The Desperate Plight of Living Behind the Pink Wall Since the Preston Place Fire

Note: the Dallas City Plan Commission Public Hearing for PD-15 is scheduled for Thursday, April 18

This is the real story of the Pink Wall – a little pocket of Preston Hollow tucked between two of the highest net worth zip codes in the country. It is one of the few places where women of means at some point, who suddenly find themselves with a drastically limited bank account, can live with some dignity. And safety. For years it has been the answer to the need for affordable housing skirting the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Sometime in the 1990’s we moved my mother “Behind the Pink Wall”, into her unit at The Seville on Averill Way. My mother had moved to Dallas in her seventies to be closer to my children, to help in my husband’s medical practice (she had managed medical practices in suburban Chicago) and to escape the bitter midwestern cold. Her first home when she moved here was a townhome off Knoll Trail Drive I found while taking the kids to Toys R Us: it was being leased by the bank holding the note, brand new, bright and cheerful.

It was also seven miles away from our home.

We wanted her to be closer, especially as she aged. We lived in Old Preston Hollow at the time and the only proximite multi-family living was Behind the Pink Wall. That is why I jumped on the two bedroom, two bath first floor unit at The Seville: it was about a mile from our home on Park Lane. We could walk to her house!

I will never forget sitting with her as she closed on the only property she had ever owned “sole” by herself. My parents had been married for 42 years before they divorced, and like most women of her Depression-era generation, men handled every penny. As we turned each page after her signature, she’d whisper to me, “are you sure I’m not going to lose everything?”

When she died in 2003, I left the condo exactly as it was for months, hoping she’d walk in the door. It remains in our family as an investment property, and has always been leased by retirees, most of them single women. My mother loved living Behind the Pink Wall.

Thank God she is not here to see it turn into a Senior Slum.

I met a Realtor a few weeks ago who is moving into an apartment down the street from mine: her husband supported her with the Highland Park good life until he decided her best friend was more exciting in the boudoir. She is a woman needing a place to live with two school-aged kids as she stitches a life back together. All up and down Bandera, Averill Way, Pickwick, Edgemere are neat, tidy little homes, 1950’s and ’60’s apartments converted to condos, decorated to the hilt with furniture and antiques moved from some of the toniest addresses in town. Come dusk they walk their dogs, doting on them, chatting with neighbors, accepting the lot life has thrust their way.

But all that changed with the fire.

The Preston Place fire destroyed not only a three-story 60 unit condo,  snuffed one life, displaced many single retiree owners, but it changed the properties surrounding it in ways only the real estate savvy can understand.

Billie Mills*, in her mid seventies, has lived in The Diplomat Condominium since 2011. For a woman with multiple degrees from a major university, a Texas Real Estate license, a woman who once owned a University Park home, the burning of Preston Place in March of 2017 has virtually made her a prisoner in her own home. Intentional, premeditated deferred maintenance strangles her health and sanity on a daily basis. And now she fears the City of Dallas will further limit development rights as it interprets a decades old Planned Development, because of a few loud, selfish neighbors and a boomerang politician.

“The fire pulled the curtain back on The Pink Wall,” she tells me. “I have lived on Indian reservations, I have helped fight for minority rights, and Native Americans have federally endowed rights that are far better than what I have here. ”

The Diplomat Condominium is a 14-unit, two story condo with a garage apartment, located just east of Preston Place, its closest neighbor. The last listings were in January of 2018, when price per square foot was about $194 psf, and 1599 square foot units were asking from $310,000 to $325,000. The units lease for around $1500 to $2500 a month. But few want to lease, says Billie, because of the zoning uncertainty. Hence many units are now empty.

In years past, many Diplomat units were beautifully maintained & decorated. This was Unit 103 in 2018

“We are a one acre property (.94) where most of the owners are senior citizens, women, most on limited incomes, and we need to be treated fairly,” says Billie. “Some of us are in poor health. One of my neighbors has actually moved away, her unit is vacant. I think the whole political process here is discriminating against women and seniors.”

Billie wants the city to move forward with the zoning that would finally free her from her prison home. She says Jennifer Gates has bent over backwards for the Preston Place residents, but not so much for those in the near-neighboring buildings. As far as Laura Miller joining the narrative, Billie says it’s either a late-life power play or something deeper.

