Growth

Fort Worth's Samuels Avenue is booming, but how much of its past is worth saving?

Samuels Avenue: "It's not your normal apartment environment."

Historic Fort Worth Inc. wants to preserve a handful of homes in danger of being mowed down for multiple family homes in what is becoming one of the city's hottest neighborhood.
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Historic Fort Worth Inc. wants to preserve a handful of homes in danger of being mowed down for multiple family homes in what is becoming one of the city's hottest neighborhood.

On a street booming with apartment construction, Mitchell Bailey's two-story house is an increasingly rare symbol of what life used to be like in one of Fort Worth's oldest neighborhoods.

The street is Samuels Avenue, a short walk northeast of downtown Fort Worth. Bailey is the proud new owner of a very old home — a 1903 Dutch colonial revival structure known by local historians as the Talbott-Wall House.

At a time when commercial developers are gobbling up property near downtown to build modern multifamily complexes, Bailey's house is one of just a handful in the Samuels Avenue neighborhood that are being preserved. And members of an organization known as Historic Fort Worth Inc. are warning that many older houses that add to the neighborhood's character are in danger of being razed in the name of progress.

"I just like a house that hasn't been altered at all. This house has still got the old door pulls and window pulls and hinges," said Bailey, a former Illinois resident who bought the home weeks ago to move closer to his sister, who lives in Colleyville.

With the help of Historic Fort Worth Inc., a charitable organization, the Talbott-Wall house last year was moved two blocks from its former location to a vacant lot at 1102 Samuels Ave., to make way for a 340-unit upscale apartment complex. Historic Fort Worth then put the property up for sale, and Bailey found it in a listing online.

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Samuels Avenue extends from downtown to the city's North Side, winding just a bit along a bluff overlooking the Trinity River. The abandoned LaGrave Field is in full view across the river, and it's not hard to imagine a time when residents of Samuels Avenue could look across the river and watch baseball games from their yards.

After more than a decade of talk about the potential of Samuels Avenue to become the city's next hot neighborhood, change is now coming quickly. A TownePlace Suites by Marriott hotel and a handful of upscale apartment complexes — including Trinity Urban Apartments and Lincoln Park at Trinity Bluff — are already open just north of Belknap Street.

Just a few hundred feet up the road, construction of another 340-unit complex is underway by San Antonio-based Embrey Partners.

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Embrey Partners is preserving the Garvey Residence, a Victorian home and a Texas landmark, as part of its construction of a 10-acre, 353-unit apartment community on Fort Worth's Samuels Avenue, as shown Monday, February 26, 2018. Joyce Marshall

It's an exciting, walkable neighborhood with easy access to highways for motorists, and proximity to downtown's Sundance Square for pedestrians, cyclists and those inclined to ride a bus.

But the hub-bub of activity is raising some concerns among historians, who would like to see more effort to preserve some of the century-old homes that appear to be in the way of progress.

The neighborhood has no historic overlay, so homes with historic value could be destroyed without anyone in city government intervening, said Jerre Tracy, Historic Fort Worth executive director.

"Things you think are saved, they are so vulnerable because of rising property values," Tracy said during a recent morning walk along Samuels Avenue. "How we keep that balance of old and new is what keeps Fort Worth unique."

Historic Fort Worth has identified several houses on Samuels Avenue that are in danger of being demolished to make way for progress.

One of the proper ties is the Reiley-Lehane House, a folk Victorian structure that is privately owned and for sale. The house at 823 Samuels Ave. is surrounded by apartment construction.

The owners are John and Debra Shiflet, who have lived there since 1989 but have been trying to sell the house off and on for about 10 years.

John Shiflet says the city's design standards are encouraging too much construction of three- and four-story apartment buildings along Samuels Avenue.

"The powers that be in the city have decided this neighborhood will become a neighborhood of apartments in the near future, although I suppose a few houses will be retained," Shiflet said.

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Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth Inc., points out a handful of homes on Samuels Avenue that are in danger of being mowed down in the name of progress and in her opinion need to be preserved on Monday, February 26, 2018. Joyce Marshall

Although the Embrey Partners apartment development essentially surrounds his property (and that of one other neighbor with a small house), Shiflet said he has never been approached by those builders about selling his land. He is asking about $600,000 for the property, which he says is comparable to the $27 to $40 per square foot that other sellers in the area have received for their land.

He suspects his small home will eventually be torn down to make room for more modern apartments.

The street once featured rows of Victorian-style homes built in the 1800s and early 1900s. The houses were owned by physicians, business owners and workers at the nearby Stockyards.

Redevelopment around Samuels Avenue and Bluff Street, one of Fort Worth's oldest neighborhoods, began more than a decade ago. At that time, developers acquired property, razed dilapidated structures and built hundreds of apartments, a hotel and condominiums.

The area is now often referred to as Trinity Bluff. Development initially was brisk, until the recession hit and projects were put on hold. Now, it appears the momentum to develop the neighborhood has regained its form.

A few years ago, real estate investors Tom Struhs and Rudy Renda sold a five-acre tract behind the Garvey house to Embrey. Their company, Trinity Bluff Development, had sparked redevelopment along the river bluff and Samuels Avenue more than a decade ago.

Embrey representatives have said they intend to renovate the Garvey House and use it as a leasing office. Embrey also helped Historic Fort Worth Inc. preserve the Talbott-Wall House, which was moved off Embrey's property to its new home two blocks away.

Embrey financed the land purchases and construction with a $44 million note with Frost Bank, deed records show.

Tracy says Embrey "has gone above and beyond what most developers would do" to help preserve some of the old houses in the neighborhood.

Ultimately, city leaders are optimistic the Samuels Avenue neighborhood will have the right mix of old and new structures.

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, whose district includes the neighborhood, said city officials considered placing a historic overlay on the neighborhood many years ago (before her time in public office) but a majority of property owners in the area didn't want it. A historic overlay would have required real estate owners to get special approval before altering or demolishing their properties.

Zadeh says she likes the mix of properties, which can appeal to a cross section of residents of various backgrounds and incomes.

"It is evolving, and during the evolution there are some growing pains. Especially while construction is going on, living there can be difficult," Zadeh said. "But once it is settled, it will be an interesting, eclectic place."

But some area residents lament the modernization of the area. Among them is Jim Byrd, who since 1983 has lived in a 112-year-old house with high ceilings. The commercial photographer frequently walks his dog Curly to the nearby Traders Oak Park, where a tree that pre-dates Texas statehood provides an enormous canopy of shade.

We're still close to our history," he said.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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