Historic Preservation: Saving the Past For the Future
SMU Mustang, Winter, 1987
Another historic Dallas area, the Munger Place neighborhood, had suffered severe deterioration since its development during the early 1900s. Unlike the substantial brick structures on Swiss Avenue, Munger Place homes are almost uniformly frame structures. Most of the houses had been carved up into apartments when East Dallas was re-zoned multi-family after World War II. They were owned by absentee landlords with little commitment to the neighborhood.
“It had declined to the point,” explains Douglas Newby (’74), “that a home built in 1907 at a cost of $10,500 sold for $7,500 in 1977. In that kind of atmosphere, it’s almost impossible to stimulate re-investment in an area.”
A native of Hinsdale, Illinois, Newby was determined to make Dallas his home and bought one of these deteriorating Prairie-style houses. At the time he was working on a graduate degree in public administration at SMU. His graduate project was a plan to revitalize East Dallas.
Many landlords were allowing their property to deteriorate. They charged low rents with the hope that eventually a large developer would buy them out and bulldoze everything. Newby foresaw a different fate for the area. His project, entitled, “Economic Proposal to Promote Reverse Migration and to Revitalize an Inner City Neighborhood,” became a blueprint for the rebirth of Old East Dallas.
The strategy called for rezoning a large area from multi-family to single-family – a controversial proposal, to say the least. The arguments against it were numerous. It was alleged that the action would take away property rights: current renters would have to be relocated; it conflicted with the City Planning Department’s land-use plan; mixed use zoning was in vogue among preservation groups and planning commissions; retail business owners preferred the higher density; and it was virtually unheard of to re-zone to a category of less density.
Newby persisted. He and Bob Logan, a neighborhood apartment owner, canvassed the area, preaching the gospel of single-family zoning. As with any land-use issue, the fight quickly got political. The Planning Commission and the mayor pro tem opposed the idea. Eventually, with petitions signed by 1,200 property owners and the endorsement of national and local lenders, Newby and his group won the support of then-mayor Bob Folsom (’50), and Old East Dallas was re-zoned single-family.
That was only the beginning. Banks were still reluctant to put money into the area. Its 100 blocks housed 25 percent of the city’s beer bars but only 5 percent of the population. Logan and Newby had a solution – an innovative ordinance that eventually shut down most of the honky-tonks. With their demise, the crime rate started to fall, encouraging an influx of “urban pioneers.” For the first time in half a century, hammers and saws could be heard. The neighborhood began to change.
Newby opened a real estate office that deals exclusively in restoration properties. His company, Douglas Newby & Associates, established the Restoration House of the Year Award.