$1.5 million asking price makes renovation unlikely; area’s residential zoning prohibits commercial use
One of the oldest, largest houses remaining in Oak Lawn one that many gay men will remember from an infamous 1970s-era cruise route may soon be razed to make way for new development.
The two-story house near the intersection of Hood and Brown streets was recently sold to an investment company that has listed it for sale at $1.5 million. Many gay men and lesbians have called the former mansion, which was carved up into apartments in the late 1940s, home during the past three decades.
Once surrounded by smaller prairie-style bungalows and apartment buildings, it was a focal point on the cruise route, where cars and pedestrians wandered the streets at all hours at night. Now, the house sits across the street from an upscale high-rise, a location sure to assign it to oblivion.
Harvey McLean, president of Harvey McLean and Associates, said the land’s market value makes it unlikely anyone will buy the home with the intention of renovating it as a residence. A few people, who have expressed interest in paying the price, balk at the work that would be involved in restoring it, he said.
“They go over and look at it and say, “‘this is far more of job than I want to tackle,’” said McLean, whose agency specializes in architecturally significant real estate. “I would like nothing better than to sell it to someone who would restore it.”
The house cannot be restored as a business, such as a bed-and-breakfast or as a professional office building, because the neighborhood is zoned residential.
McLean said he is uncertain of the structure’s age, but he is sure that it pre-dates most older buildings in Oak Lawn.
“It’s been redone so many times that it is hard to tell how old it is,” McLean said. “There are some things about the renovations that are wonderful, but there are some things that are really kind of hokey.”
Sharon Boyd, publisher of dallasarena.com, said she once lived on Hood Street in an apartment near the old house and became friends with the woman who owned it and lived in the downstairs unit. The woman’s husband converted the second-floor to apartments because he wanted her to have an income after his approaching death from leukemia, she said.
“The house not only paid for itself, but it was her revenue,” Boyd said. “There was enough money from the house all of those years to let her live there and pay all of her bills.”
Boyd said the woman, who was in her 90s in the 1970s, was much more savvy than her tenants suspected.
“She knew everyone was gay,” Boyd said. “She referred to them as the boys.”
The woman’s son who inherited the house recently sold it and moved to an apartment after living there for many years. After returning from living out-of-state, he lived with his mother before she died.
Boyd said she was surprised to learn the house was on the market and sad to hear that it might be torn down. It reminds her of a time when the area was bohemian and intriguing with many interesting people living in the apartments and bungalows, she said.
“There were a bunch of hippy-type people living there,” Boyd said. “At one time two of the houses were occupied by caterers who cooked out of the kitchens.”
Boyd said when she first moved into the area in 1976, she was perplexed by all of the traffic during the nighttime hours, not understanding that she had moved to an apartment on the cruise route. About two years later, she and other straight and gay residents petitioned the city to install the no-turn signs that still stand on the corners in the area that put an end to the cruising.
“After a couple of years, it just got to be unbearable for everybody in the neighborhood,” Boyd said. “It wasn’t anti-gay. It was a traffic disaster.”
Boyd said that even though she remembers the old house and its occupants so fondly, she understands neighborhoods change. She now lives in Northwest Dallas, and she calls her feelings about the area’s development “bittersweet.”
“People have a right to make their communities look the way they want,” Boyd said. “Those of us who left Oak Lawn, whether we like it or not, people who are buying in now it’s theirs, not ours.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 14, 2006.