? Those were MY panties!