Gentrification is washing over Dallas like a wave. Neighborhoods that were once working class and affordable are vanishing faster than you can say “tear down.” One such neighborhood is directly behind me, so it has hit home (literally) in a big way. I have lived on Valencia Street in Hollywood Heights since 1990 and the Mount Auburn neighborhood starts at my back fence, and it’s changing by leaps and bounds.
Two years ago, I was at a CandysDirt.com event, and a Realtor mentioned how hot Mount Auburn was. Even then, the little 1,200-square-foot frame homes were going for over $200,000 — if you could find one. Our neighborhood did not pay much attention, that is until the Nextdoor community app was launched. Suddenly we were connected in a much more intimate way than even Facebook had created, and we all started talking.
A few weeks back one of my neighbors posted a question asking what was happening in Mount Auburn and the conversation quickly became heated as others chimed in with their opinions. I strolled over to have a look at what was causing such a fuss.
A significant number of those little frame homes were gone, and in their place, large, modern, two-story houses were being constructed. The comments were flying fast and furious. Some neighbors were unhappy. The Mount Auburn we all knew was changing — fast.
Mount Auburn was developed in 1907. It’s bounded by East Grand Avenue, Santa Fe Avenue, Munger Boulevard, and Cameron Avenue.
Until World War II, Mount Auburn was a largely white, working-class neighborhood filled with frame bungalows with wide front porches. Neighbors knew each other, their kids walked to Mount Auburn Elementary School, up to Woolworths or J.C. Penney on East Grand, and over to the Major Theater on Samuell Avenue. It was your typical all-American neighborhood.
Then suburbia beckoned, and white flight happened. The neighborhood went through some tough times in the ’70s and ’80s.
One of the neighbors on Cameron, who has lived there since the early ’70s, remembers when a gang bought a house, purely for drug deals. No one lived there. They would put a blue light in the window when Woodrow Wilson High School let out for the day. A steady stream of cars flowed through, stopping just long enough to make a transaction. And there was a pit bull breeder living behind a friend, a block from me. It was horrifying, and we could do nothing to prevent the dogfights. Tough times, indeed. A little change was long overdue.
When interest rates fell in the ‘90s, we saw those little frame houses take on a new life. Hispanic, working-class families and the first wave of urban pioneers turned Mount Auburn into an unpretentious, interesting, connected, and culturally diverse neighborhood.
And life was pretty quiet until 2017.
That’s when gentrification hit Mount Auburn. The builders have discovered this little slice of East Dallas, and the construction boom is underway.
Some neighbors are welcoming increased property values and embracing the new construction. But, it’s easy to feel torn. On the one hand, the builders are creating new inventory that young professionals are snapping up almost faster than they can be built. There is no lack of desire to be the new breed of urban pioneer in Mount Auburn. On the other hand, these new homes are big, bold, practically zero-lot-line homes, and they lack the one feature that has always defined the neighborhood — the front porch. The front porch fostered a sense of community that has existed for generations.
“I wish these houses fit into the neighborhood better,” Mount Auburn resident Karen Brown said. “I’m sad to see this style of home go up. People will drive in their garage door, and we won’t connect. This style of home doesn’t welcome interaction between neighbors, but I’m withholding judgment. I’ve been here almost 40 years, and I know there is going to be change. I accept it. There is no point in fighting it.”
Brown is right. Change has arrived, and there is no point in fighting it. The new urban pioneer is moving in, and they are really not that different from the previous generations that made Mount Auburn home. They just have different needs, different expectations, and deep pockets.
Conrad Homes is a young firm comprised of smart, dedicated, and experienced builders Jordan Gray, Cody Barrington, and a hot new architect Ryan Jacobson. They have all known each other since seventh grade. Gray and Barrington grew up with fathers in the building industry, so construction is second nature to them — it seemed logical to follow in the family footsteps. They started Conrad Homes in 2014 and began looking for vacant lots.
“We are seeing a lot of urban revitalization,” Barrington said. “People want to work downtown again and walk or Uber to restaurants. We had been looking for vacant lots. There is so much going on around Mount Auburn, and we liked the area. It’s close to downtown, and the Santa Fe Trail is across the street. Buyers would also be only a short ride to lower Greenville and Lakewood restaurants and Deep Ellum nightlife. There was a pocket of four vacant lots available, so we decided to buy them and stick to that one block as a test phase.”
Their homes are two-story, streamlined, contemporary, and about as far away from a single story 1920s frame home as you can imagine.
“Design is cyclical, and our target clients gravitate towards the modern style, “Jacobson said. “That style seems to be the most in demand right now.”
The company has struck a chord. Their first home sold before it was finished, to their target customer. And it sold in the $600,000 range. Think about that. Homes you could buy for $20,000 in the ’90s have a dirt value over $100,000 and are selling for six times that.
Conrad Homes are not the only player in Mount Auburn. One couple is building a container home, and six more homes are going up in the immediate area. Mount Auburn neighbors are bracing for the change that has quite suddenly taken the neighborhood by storm.
Is This Good or Bad?
“Living on Valencia, what happens on that part of Cameron will bleed over,” Hollywood Heights resident Robert Don said. “It will affect those that back up to those streets, visually and aesthetically.”
Don is a commercial appraiser, broker, and an urban planner by trade, so he has some credible insights.
“I expect a year or two from now, that whole area of Mount Auburn will be completely different,” Don said.” I had my doubts when the construction began, but when I saw that first house under contract immediately, well, it looks like they know what they are doing. It’s all good in my opinion.”
Change is inevitable in any neighborhood. We see it all over Dallas, even in Hollywood Heights. Despite being in a conservation district, huge homes are being built — adhering to the Tudor style, but man, are they big.
Builders follow the dictates of the marketplace. It was inevitable this neighborhood would see the construction trends we see happening everywhere in Dallas. In the long run, the changes will be a bonus for everyone. Mount Auburn will adapt, and perhaps the builders will start adding in those front porches to keep that sense of community strong.
Meanwhile, if you are ready to be one of those urban pioneers, give Brandon Travelstead with Travelstead Luxury Properties a call. He’s the one that sold the first of Conrad Homes bold new houses, and we hear his phone is ringing off the hook!