The front-porch homes of Junius Heights are safe, thanks to historic district status

The day after City Council deemed Junius Heights an official historic district, Liz Wally decided to celebrate. She went to the downtown library, rode the elevator to the seventh floor, and asked for the building permit book microfiche. Scrolling through it, she found the original permit for her craftsman-style home on Victor — dated Dec. 16, 1916.

“We’ve honored the people who’ve built their houses, we’ve honored the houses that have stayed here through all kinds of weather — and they’re still here. They’re almost 100 years old, and they’ll be here after we leave,” Wally says. “I just can’t tell you — it felt fantastic. We’re still on a cloud.”

The council vote was the end of a five-year journey for Junius Heights residents. Now that the neighborhood’s 700-plus buildings (70 percent of which are original architecture) are under protection, Junius Heights joins the ranks of Swiss Avenue, Munger Place and Peak’s Suburban Addition, forming the largest contiguous group of historical districts in the southwest.

“We were the missing piece in the puzzle,” says René Schmidt, who lives on Parkmont.

Schmidt moved into Junius Heights 10 years ago after falling in love with the whimsical architecture of the arts and crafts bungalows, possibly the largest collection in the DFW area, he claims. But a decade ago, it wasn’t exactly a popular place to live.

“I can remember my real estate agent at that time telling me, ‘Just say you live in Lakewood,’” Schmidt recalls. “Junius Heights was just not on the map at that time.”

The neighborhood had remained relatively untouched by the teardowns that were affecting other parts of the city, but Junius Heights residents knew that development likely was headed their way.

“I think the nightmare we all had was of the bulldozers coming in,” Wally says.

The neighborhood is a collection of more than 10 historical neighborhoods that takes its name from the largest, Schmidt says. It was plotted in 1906 at a time when the city was expanding, and three streetcar lines were built to reach Junius Heights. On opening day, citizens were urged to take streetcars out to look at the property, but since it was a Sunday, the developers couldn’t sell anything — until the clock struck midnight.

“And the Junius Heights land rush of 1906 was on,” Schmidt says. “Within the first 45 minutes, most of the properties were gone.”

One of the big selling points at the time was that the neighborhood sits on a ridge, making the homes cooler in the summer. But today, it’s the rafter tails and front porches that buyers find irresistible.

Real estate agents Bill Williams and his wife, Marsue, chose a fixer-upper on Reiger. They had been selling residential property in East Dallas and watched as schoolteachers on meager salaries moved into our neighborhood. Five years later, their homes had appreciated by $100,000. The economics of the inner city makes Junius Heights desirable, Williams says, and so does the neighbor-friendly designs of the early 20th century.

“These homes were built when people generally walked more frequently than they do now — not the alleys where you drive up and park, then walk upstairs and never see anyone,” he says. “We’re constantly seeing people walking their dogs or out on their front porch — the neighbors are the real benefit.”

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