Gaston Avenue is presently a travesty of 1950s apartments running between the $800,000 houses on Swiss Avenue and $300,000 houses in Munger Place. With the necessary environmental changes, Gaston could become immensely attractive and desirable. Where else can a person rent a $400 to $600 apartment adjacent to a mansion and around the corner from the prettiest boulevard park in the city? A Gaston residence is only a short walk to Lakewood Shopping Center or Baylor Medical Center and is on a five-minute bus line to downtown. It is the most convenient location in Dallas for older citizens of modest means.
Obstacles to this redevelopment include multiple property owners, a negative public perception and disproportionately high crime. The city’s housing and police departments will need to implement programs to guarantee a minimum standard. The completion of new curbs and sidewalks, the extension of the antique street lights from Swiss Avenue to the Munger Place Historic District, and the restoration of Munger Boulevard will visually reclaim Gaston as part of the original Munger Brothers development. These improvements, along with the attention of the city departments, will give the property owners the confidence to spend $10,000 per unit to renovate their buildings. They could then attract responsible tenants – replacing the criminals and transients who are increasingly the tenant base.
This potential redevelopment is possible becausze of the strong support of City Councilman Craig Holcomb; the regional vice president of FNMA, Judy Dedmon; several city department heads; property owners on Gaston; the Swiss Homeowners Association, and many homeowners in the surrounding area.
This is not the first time in East Dallas that the impossible has been accomplished. Fifteen years ago, no section of the city was in as desparate need as Old East Dallas. It was declared to have the highest crim rate, disease rate, mortality rate, vacancy rate, demolition rate and fewest building permits in the city. Due to the innovative commitments of FNMA, the property owners, Lakewood Bank and the City of Dallas, this 100-block area was rezoned single family, beer licenses were prohibited, curbs and sidewalks were installed in Munger Place and loans were made available for restoration. Ten years later, the result has been a tax base that has increased by $100 million, generating more than $1 million to the city every year. The alternative would have been vacant lots and boarded-up buildings.
The first phase of revitalization included home restoration, new home construction and the restoration of antique apartments generating $500 to $1000 a month rent. The second phase of revitalization can accomplish this same increase in the tax base and generate another $1 million a year in taxes. It also would provide housing without a Disneyland or Village Apartment look.
This in-town housing would not ignore the evolution of the neighborhood, but would celebrate the nuances and diversity of the area. People desiring a Deep Ellum loft or those who enjoy the proximity to the homes on Swiss Avenue both would find great pleasure living on Gaston Avenue. We would do well to remember that these spacious, architecturally designed apartments were once among the most elegant apartments between New Orleans and Los Angeles.
Now is the time for the mayor and City Council to give their full supprt and judicious allotment of funds to complete the physical improvements that the area desparately needs. The city departments should target the area. The homeowner associations and property owners need to consolidate their resources to provide a better environment along Fitzhugh, the entrance to Gaston Avenue and their neighborhoods. FNMA needs to be given the encouragement to proceed with another lending program that will stimulate a massive redevelopment like the program which occurred 12 years ago.
Dallas is not often associated with older neighborhoods, but Old East Dallas has been one of the most successful revitalization projects in the country. Many $7,000 condemned homes are now $300,000 restored homes. A wonderful diversity of people live in the area. What made Dallas a great city was its ability to turn silk out of a sow’s ear. This is a chance for Dallas to recapture some of its early magic by creating a wonderful solution out of a nagging problem. Once again, we might have a waiting list for persons desiring to live in a large, stylish and secure apartment on Gaston. Dallas should proceed with this innovative and aesthetically pleasing way to provide in-town housing. It requires the least amount of expenditures and the greatest benefits for the city.