Vintage Homes: Why Do We Not Take Better Care of Them?

Demolition equipment parked in front of a home located in The Cedars neighborhood just south of R.L. Thornton Freeway opposite Dallas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The actual street address of the house is “1423 Griffin St. West ... formerly 1015 Browder.” The Victorian mansion is one of Dallas' oldest homes, perched atop I-30 just south of downtown, and is scheduled for demolition. Time Warner Cable, which owns the home and a small building next door, plans to use the land for a parking lot. From 1938 until 1981, it was owned by Drexel Estep. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Photo courtesy Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

Last weekend I watched the story unfold about an historic home down in The Cedars, one of Dallas oldest neighborhoods. It’s hard to imagine that in the 1800’s stately Victorian cottages and mansions with massive cedar trees — hence the name — lined the streets and housed the city’s moneyed in this neighborhood. Dallas was a very small city but the Cedars was then what Highland Park is now, and probably looked a bit like Swiss Avenue. About 150-ish years later it is not so pretty, an area sought out by those seeking artsy loft living, and, let’s face it, cheaper prices. Because that’s what the home styles there are: lofts, apartments, townhomes and a FEW single family. (I wrote about one stunning single family house back in 2012, the owners had a dickens of a time selling it, but it did sell.) Most housing runs about $150,000 to $200,000, but you can grab a penthouse at the Beat Condos for much more. The Cedars is also home to the old Sears Roebuck Warehouse now known as Southside.

eclectic-hall

Oh the history here: Once  a somewhat Jewish community — Stanley Marcus was born in the Cedars, and intellectuals have always loved it — the neighborhood may be the closest neighborhood to SoHo we have. At one point architect Dan Shipley had his architectural firm here. If the name Brad Friedman rings a bell, he built the only new single-family home in the Cedars in 75 years.

I was thinking of this Saturday when a real estate friend shot me a quick message via Facebook, that an old Victorian home here was about to be razed. Then Robert Wilonsky over at the Dallas Morning News got all over it — impressive, it was a Saturday after all — and soon the wheels were turning. 

The home is owned by Time Warner Cable, who wants to demolish it for a hub site and parking lot. In a way, you cannot blame them — the home overlooks I30, because in 200 years oh my the neighborhood has changed. But then, you can. This is all the city has left of a historical part of earliest Dallas that is just plain GONE!

The home should absolutely be saved. And I’m sure there are enough people with deep pockets in Dallas who could help save it. Can the real estate community step in?

Katherine Seale, chair of Dallas’ Landmark Commission,  asked city staff to schedule a public hearing on Feb. 1 “to consider initiation of the historic designation for this property.”

Seale’s action, writes Wilonsky,  means Time Warner can’t do anything “that would involve making significant changes to the exterior of the home,” said Seale.

A Time Warner spokesperson said Tuesday morning that the company was unaware of the public hearing, but confirmed they had “reached out to Dallas Heritage Village to discuss an option to find an interested party to relocate the building on Griffin Street.”

Melissa Prycer, president and executive director of nearby Dallas Heritage Village, says they can’t take the house — at least, not without “a significant financial donation” of around $1 million needed to move, restore and maintain the house.

Wilonsky also came up with a neat history of the home, which is always fascinating. It was last owned by a drug treatment facility called Homeward Bound, but they gave it up last fall because the home did not meet fire safety codes and was inappropriate for habitation. I mean, of course it didn’t! It was an old home that needed mega work.

Homeward Bound assembled a time line as part of a fund-raiser to repair and restore the house. It goes back to 1836, and says the property was originally deeded to Col. E.C. Browder “as agricultural land for service in Texas war with Mexico.” That time line, and other records, indicate the house was built some time between 1883 and 1885 for Rosenfield before it wound up in the hands of insurance man Milton Dargan (around 1889), Dallas Mercantile Co. president Paul Erb (1897-1922), boarding house operator Laila Gilbausen (1922-1938, give or take), Drexel Estep (1938-1981) and The Wayback House, a Junior League of Dallas-University Park Methodist Church collaboration. Homeward Bound bought it from them in 1986.

So now the wheels are in place and thanks to Katharine Seale, Mark Doty, and yes, Robert Wilonsky, the home has a small chance of being saved. It will take a lot of money to move the home over to Heritage Village, $50,000 to move it and at least $200,000 to restore the interiors. Take a look (all photos by the Dallas Morning News until I get down there and snap my own.)

Stairway (1)

Lovely, super safe stairs — how could recovering addicts even navigate these?

But here’s my question: why do we let our older homes get so run down in the first place? Homes need care and nurturing almost as much as children do. At a home builder event I learned recently that it takes 3% of the home’s value to maintain it properly, annually. You don’t buy a home and then sit on your money for 20 years. It always makes me sick to see hurting houses that have not been loved, it makes me cringe to see what a mess that house has become, knowing it must have been once so grand.  In a perfect world, yes, I would head up the home maintenance police and come in and say, fix those cracks, paint those walls, get rid of that wood rot, wipe off those fingerprints and get this place together. Too bad we cannot do that, but is there a way for the City to keep a closer eye on old homes? Maybe we need a new designation — not Historical but Vintage?

Because maybe if they didn’t look so bad, people wouldn’t want to tear them down!

3 Comment

  • So much YES to all of this! Our historic homes are a treasure in Dallas and it makes my heart break to seem them fall into disrepair and/or get demolished. My husband was asking me why no one has bought and renovated this house before now, and I didn’t have a good answer for him. The neighborhood has changed there and isn’t as desirable to most buyers; old homes get a bad rap as money pits; our community as a whole doesn’t much recognize the value of historic homes; people don’t know what to “do” with a historic home…? All of that, I suppose.

  • Cost to the owners never seems to come up when this topic comes up. We were homeless before we found our “House with Potential” in Fort Worth. It was built in 1887 and had a good solid core and staircase, so we knew its bones and foundation were fairly well holding out. 24 years later, and not much has been done to our home. It needs it. We’d love to do it–we got the house & property for a very low price, but we were homeless with a special needs baby, and a low income. Our income has improved somewhat, but not enough to get a lot done. (There have been some repairs and replacements, though, just not enough.)

    But the ony way for someone get their home back up to a good stable place is to go into debt. That doesn’t phase very many people in this day of astronomical debt, both national and individually. We will not go down that road. And so we are between a rock and a hard place.