The ailing Alexander Mansion is finally getting a roof, but owners still need to raise millions of dollars more to save the historic Ross Avenue survivor.
In a cover story that ran last month, the Dallas Observer documented the plight of the deteriorating 12,500-square-foot mansion. Since 1930, it’s been the headquarters of the Dallas Woman’s Forum. The only other surviving remnant of Ross Ave.’s Silk Stocking Row is the Belo Mansion, which does not face the same financial struggles.
When it rains, water seeps through the cracks and holes in the Alexander Mansion's dilapidated roof. After a bad storm, leakage drips down three stories of walls. Upstairs, just above the crown molding, water damage has stripped three layers of wallpaper down to the floral pattern accused murderer and arsonist C.H. Alexander picked out when he built the house in 1904.
It’s in bad shape and has been for years. Tucked in the back corner of the house, a dilapidated stairway is roped off by a handwritten sign: “Dangerous! Do Not Enter!” In the 1910s and 1920s, servants tread up and down the staircase from the butler’s pantry to their living quarters upstairs. Now its walls bulge with pockets that fill with water when it rains. It’s sinking into the basement and on the verge of collapse.
The Woman's Forum's situation is unusual from a preservation standpoint — "a nonprofit that can’t afford to make needed repairs to the historic building it lives at,” says Mark Doty, the historic preservation officer for the city of Dallas.
The cost to replace the roof is almost $200,000. The nonprofit hosts fundraising events several times a year, but most yield about $5,000 at a time.
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Siplast, a roofing manufacturer, donated materials for reconstruction, but the group couldn’t afford the labor costs. But when the Observer’s story came out, Catherine Awtrey, president and owner of Texas Roof Management, asked to tour the house. Then she offered to comp labor costs and donate profits.
"When we got started on the roof last week, you could hear me yelling,” says architect Holly Hall, grounds chair of the Dallas Woman’s Forum. The group has been trying to replace the roof for years. Hall didn’t know about the house until five years ago when the forum brought her in as a consultant. She was so troubled by its deteriorating condition that she joined the organization.
After the roof is fixed, the group needs to raise at least another $2 million to restore the building’s crumbling exterior, which has stood untouched for most of the mansion’s 113 years. When that’s done, it’ll need another $1 million for a new foundation.
The preservationists can't be more than cautiously optimistic. “It’s about to rain,” Hall says, “and it’s freaking me out.”