Mount Auburn is Attracting Big Bold Homes and Urban Pioneers

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Mount Auburn

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.

Mount Auburn

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.

Wow!

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!

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Karen Eubank

Karen is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager for more than 25 years and a professional writer for over 20 years. Karen is the mother of a son who’s studying for his masters at The New England Conservatory of Music. An ardent animal lover, she doesn’t mind one bit if your fur baby jumps right into her lap.

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Comments

  1. L Streeter says

    How dare people want custom homes that they willingly pay higher property taxes on both for the city and the school district while welcoming living with neighbors in lower taxed properties! The gall!

    Gentrification is good. Suburban flight is bad. At least for the city of Dallas and all of its tax-paying residents.

  2. J. Kyle Rains says

    Elementary students in the neighborhood have the choice of Mount Auburn Elementary (STEAM), first preference at Mata Montessori or may transfer to Lee or Lipscomb for IB.

    Of course, the secondary schools are stellar and are both IB World Schools. J. L. Long Middle had been beating St. Mark’s and HP in science and math competitions while Woodrow Wilson High had been beating them in robotics (state champs). Woodrow is also nationally ranked by The Washington Post and US News & World Report.

  3. Mark says

    I live on Glasgow and Santa Fe, what’s frustrating is there is no incentive to fix the small homes which do exist from a financial standpoint. I had a small bungalow (very similar to the one I’m in now) in Junius Heights and did a bunch of work to it as I knew I could recoup my money when it came time to sell it. This house, any money I put into it structurally or aesthetically is cash down a rat hole. This disincentivization to repair these homes will make a spiral downward into monotonous, poorly designed new homes. Developers never hire architects and it shows.

    One other thing, this neighbor is amazingly vibrant. It’s a front porch neighborhood with parties and bounce houses and a every holiday is like the super bowl. It makes me sad to think it will lose all its character to those monolithic McModerns. Those four houses on Cameron are egregiously large and pretty much say “Screw You” to all the neighbors. I realize some of these old rent houses need a good bull dozing, but this little area has heart and that’s a very precious thing.

  4. Alfredo Martinez says

    Good post!! Thanks. I for one have lived in Mt Auburn my whole life. My parents bought here back in the late 70’s. I remember the neighborhood as a child and pretty much all the homes were well taken care and lawns were full of green grass. I don’t know what words I could use that would be appropriate for this post, but the neighborhood changed for the worse. I had friends that lived in those exact lots in the 90’s and we would have a lot of fun playing on the street. I for one am all for making the neighborhood look great and make it as safe as when I was a kid. But the aesthetics of these homes are horrible in my opinion. I don’t want to be negative but the architects are good at their jobs, so why not build something new and exciting that can blend with the current aesthetics of the neighborhood. I just don’t understand why you would want to live in such a modern home and stick out like a sore thumb next to other smaller homes. They are NOT going to buy all the lots and change the entire neighborhood so why have homes of this style where they don’t belong. I do agree some home should be torn down and rebuilt, but there is no need to try and make some of these middle class families feel inferior to others living in such huge homes right next to them. On that note, why would anybody feel happy or proud to live in a such a nice big modern home next to others that just don’t blend. I feel that some people may just be trying to boast or it may make give them some gratification to live in a home and where they can walk out and see all the “little people”. I also have seen what has happened on Clermont St. investors have bought a nice size property, tore the home down and built 2!!! That’s great for an investor in being able to make twice the profit on one land but I for one would have preferred to have seen a nice size home with a very nice size yard. Just half a block from that some other investor bought.a home and turn that property into 3 separate properties. Beautiful homes no doubt, but why do these investors just feel the need to put such a huge home on a rather small lot. That’s my rant and I’m sticking to it. To hell with the “man”!!!!!

  5. Robert Don says

    This builder has 8 homes under construction; he is creating his own market. His success will bring more spec-builders into the neighborhood. The under-utilized lots nearest the Santa Fe Trail will be the first to go.

    Big changes coming to Mt. Auburn if Conrad Homes is successful.

  6. Randy Zimmerman says

    I don’t understand the whole gentrification argument. Is someone really worried that Dallas is running out of bad neighborhoods? I believe every square inch of land deserves to live up to its best use and highest potential. I also believe that if a there is a will to preserve a neighborhood (as happened in neighboring Hollywood/Santa Monica), interested parties should get preservation district status to save that which is worth saving. I’m all for seeing Mount Auburn redeveloped so that it can better contribute to the city tax base and improve the values of surrounding properties. It’s none of my business whether the home designs suit my tastes, because that only matters to potential buyers.

  7. Bob Stoller says

    “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.” No, it was your typical ALL-WHITE neighborhood. Non-white Americans were not welcome (like many neighborhoods in Dallas). Dallas neighborhoods were once severely segregated by race and ethnicity. Now, in these enlightened times, we don’t do that any more. Racial segregation has given way to economic segregation, thanks in large part to unchecked gentrification. Just like the neighborhoods east of Central Expressway, and south of Henderson, the poor and the middle class families will continue to disappear as redevelopment accelerates.

    • Mark says

      Well said. The part that gets to me is “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.”

      These homes were purpose built to be affordable for working class people, mostly to work at the old Ford plant. The original owner of my home was a house painter, any person in the trades these days could fly to the moon before they could afford one of these $700k mcbricks. Plus “urban pioneer” puhleese… it’s not like Watts in the 1970s.

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