9. Kovandovitch Concrete House - 523 Eads c.1914
At the edge of "The Bottom" neighborhood, near Townview Center and the Trinity River, and visible from the I-35 Horseshoe construction site, sits a 100-year old concrete ruin and Dallas Landmark. This Villa with Greek and Italian architectural details was designed and built in 1914 by a Czech immigrant, Joseph Kovandovitch who arrived in the U.S. when he was fifteen. He chose the bluff overlooking downtown long before 1959 construction of R.L. Thornton Freeway, because it allowed views of the growing Dallas skyline. The site was also located near stops for the Dallas Consolidated Street Railway and a suburban line of the Southern Traction Company, providing Kovandovitch with commuting opportunities to a downtown café he owned and operated.
This was the second concrete home built by and lived in by Mr. Kovandovitch and his family. Self-educated and intrigued with cast-in-place concrete construction, he built the first solid-concrete house in Dallas. The prototype structure on Ross Avenue, between Field and Akard, was a 2-story addition to a frame house; said to have been inspired by buildings of Pompeii. Kovandovitch began construction in 1907 with concrete purchased from the brand new Southwestern States Portland Cement Company in West Dallas. The front of the house was partly demolished in 1930 for the widening of Ross, and completely demolished in 1972.
The 3,045 square foot Eads structure cost $1,000, according to permit records, and was an improved version of the Ross prototype, with coal cinders and wood chips in the concrete mix for better insulating properties. His son Joe remembered the house as cool in the summer, warm in the winter. The whole family assisted the construction with a pulley system to raise buckets of concrete into forms. A sloped concrete roof was designed to allow water to stream down the sides of the house, providing a unique cooling system, yet the full system was never completed. Unusual design features include a mix of Ionic and Doric columns and a cast concrete cupid frieze capping the east entry and across tops of large windows on the north and south elevations. The family lived in the Eads house only a few years before selling the property and moving back to the Ross Avenue house to be closer to his Eagle Café at Pacific and Akard.
E. L. Ozment purchased the house in 1920 for $4,500. He lived in the house with no electricity or running water as the house deteriorated. In 1948, the house was used as a multifamily dwelling and again gradually fell into disrepair. Abandoned for years, the relic was home to vagrants and squatters for many years.
An August 1977 issue of D Magazine featured a story by writer Joe Holley titled “LANDMARKS THAT SHOULD BE SAVED…but can anybody afford to? Dallas resident, Joe Kovandovitch, Jr., was interviewed and shared information about the house and his father, stating: "He was quite a man. He was 6’2" and weighed about 280." Mr. Holley wrote: “Now the house stands vacant except for the derelicts who hang out their wash on its colonnade and scurry away when anyone approaches. The interior is light and airy and has a fine view of the Dallas skyline. It would be perfect as an artist’s studio.”
The property was under contract in 1983 by local architect, Jess Epps, Jr. who had hopes of fulfilling a long time dream of converting the concrete house into his studio. A few months later, before closing and beginning work, a fire destroyed most of the original wood windows and doors, as well as the interior. The concrete structure and most of its exterior features survived. Mr. Epps completed the contract and is credited for helping save the house from demolition by the City of Dallas. In 1987 the City began proceedings to have the house classified an “urban nuisance.” The preservation community aided Epps in pursuing historic designation. Ruth Chenoweth wrote a letter on behalf of OOCCL to the Urban Rehab Standards Board, urging them to support preservation efforts. The house was declared a Dallas Historic Landmark by Dallas City Council in 1988.
Even with designation, the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Services razed the concrete garage on the property, approved by the Landmark Commission.
Architect Duncan Fulton of Good, Fulton & Farrell wrote an article about the Kovandavitch House for Texas Architect in 1989, stating: “The many ironies of the Concrete House are striking. Adjacent to a major freeway, it remains a little-known city treasure… A portion of its prototype was razed by city officials, who have now done the same to the house’s garage. It went from a potential urban nuisance to a Dallas Historic Landmark in a matter of months. It burned.. Jess Epp’s dreams, however, still exist. If they are realized, perhaps the final irony of the Concrete House will be the continued enrichment of the city that sought its destruction.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Epps was not able to realize the dream and the house remained a relic.
The City again tried to order demolition in 1994. A letter from the Texas Historical Commission concurred that the building was ELIGIBLE for the National Register of Historic Places for its significance as and early innovative example of poured-in-place concrete construction.
In 1996, the City amended zoning for the 9,500 square feet of land from RR Regional Retail District to an MU-1 Mixed Use District, which gives more viability to the property. Today, the structure is boarded and secure. It was recently tagged with graffiti again. Lack of development in the Bottom Neighborhood may partly contribute to its current existence.
DCAD records list the property owner as Skyview Development LLC, and is valued at $98,480.
The current owner’s plans or knowledge of the Landmark status and importance of the structure is unknown. CityDesign Studio and investors have been studying The Bottom and nearby Tenth Street Historic District for economic improvement and neighborhood connections, in conjunction with the Mayor’s GrowSouth initiative and the Trinity Corridor. Future development plans for area should include the Landmarked Joe Kovandovitch Concrete House, perhaps as a tool for education about the sustainability of concrete construction.
Unfortunately, just before the release of this article, the structure was tagged with graffiti.
Special thanks to John Slate for allowing a visit to the City of Dallas Archives.
Dallas Public Library Archives
LANDMARKS THAT SHOULD BE SAVED
... but can anybody afford to?
BY JOE HOLLEY FROM D MAGAZINE AUGUST 1977