The storied Alexander Mansoon is in need of repairs. You can get a look inside during the Holiday Home Tours.
The Tiffany-style stained glass window is original to the 1904 home.
A historic look at the Alexander Mansion
The home still has many of its original features, like the hand-carved woodwork.
Tucked away in Old East Dallas, the last remaining relic of Ross Avenue’s gilded age is crumbling. While the other glitzy estates lining the street bowed to the ravages of time, the Alexander Mansion has stood its ground for 113 years.
It is truly one-of-a-kind, not only in the neighborhood, but in Dallas as a whole. Unlike the manses of Swiss Avenue, the home has kept much of its historic integrity – this is thanks to the fact that it hasn’t been lived in since 1930, when the Dallas Woman’s Forum purchased it for $65,000. The organization has largely left the property alone, creating a sort of time capsule.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of renovations has also left the mansion in dangerously delicate condition. Now, the current members of the forum are trying to turn back the clock – but the future of Dallas’ most historic home is uncertain.
“There’s a story that can be told about early Dallas through this house, and I think it’s important for that story to be told,” says Holly Hall, an architect and the grounds chair of the Dallas Woman’s Forum.
Business tycoon C.H. Alexander, the colorful man who electrified Dallas’ transportation system and was acquitted of not one, but two murders, built the home for the hefty sum of $125,000 (the 1904 equivalent of about $10 million).
Even in its rickety state, the story of the home unfolds in every room. Two-story-tall marble pillars, which Alexander imported from Italy, grace the front porch. The door opens to a grand, triple wide staircase with a hand-carved bannister. On the landing is a 10-foot-tall, Tiffany-style stained glass window depicting a grape arbor. On one side of the foyer, the women’s parlor boasts an ornate fireplace; on the other side, the men’s parlor has a more muted design scheme. Off the kitchen, huge metal doors open to the ice box, something that stayed in the house long after the invention of refrigerators.
Alexander Mansion was one of the first Dallas homes with electricity, and originally used a large generator for power. Gorgeous antique light fixtures still hang throughout. There’s also an original telephone, and household call center. Rumor has it that it was the first Dallas home with a shower – a very strange and complex one, which continues to wow visitors.
“That could be an urban legend, we don’t know – but I’ll bet you nobody else had a shower like that,” laughs Hall.
The Endless Renovation?
After creating a detailed plan, the forum recently embarked on a seemingly endless restoration of the mansion. There’s a lot of work that must be done to keep the Alexander standing, but Hall is staying optimistic and taking it one step at a time.
“Sort of the good and the bad is that the Woman’s Forum, over the years, has worked with lots of charities and they’ve sort of neglected the house, so that’s the bad part – but the good part is that they did neglect the house, so many original parts, and fabrics, and light fixtures, and woodwork is still here just as it was many, many years ago,” she says.
“[That’s] going to make it sort of easier to restore, but there is so much that has to be done in order to restore it.”
The most urgent order of business is replacing the leaky roof, which has caused serious water damage to the structure. After two years of fundraising, receiving donated roof materials and getting reduced labor prices, the forum has begun the roofing process, but they are still about $9,000 short. They’re hoping the Holiday Home Tours will push them through the home stretch.
After the fixing the roof, the next big step will be getting the exterior of the home waterproofed and restored. Foundation problems have created large cracks in the walls, water damage has caused some walls to literally fall apart, and even the exquisite stained glass is beginning to “sag.” Restoring the home’s exterior is expected to cost $1.7 million.
Even after these crucial repairs are made, the Alexander Mansion will have a long, long road ahead before it’s back in shape.
“We put together a budget about a year-and-a-half ago for completely restoring everything, and it was close to the neighborhood of $8 million. We have a long way to go, but I think it’s really important to get it done,” Hall says.
Hall hopes that some donations will help bring down the total cost of the restoration, as they did with the roof.
The forum’s ultimate goal is to turn the Alexander Mansion into a house museum, something similar to the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston, offering daily tours and educating visitors on how people lived in the early 1900s.
More immediately, the forum is sharing Alexander Mansion with Dallas via its Holiday Home Tours and Holiday European Tea Room. You can purchase tickets and make reservations on the Dallas Woman’s Forum website.