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The Alexander Mansion is under construction after the February freeze caused pipes to burst, flooding rooms that date back to the early 1900s.

Water spilled into the ductwork, causing it to collapse, and gushed into the first-floor walls and basement. The walls, which are 18 inches thick with brick and plaster, did not dry quickly. Much of the plaster and wood paneling had to be taken down. Two months later, one wall is still drying.

Plumbers could not access the broken pipes until the plaster was removed, and the water was turned on just two weeks ago.

“It’s quite the mess right now,” said Holly Hall, president of the Dallas Woman’s Forum. “Up until now, it’s been demolition and drying out. We had to take all the furniture out of the first floor because of construction dust. It’s really sad to walk in there.”

Yet demolition exposed secrets that have been hidden in the walls for years.

“I geeked out a bit once we got the plaster off the walls,” Hall said. “You could see where they had chiseled brick to put knob-and-tube electrical. You could see how they changed the fireplace in the library. We discovered it was not original to the house. You can see original walls going back behind more recent framing. Our guess is that the fireplace and its surroundings are original, but they widened it and put a bigger mantle on it. I’m an architect, and I love old buildings and seeing the forensics of it.”

The stately mansion, designed by Sanguinett & Staats of Fort Worth, was built in 1904 for $125,000, well over $3 million in today’s dollars. In 1930, the Dallas Woman’s Forum took over the home as its headquarters and has been tending to the mansion ever since.

All of the ductwork in the back of the house will have to be replaced. The floors need refinished, as well as the plaster that was removed from the walls. Without the plaster covering, workers discovered electrical conductors wrapped with fabric instead of plastic, and that will also have to be replaced. The downstairs bathroom walls and a door must be completely rebuilt.

The work is expected to take at least two months.

“It’s going slower than we expected,” Hall said. “We figured it would dry out quickly, but we started seeing mildew, and that’s when the decision was made to get the plaster down before we had a mold problem. We had asbestos sampling done, and we were amazed it came back with no evidence anywhere. That was a huge plus for us. One thing went right.”

The lack of asbestos can be attributed to the type of plaster used, Hall said. Asbestos is more frequently found in gypsum plaster instead of the portland cement plaster used in the mansion. Although the plaster and wallpaper had to be removed, the Dallas Woman’s Forum is looking to hire a tradesman skilled in portland cement to restore the building with original materials. The wallpaper is no longer made, but the design will be consistent with patterns from the time period.

Insurance will cover only some of the repairs, Hall said. To pay for the remaining expenses, the Dallas Woman’s Forum is organizing a 1940s canteen party featuring a buffet dinner and dancing in Turtle Creek. Matt Tolentino and the Singapore Slingers will perform live at the June 5 event. Tickets are $80-$100 and can be purchased here.


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