“These are very vulnerable people living here, people not in her league,” says Billie. “We are not in the same multi-million category as the people in Old Preston Hollow where Miller lives in a five million dollar home. Why is she hell-bent on helping the towers so much?”

What would Miller do if she lost her home through a fire?, Billie asks. What would the folks in the two towers, Preston and The Athena, where Miller owns a unit, do? Preston Place was built in 1979; the seven alarm fire was one of the largest in Dallas history, kindled for four days, and could well have spread to the neighboring towers.

“If they are worried about their views, let them pool their resources and buy this property, ” she says. “But to sit there and dictate to others that they cannot sell, to manipulate city zoning to seal their objectives, that is a violation of a homeowner’s constitutional right.”

Debris from Preston Place

The night(s) Preston Place burned, residents of The Diplomat Condominium, as well as the other neighboring condos, were severely affected. For one, their cars were barricaded in the underground parking garage. The Preston Place fire created 59 holes in The Diplomat’s roof as Preston Place fell. Smoke remained in the area for days, especially right next door. Debris was piled right up to the Diplomat’s exterior walls for weeks. 

“Preston Place and the Athena would not allow any of the demo trucks to drive down their streets, which is a private Northwest Highway service road. They constantly called police to enforce it, ” says Billie. “Did they forget the fire could have burned their homes, too? All the demolition debris got pushed to the east side of our building. We had to tape up our windows. Demo trucks, not being able to pass by the towers, had to go up and down Diamondhead Circle. The trucks were heavy and destroyed the streets. I found out we own to the center of the street, but the city has an easement. Thus nobody will ever pay for the repair.”

Because of her health problems, asthma and arthritis, Billie’s insurer moved her out of her home for a year, while she paid her mortgage, taxes and $623 a month in HOA dues..

But the home she came back to was far worse than it was before the fire:

Repairing a sewer leak

No lighting in stairwells

There were electrical problems, HVAC problems, units not working, units leaking, foundation problems, poor or non-existant lighting, loose old windows that let in fire debris because they had not been sealed or painted: Billie couldn’t cook for an entire month due to electrical issues. A sewer pipe backed up and broke, with sewer debris dumped right on the sidewalk (on blue tarps, see photos) during the repair.

Three years ago, right before the fire, the Board conducted a professional maintenance review of the AC units and found many badly needed repairs. But the Board opted to not repair, believing the building was going to be sold. The HOA board decided it was just not worth investing in repairs.

Or at least that is what the board of The Diplomat believes. In fact, deferred maintenance is a major problem in other older units Behind the Pink Wall, which some say is slowly turning into a senior slum. 

The AC units, all eight of them, are stacked on the roof of The Diplomat. Right above Billie’s unit. They vibrate and roar 24/7, shaking the walls and floor. She has no peaceful place to sit or rest. 

Last year, says Billie, The Diplomat had swarming bees nesting in the walls. She had to hire a beekeeper, guarantee payment, just to have a professional bee-remover come out and remove the bees and nest. Ultimately her HOA reimbursed her.

“We have lived next to the burned out garage for more than two years. The City should have taken the garage out. It holds water and Dallas weather has been exceptionally rainy. It had an electric pump system before the fire,” says Billie, “Now it’s just a cesspool whenever it rains.”

The water is a health risk and mosquito trap. She has tried calling the City. But by the time code inspectors come out, the water has dried.

The heat: “it goes off, sometimes the office won’t repair it until the next day or so.”

“The structural systems here are duck-taped, bandaged,” she says. “All four buildings of the Diplomat had blue tarps over the roof at one point in 2012.”

A structural engineer says the foundation on the 63 year old building can not be brought back or repaired. She has the report. 

“The current board president thinks he knows more than structural engineer,” she says, ” so he is ignoring the report.”

To be clear, the City of Dallas cannot control the HOA’s Behind the Pink Wall. Billie admits the Diplomat condo board is a large part of her problem, making unilateral decisions, ignoring her, and totally hamstringing sales of the units by factoring in tomorrow’s developer assumed pricing today. Technically, she cannot even sell without the approval of  her HOA. The Board President doesn’t even live in his condo unit, he leases it.

“No one wants to buy a unit in a dilapidated, decaying building next to a burned-out shell.  My whole building is being held back by PD-15,” she says. “The people who can afford to move away have done so, leaving the rest of us in a slum condition.”

