Historic Dillow House in East Fort Worth destroyed by fire

Posted Monday, Sep. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A two-alarm fire early Monday destroyed a 101-year-old house on East Rosedale Street that has been the focus of legal dispute between Texas Wesleyan University, which wanted to tear it down, and Historic Fort Worth, which wanted it saved.

That may be moot now that the two-story Dillow House at 3216 E. Rosedale St. is a total loss and structurally unsound, said Art Brender, the attorney representing Historic Fort Worth in the suit against Wesleyan.

Brender said he would wait for the fire department’s report before asking the Historic Fort Worth board if they want to pursue the suit.

At issue is a process that allowed the city of Fort Worth to bypass preservation procedures designed to prevent the demolition of historic structures.

“We won’t pursue it if it’s a total loss,” Brender said. “We’re not going to force the issue, but the issue remains.”

Jerre Tracy, Historic Fort Worth’s executive director, said her heart sank when she saw the Dillow House Monday morning.

“I felt really sad for everyone involved,” Tracy said.

Firefighters responded at 12:33 a.m. to a 911 call that reported “smoke in the area,” and arrived to find heavy smoke pouring out of the vacant house, the fire department reported.

Firefighters could approach the blaze only from outside the building. Additional firefighters were called about 1 a.m.

No injuries were reported.

“Heavy fire, heat, smoke and water damage was noted to the entire structure,” the fire department said in a news release Monday afternoon. “The collapse potential of the building is being evaluated pending further action.”

Engineer Tim Hardeman, a fire department spokesman, said the Dillow House appeared to be a “total loss.”

The cause of the fire had not been determined by Monday evening. Brender said he believed electricity to the building had been shut off.

The longer historic properties sit vacant, the risk for something damaging such as fire increases, Tracy said.

“Vagrants are always attracted to empty buildings,” she said. “Fires happen. It’s always an issue.”

History of Dillow House

Samuel Dillow, a grocer and banker, built the 3,500-square-foot prairie-style house in 1912 near the corner of East Rosedale Street and Vaughn Boulevard. He lived there until his death in 1931. His daughter, a Texas Wesleyan graduate, donated the house to the university in 1979 but lived there until her death in 1982.

The university sought and received historic designation for the house in 1990. Wesleyan used the house as its alumni headquarters and a meeting place until 2007. It has been vacant since and had deteriorated after being damaged by two previous fires and vandalism.

The university is developing a new office building for the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church on its campus and wants to use the Dillow House property. Wesleyan officials said the damaged house was valued at about $11,500 and renovations could cost more than $800,000.

University officials went to the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission seeking permission to demolish the house, which the commission denied. Commissioners said the school did not show that the property had lost its historic significance or that the school would suffer an economic hardship renovating the house.

Wesleyan then filed to have the case heard before the Appeals Board last November, but changed its strategy and asked the Zoning Commission to remove the historic designation.

In January, the Zoning Commission gave its approval, and the City Council subsequently also approved removing the historic designation.

In February, Historic Fort Worth sued in state district court in Tarrant County seeking to bar Wesleyan from tearing down the house. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 4.

John Veilleux, a university vice president and spokesman, said school security officers reported the fire.

“When we first found out about the fire, our concern was for the safety of the firefighters battling the blaze and the surrounding neighborhood,” Veilleux said. “It’s destroyed. No one wanted to see the house burn down.”

Three years ago, fire destroyed the long-vacant L-shaped shed used decades ago as farmers’ stalls behind the more visible 83-year-old Fort Worth Public Market on Henderson Street. The property was listed as a Texas historic landmark in 1980, and in 2008, Historic Fort Worth placed it on its most endangered properties list.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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