Run-down complex transformed
Many hope complex will spark `renovation fever'
the dallas morning news
Charles Ornstein Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
Dallas city officials said it couldn't be done. Area banks called it a risky proposition.
Even Braden Power's neighbors in Old East Dallas said he had little chance of renovating the dilapidated
Lakewood Apartments on Gaston Avenue. But this week, when the first new tenants move into the 45 unit
complex, Mr. Power's vision for the apartments will finally be realized.
"Everyone was about to turn their back on the building and see it demolished," the 27yearold
developer said. "Instead, look what's happened: The city has a new tax base, and the neighborhood has a rehabbed complex instead of another empty, trashed out lot on this street."
Once home to raw sewage, exposed electrical outlets, roaches and falling ceilings, 6011 Gaston the complex's new name greets visitors with fireshooting fountains, 18 foot living room ceilings and jazz music
piped in from speakers in the trees.
Mr. Power said he and his brother, Craig, purchased the rundown building last fall for about $50,000 and
have invested more than $1.5 million in renovations.
All of the small two and three bedroom apartments were converted into spacious one bedroom
lofts, Mr. Power said. Rents for the units range from $750 to $1,100 a month, and half have already been leased.
"We've taken the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood and are doing something positive with it," he said.
"This is the best thing that's happened in this neighborhood in the last 20 years."
Neighbors and city officials said they were pleasantly surprised by the renovation. But they said there are
many more apartment buildings in need of work on Gaston.
"It's an encouraging sign," said Dallas City Council member Craig McDaniel, who lives a block away from the complex. "But it's only the very, very beginning of what needs to happen. We've got buildings like this all the way from Lakewood to Baylor hospital. So we still have a long way to go."
The apartment renovation is the largest undertaking for Mr. Power, who has worked on 10 other buildings in East Dallas. But similar to the other projects, every detail from the slate covered fireplaces in some apartments to the 20 foot palm trees by the complex entrance required his approval.
"I have been over here seven days a week for the last year watching absolutely everything," he said. "I've lost sleep over the types of blinds I'm putting up. I've lost sleep over the type of finish I want to do on my railings.
"Most developers don't spend so much time. But I wanted to be able to show to everyone that it can be done."
Some neighbors said the complex, with its colorful international Mediterranean architectural style, does not quite fit in with the other buildings along the street. A core of residents has been trying for the past two years to push development and architectural standards for the corridor to ensure uniformity and stability.
"There is a perception from the owners of the existing structures that they don't want buildings of a scale or style that are very inconsistent with the properties that are there now," said Tom Moore, zoning committee chairman of the Old East Dallas Renaissance Coalition.
"This could cause a loss of property values and discourage other developers from coming in."
Still, Mr. Moore and other neighborhood leaders said 6011 Gaston shows developers that it is possible to
renovate buildings that are 30 to 40 years old. It also proves that lenders are willing to offer assistance to
those with solid plans, they said. Mr. Power was able to obtain a loan from Texas Commerce Bank after
several other banks balked at the request.
"I think it will add a little fire, a little spark for people to upgrade their properties and maintain them," said Johnny Spacek, chairman of the Historic Gaston Avenue Property Owners Association.
"You see that in other parts of the city, too. Someone comes in and fixes up a piece of property, whether it's residential or commercial, and that has a snowball effect. A lot of people are watching what Mr. Power is doing to see what the outcome is."
Mr. Power said 6011 Gaston is an ideal site for an upscale apartment building because it is within walking
distance of the Lakewood Shopping Center and is surrounded by large, historic houses on Swiss Avenue. It
has been particularly appealing to newcomers to the city who want to live near downtown.
"The fact that in the course of an afternoon I almost leased half of the units, to me, is pretty impressive," he said. "People love this area. Where else can you be so close to such an incredibly beautiful historic
neighborhood surrounded by singlefamily structures and so close to downtown? There's nowhere else."
Charles Graham, a housing expert at Texas A&M University, said he expects the historic area to be a big
draw for other developers as well. The key, he said, is that the property can be acquired at a reasonable rate.
"A lot of people that work downtown would like to live nearby and to be in an area that has the historical
linkages and somewhat of a tie with the past," said Mr. Graham, an associate professor of construction
"I suspect that if he's successful and it sounds like he's already well on the way then this phenomenon that
we refer to as `renovation fever' will take over."
While housing officials and former tenants of the Lakewood Apartments were concerned last fall that they
would be left homeless by the transition of the complex, social service officials said they have all found new
homes. Dorothy Masterson, executive director of the Housing Crisis Center, said the families are better off
today because of the move.
"From their standpoint, it was a better solution," she said. "They couldn't stay there. It had gone too far."
Ms. Masterson said she is worried that future projects along Gaston may displace low income families living in suitable conditions, as other projects downtown have done.
"You want to have a vital downtown and people living downtown, but it's a shame you can't have all people,"
she said. "The philosophy has been: Just get rid of them to find room for others."
Mr. Power said that, while he is considering the purchase of other properties on the street, he does not intend to destroy the diversity in the neighborhood.
"It's an intercity neighborhood, and there are different types of people," he said. "That's what makes it
The Dallas Morning News: Lea Tauriello) 1. Braden (left) and Craig Power have turned the
Lakewood Apartments on Gaston Avenue into higherend
lofts. They expect their first tenants this
week. 2&3. Above: Children play at the Lakewood Apartments on Gaston Avenue last year. Right: The
dilapidated units are now stylish lofts.
Copyright 1996 The Dallas Morning News Company