The Diplomat finds itself in a unique real estate condition: functional obsolescence. The value is in the dirt, which allowing height in PD-15 where two high rises already exist, will make more valuable with increased density. And with The Diplomat’s high ratio of tenants, good luck getting buyer financing: Fannie Mae will not underwrite loans in buildings where a large percentage of units are leased.

“There has been a lot of fear mongering,” says Billie. “We (the owners) have a confidential agreement with a developer pending the zoning outcome: the party who wants to buy our property really wants to build a thoughtful, high quality development.”

She says Dan Rhodes with Compass tried to sell her unit last year, no one wanted it. There were issues relative to buyers not knowing what was going to happen with the development and the zoning.

“It’s really a difficult situation for the owner occupants,” says Dan Rhodes, who lived in the area, on the south side of Del Norte, for 16 years. “I feel sorry for the people who live there because they cannot make decisions based on the uncertainty. It’s a challenge. Change is difficult, but it happens. Ultimately someone will re-develop these vintage 1960 complexes in some capacity, but this current offer is an opportunity to do it right.”

Billie says, it’s like living in limbo.

“Laura Miller’s intrusion is forcing me to live in slum senior housing, denying me the opportunity to have a decent, and affordable home,” says Billie. “This new development will resolve many of the issues. According to the original documents, we had unlimited height. Now the City is jiggering with setbacks, trying to take them away from us.”

The City needs to work with ALL the PD-15 owners, says Billie, so they don’t lose the property rights they have this very day.

Once she and the other homeowners are bought out, I asked, where she will move?

“Anywhere where there is no HOA,” she replied. 

  • Billie Mills is a pseudonym for an actual resident of The Diplomat Condominiums

35 Comment

  • Everything in this article is true. Dallas City Council MUST go forward with the proposed redevelopment plan for this area. Jennifer Gates has spent 2 Years working on a compromise plan. Laura Miller is just in it for her own financial gain, she is bored and wants to get back in the game. She knows she could never be elected mayor again because of her terrible handling of the police/fire pension fund, police raise debacle, loss of AT&T stadium to Arlington, husband’s law firm profiting from suing city of Dallas, etc.

    Laura Miller, get out and stay out!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thank you for writing this article and exposing the truth behind the Pink Wall. I think we looked at the unit Billie bought and decided it was a no back in 2011. I really feel for her. Instead we purchased in another property behind the Pink Wall, and found the same lack of maintenance and a board that didn’t want to do anything. Our board had secret board meetings and said who cares about the state law forbidding this. Neighbors fighting neighbors in order to keep the deferred maintenance continuously deferred. This makes no sense as keeping up the property value benefits every owner. We finally decided that a lot of the people purchased units thinking they would never have to do any decision making or pay for maintenance. Add that to the worry about one’s money lasting until one’s death and nothing gets done. We got out of there when we realized the whole area was becoming a slum as almost every property had signs of deferred maintenance if you looked close enough. Lot of slum landlords, too.

  • Single source, Candy? Tisk, tisk.

  • Another tapestry of intricately woven untruths.
    It’s NOT just the Towers who oppose the City Plans. It’s Royal Arms, Gaslight, Imperial House, Averill Devol snd many other complexes as well as Hundreds
    of Preston Hollow Homeowners just north of the Pink
    Wall. You could see at least a 100 opponents today
    at the City Planning Commission Meeting loudly
    expressing our WIDESPREAD opposition to Jennifer
    Gates’/City Zoning Recommendation. Laura Miller
    has compassion & consideration for ALL
    constituents of District 13, including PD-15 /
    Pink Wall and Preston Hollow neighbors. Jennifer Gates
    on the other hand has one thing on her mind…DEVELOPERS! As in, her dad and husband are BIG TIME! If it quacks like a duck & walks like a duck….

  • well, billie, if you think you are so worse off than the average american indian, maybe you need to visit a reservation. any reservation. soaked in whiskey and despair. abused and ignored throughout history. as far as your frequently claimed “slum “, take a drive thru vickery or fair park, joppa, south dallas. your problem, billie, is not laura miller, but an attitude of presumption, entitlement and a typically short-sighted hoa.

