The Pink Wall has been dominated by Preston Tower for 50 years. Oddly, it’s first residents were welcomed into this modern high-rise in the same year viewers welcomed Star Trek! Preston Tower is a pinch older than the neighboring Athena, but the Pink Wall’s two-story walk-ups were already swinging when Preston Tower leapt from the ground. My unofficial guess is that in 1966, at 29 stories, it was the tallest building between Dallas and Oklahoma City.
I had a chance to speak with one of its loooong time residents, Robert Emery, who’s called Preston Tower home for nigh-on 30 years. Like many happy high-rise residents, he’s bounced around in the building before winding up on top of it all in one of the penthouses. At the precise moment a wet and windy hell broke loose, I was walking over to meet Emery. I can say with confidence that I saw no leaks during my tour.
Preston Tower was built by Hal Anderson (no relation), designed by architect Jacob Anderson (Hal’s brother?), and currently contains 362 units. In the beginning there were a few more, but over time some units have been combined (high-rise owners can’t build additions, so we absorb our neighbors).
Emery and I have both heard the platitude that Hal Anderson learned from Preston Tower to make The Athena better. While DCAD thinks both buildings were built in the same year, that can’t be true. A picture in The Dallas Morning News of the era shows a nearly complete Preston Tower, while The Athena is just dirt. There’s no way Preston Tower and Athena both came online in 1966 considering the different construction schedules. Having The Athena’s construction slightly later makes sense.
One interesting thing about Preston Tower is that it was originally named The Park Tower. Another guess is that 1964’s Park Towers, located on Fairmount and the Katy Trail, wasn’t yet named when the plans for Preston Tower were being drawn. Adding credence to this is a 1963 blurb in the Dallas Morning News showing “Preston Tower” (sans it’s second back tower-ette).
Born in 1914, Jacob Anderson was a modernist architect working in Dallas at the time. In the Design District, he designed the Decorative Center located at the corner of Oak Lawn and Hi Line Drive. It’s in this building that we can see the beginnings of the grand modernist colonnade fronting Preston Tower. In 1953, Anderson also designed a fabulous 2,729-square-foot single-family home on Waggoner Drive in Preston Hollow (It sold in 2015, so head here for a peek inside).
In Dallas, Preston Tower is an odd duck. The first two floors of the curved tower were originally designed as a mall and remain so today. There were swanky clothes shops, hairdressers, a coffee shop, travel agent, and a grocery store along with a restaurant and club. For many years, there was a 7-Eleven convenience store on the western corner, while the opposing eastern end housed Chez Arthur, a tony dining spot. Today, the glamor has settled with commercial spaces containing lawyers, accountants ,and other one-man-band type offices. There are still a selection of hair and nail options that have a built-in clientele. Interestingly, two spaces are owned by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the Department of Homeland Security.
Emery happens to own part of the old 7-Eleven space and uncovered some of its original wallpaper. The motif points to an era not dominated by Slurpees and desiccated hot dogs rolling aimlessly up and down a griddle. I’m sure the neighborhood would clamor for a return of 7-Eleven or other grocery-type store.
Preston Tower wasn’t built as luxurious accommodation. In many ways, Northwest Highway was the edge of the Earth in Dallas real estate at that time. So Anderson must have felt that the area couldn’t support the gracious and luxurious high-rise product that had been built on Turtle Creek (3525 Turtle Creek, Gold Crest, etc.).
The largest “natural” tower configuration is the “01” units with 1,673 square feet, the smallest “03” unit with 585 square feet. Compare that with 3525 Turtle Creek’s range from 1,193 to 2,497 square feet.
But after building Preston Tower, Anderson reevaluated his decision on the rentability of more luxurious high-rise homes. The Athena has two floorplans in its tower, one a 1,543-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom, and the other a three-bedroom, three-bathroom unit covering 1,899 square feet.
I said rentability, because like all buildings of the era, Preston Tower wasn’t built as a condominium as the legal description had only recently been invented. Like many Dallas high-rise apartment buildings of the day, condo conversion occurred in the 1970s.
Apparently, Preston Tower also made some door manufacturer VERY happy. There were originally doors everywhere. Doors on kitchens, doors on hallways, doors on living rooms, doors separating everything. You know how when you watch British shows on PBS there are doors into every single space? Like that. And back in the day, banks loved them because room counts mattered in construction loan valuations. Didn’t matter if it was a four-by-four entryway, if it was enclosed, voilà, another room.
Being a 50-year old building, it’s gone through its sexy period, its tired period, and its denial of its 1960s roots period (just like Star Trek). With mid-century firmly ensconced in the public’s consciousness, it’s done being old and outdated, now reaching icon status. With this newfound hipness has come the embrace of its roots and a more moneyed buyer wanting to renovate and live in a classic.
Emery thought today’s average owners were in their mid-40s. According to DCAD data, of the 47 percent claiming a homestead exemption, 23 percent are under 65 years old while 25 percent are over. Of course this leaves 53 percent of owners not claiming a homestead exemption, which means second home owners, or more likely, investment rental units. Because Preston Tower units were very inexpensive for a long time, small investors bought units to rent … a lot of units.
I don’t view rental units as good or bad — it just is. But it is likely that many of the tenants are younger. Similarly, I don’t view owner age as good or bad as long as it doesn’t impact long-term planning. Just like me, once a building passes 50, it’ll need the occasional colonoscopy and the money to pay for it. Speaking of planning, guess what building Preston Tower uses for its design inspiration? North Park Shopping Center. It seems they are of similar age (though not architect) and use the same color palate of materials. When they reconstructed exterior stairs on the western side of the building recently, they trooped over to North Park and snapped a few pics to mimic their brick and capstone stairs.
Also being 50 years old, newer technologies are in play, like double-pane windows. In 1966, single-pane windows were all there was. They were noisy and let tons of heat in during the summer … especially if you faced south towards downtown. Emery tells me that the building has no plans to do an official window change-out like 3883 Turtle Creek has done. But he said a large number of individual owners have changed their own. When that happens, the building takes over future window maintenance costs. They realize they’re saving tons on energy costs and any future window failure or breakage costs are a drop in the bucket.
Like seemingly all high-rises in Dallas, Preston Tower is being wooed by AT&T to rewire their building for U-verse television, internet, and phone service for free. I also found out that because Time Warner and AT&T have antennas on their roofs, they pay zero for cable television service. Zero. Not bundled into the HOA dues — zero. Pretty cool deal when, 50 years later, you’re still the tallest residential building for miles around.
Finally, passersby may have noticed the new multi-color LED floodlights that wash the sides of the tower at night. Some believe them a little “Vegas” but I think they’re the architectural equivalent of “showing a little leg” by a “gal” tired of drivers passing her by without a thought.
Happy Birthday Preston Tower (and Star Trek). Here’s to 50 more.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. If you’re interested in hosting a Candysdirt.com Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com.