Dallas preservationists race to save remains of Turtle Creek mid-century complex
An enterprising team is racing against time to salvage worthwhile pieces of a Dallas residential complex about to be razed.
Located at 2525 Turtle Creek Blvd., Turtle Creek Gardens was a 108-unit condominium complex built in 1961, sitting on 4.5 acres near Fairmount Street. As a listing by Cushman & Wakefield notes, it’s one of the only remaining parcels of its size.
“The current low-density condominiums no longer constitute the property’s highest and best use, as there has been an unprecedented surge in demand for high-density in the area,” their listing says.
Originally built as apartments, the building transitioned to condominiums in 1973. Units measured 780 to 1,400 square feet and went for $125K and $200K — the rare middle-class oasis on the same street as luxury properties such as the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek.
In 2018, the condominium’s HOA put the property on the market, and in early 2022 sold to Houston-based Hanover Co., who have begun demolition. There are plans for two high-rise residential buildings to go into the space.
Nick Hamblen and his husband lived there for five years until August 2022, when there was an exodus to meet the mid-September move-out deadline.
“We were there for five years and we always felt like the luckiest guys in the world,” Hamblen says. “The location is incredible and we had a terrace with views of the city. Turtle Creek Gardens had a gayness to her grandness - we used to say we were like Mrs Madrigal in Tales of the City. The building had an urban feeling that was just right. It wasn’t that people were unfriendly - they just didn’t go out of their way to speak to you. And yet everyone was nearby.”
A graceful terrace at 2525 Turtle Creek in its heyday.Nick Hamblen
A few residents were holdouts who’d lived in the building since the mid-70s, says Bob Roderick, who moved there in 1999.
“In the early days, it was a hot place for young people - it had a Melrose Place thing going on, with lots of parties,” he says. “The residents were always a diverse group in age and race, and that was something to treasure. It had a sense of community, and I made many longtime friends there.”
The building wasn’t architecturally significant beyond its longevity.
“It originally had a New Orleans flavor with wooden shutters and old gas lighting with real gas, but those disappeared over the years,” Roderick says.
Salvage team to the rescue
But the building still had features that caught the eye of Jonathan Hill, a salvage champion who persuaded the demo company to let him retrieve what he could.
“I’ve always had a passion for saving used stuff like this,” Hill says. “And this building is kind of special, it has some stuff that will never be made again. If I could, I’d have 15 guys going through day and night, but we’re just doing it bit by bit and taking what we can.”
Hill works nights as a bartender at a bar on Oak Lawn, and his boss has been a generous contributor. “He loaned me money so I could pay some guys to help me, it’s a labor of love,” Hill says.
Mid-century modern breezeway blocks are in hot demand.Orr-Reed
To find a market for the items, Hill is working with Orr-Reed Architectural Co., the popular salvage company south of downtown Dallas.
“Jonathan couldn’t stand stuff being thrown away, his entire business model is to save things - but he needed a place where it could be sold,” says Orr-Reed owner Hannah Hargrove. “I did not want to see this stuff trashed - so we are working together to find these things new homes. Now we have all this incredible stuff.”
At any other time, Orr-Reed might not have had room to accommodate this windfall, but they’d already cleared space to house the vintage Dallas streetcar once tucked inside the Spaghetti Warehouse in Dallas' West End, which has been adopted by the Junius Heights Historic District where it will one day reside.
“Thankfully, we aren’t supposed to be getting the Junius Heights Historic District trolley until the end of November, so the space we emptied out for its temporary home has been very useful to store the 10-plus truck loads we have already received,” Hargrove says.
The Turtle Creek cache includes Orr-Reed standbys like hardwood flooring, but also curvy iron columns, embellished gates, graceful S-shaped iron window coverings, patio furniture, high-end planters, and doors.
Some is consumer-friendly such as the ornately carved dresser with circular ring handles and marble top that Hargrove says would make an excellent sink vanity; or the brass floor lamps with frosted shades made by Frederick Cooper Chicago, with similar models going for $900 online, a mere $175 at Orr-Reed.
"Right now, we have over 50 of these beautiful big multi-panel all-wood exterior doors,” Hargrove says. "We are lucky if we get these twice a year."
A three-drawer dresser salvaged from 2525 Turtle Creek Blvd.Orr-Reed
The big fetish item has been the breezeway blocks: cool cinder blocks with cut-outs that, when stacked, form a cool peek-a-boo wall - a staple for many mid-century homes.
"This is something we have had to tell people weekly for the last 10-plus years that we don’t have," Hargrove says.
The blocks have already generated multiple inquiries including from restaurant designers such as Hatsumi Kuzuu and general contractors such as JM Construction Solutions. So you can look for them to appear at trendy new restaurants coming soon.
“We currently have a few hundred, with even more coming in next week,” Hargrove says. “This is a huge project, and it definitely will take a few weeks to get it all photographed and inventoried but we are up to the challenge and can’t wait to find these incredible items new homes.”