  • We all have to take responsibility for HOA. Preston Place has to take responsibility for being under insured. Billie is not a victim here. All the residents that keep their property well maintained in PD 15 and surrounding area are being victimized you stories like this. The Developers are victimizing us by dangling money in front of HOA making them think they will make money by selling to them. When they think they are going to sell thhey do not keep properly maintained.Thus feeding into your narrative. There are many beautifully maintained properties with large reserves (all of which are not under contract contingent on Zoning) Your story is shameful . You are using these stories of to make untrue statement and further victimizing them after the developers have victimized them

  • This story illustrates how HOA was victimized by developers. They stopped maintaining their property when Developers dangled money in front of them contingent on Zoning. Preston Place has to take responsibility for being under insured. They have to take responsibility for being victimized by developers. The residents that maintain their property in the PD are the victims of Diplomat and Royal Orleans trying to up Zoning because they want to sell. The property I live in within the PD is beautifully maintained with large reserve. They will leave with their money and ruin our homes. Who is the victim here. Your story is praying on the people that were already scammed by developers. Shame on you Candys Dirt for trying to use this to prove a point

    • Your information is incorrect. Preston Place had a large reserve fund and our building and grounds were well maintained. It was not insured sufficiently and that issue is being addressed. Residents lost everything and one woman was killed in the fire. We are the victims. Terrible tragedy that continues to traumatize us because we can not move forward with our lives after over 2 years. Your unsympathetic uncaring attitude disgusts me!

      • mm

        We are so very sorry, that is why we here at CandysDirt.com are trying to tell the whole story. It breaks my heart when I hear people speak so callously about the victims of Preston Place. Let me tell you, you never know when your perfect life is going to change in one split second. I wish the residents in the towers would open up their hearts and minds and see how this well could have been them! Some of those HOA boards Behind the Pink Wall are the meanest I have ever seen, and I plan to draw back the curtains!

    • I agree that Diamondhead is a beautiful well maintained
      property, a stunning example of Mid-Century
      Architecture with its golden brise soleils, just like the
      gorgeous Royal Arms 200 ft from PD-15.
      . Why would anyone want to tear these architecturally significant Hal Anderson designs down ?You are absolutely correct that the developers came in made offers to the people here who then deferred their maintenance until the degradation accelerated and at that point the builders were able to offer them less money because their properties are falling apart. It’s a shameful scam.. These property owners are behaving naïvely, and they are trying to take down the rest of the area with them when many of us live in beautiful complexes that contain beautiful well-maintained homes, and trying to compare us to those few properties that have “let themselves go” for the mighty dollar bill. (This is of course with the exception of Preston Place where their only choice was to formulate a plan to sell their land).

  • Tragic! Laura Miller has a long history on turning her back on people needing help. All Billie wants is her property rights. She has no chance with Laura Miller around.

  • When I lived behind the Pink Wall in recent years, it was well known that the Royal Arms board met in secret, with meetings not open to the public. Residents told us how great the board was but these secret meetings no open to all residents is illegal under Texas Law. It appear to be well kept but when things are done in secret by a small board of 3 men, well that is bad business in my opinion.

  • Candy, once again you inspire me with your GRIT, boldness and ability to share fine and nuanced details of real estate happenings around Dallas. You knew they’d be some pushback on this story but by writing it, the rest of us who sometimes are all confused by how all of this works, gain new and insightful information.
    I love your site and your willingness to just GET AFTER IT! Our city leadership always feels like a debacle of some kind but it’s life and I’ve come to realize that great things are not built from fairytales.
    You make me proud!

  • I get so tired of hearing how Preston Place was under insured. Insurance is meant only help you recover from a loss. I doubt there Is anyone behind The Pink Wall, even after the fire that could be made whole again after another firer. After the Preston Place fire the Diamondhead HOA reviewed its. coverage and considers it adequate. But in the case of a total loss no insurance is ever complete. You also hope residence have insurance on the contents but money can never replace everything you loose with all of its memories. And most important of all we should never forget a life that was lost in the fire. We do owe it to Preston Place to help them re-build and recover some of what they lost.

  • Let’s address the Elephant in the Room. TUCA, Texas Uniform Condominium Act.

    TUCA enables an HOA Board to sell the property and dissolve the HOA regime. Any owner that fights one of these contingency sales will be forcibly removed from their home by sheriffs deputies. Furthermore, their titles will be transferred to a Power-of-Attorney. An owner is then forced into arbitration (plaintiffs court) because clauses in the contract prevent a jury of one’s peers to hear the case. All the while, the HOA Board can assess exorbitant fees on the opposing owner and force a foreclosure. This is in the mind of all the developers and they have no problem with “pushing the button”. They know their rights once the property is up-zoned.

    The developers should “grow a pair” and quietly buy out the residents one-by-one. They have plenty money with the REITs and corporate tax reduction (15% from 35%). What is wrong with over-paying for a property? The developers are playing a “divide and conquer game” with factions of HOA ownership, and they are likely doing side deal with the members of HOA Boards. The council person knows this and has to reconcile dirty dealing with their vote. This is disgusting and so un-American, I mean un-Texan!

    • Rex, you need to check current Texas condo law, 100 percent of the owners have to agree to the sale before the property can be sold and the HOA dissolved no matter what the bi-laws state.

      • Linda, if you were right I would agree with you. TUCA was enacted for the very simple reason to turn/move real estate. It’s now almost 20 years old. Although, I don’t know if it’s been challenged in the Texas Supreme Court. Bottom line is we are squeezing out the Middle Class in Dallas. See this D Magazine article about foreign money, multi family and the JLL VP from Germany. Grrr!

  • Why is it never printed that the Preston Place folks were offered, soon after the fire, $250k or their $150k homes? I understand that they are holding our for $350k.

    • mm

      We don’t know if that is true, and most of these offers require a confidentiality statement. And do not forget that what homes sell for is usually more than DCAD values (though they are catching up). We actually are working on that number…

    • Thank you Dial for pointing out this IMPORTANT Fact!!

      • Perhaps it was never printed, because its not a fact. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind sharing your source for this information. If you’d like to offer $250K for my Preston Place unit, I’m all ears.

    • Dial’s comment is right on. Here’s a real fact that is never mentioned: both the Athena and Preston Towers are full of older residents, many women, who just want to protect their retirement savings and property values by seeing reasonable development in the area, not the traffic-choking mess proposed by Jennifer Gates. The elderly in these towers have a right to their retirement savings without losing the value of their homes so late in life.

      The people of Preston Place have been through hell, yes, and so have the others mentioned in Candy’s article. But the folks in the towers aren’t sitting pretty. Has anyone heard that Preston Place residents care about the good of ALL area residents in this redevelopment? If there had been a spirit of doing what’s best for ALL, we’d probably have an agreed-upon plan by now.

      • mm

        If the goal is to raise the value of surrounding real estate in PD-15 and the Pink Wall, then quality needs to be focused on more than quantity. You have no idea what the traffic situation will be. “Traffic choking mess” is hyperbole. The traffic study will provide better answers than your unprofessional opinion. But if it’s not a “traffic choking mess” I predict you will call it a lie.
        .
        Having sat through all of the meetings for the past two years, I can tell you that I had strong hope that a solution could be found that satisfied most. It’s because of the towers’ choice from Day 1 to fight everything rather than negotiate in good faith that we’re where we are now. And don’t be fooled, most residents have no idea what the reality is except the vitriol and lies broadcast non-stop from their leadership.

      • The other four properties in PD15 are full of older residents too. One group should not be allowed to “protect their property values” at the expense of denying another group’s inherent right to do the same. Preston Place has been at the negotiating table for the past two years with its own ideas and a willingness to listen and work in good faith on other ideas. ‘NO to everything’ isn’t an idea. Its a child before bedtime.

  • Thank you for this well written article that shines on the issue and definitely will be interesting to see who becomes the council woman.

  • Candy.. My sweet friend Karin Cole lived there and her’s burned down,, Lost everything! All her precious possessions.. She passed away On April 1st.. today was her service and Seeing this made me think of so many conversations we had about the Fire.. several friends lost their homes that Mayo and I knew. SAD..

  • I don’t want anyone from Highland Park on our City Council until they build low-come apartments and housing in their neighborhood.

    • mm

      Who is running for City Council from Highland Park? Both Laura Miller and Jennifer Staubach Gates live in Dallas, Miller in Preston Hollow, gates off Strait Lane. Dallas has residency requirements for those who run for public office. (I ran in 2017.) Lynn McBee is running for MAYOR of Dallas, but she and her husband moved into downtown Dallas before she filed to run. her Highland Park home is currently on the markethttps://candysdirt.com/2018/12/13/dallas-mayoral-candidate-lynn-mcbees-highland-park-home-hits-the-market-4-250/

  • BW, Candy & Jon,

    Ditto!!!!