Those of you who drive Gaston Avenue to Downtown with any frequency might think it a contradiction in terms that this stretch of street can improve.

But renovations of houses and apartment buildings, neighborhood cooperation, and an increasing commitment by Gaston property owners to improve the quality of life for residents and maintain the street’s character are fueling a small renaissance of this often-maligned thoroughfare.

The glamour days of Gaston were in the first four decades of this century, when the street was lined on both sides with mansions of prominent Dallasites. These stately homes of Dallas’ elite were constructed in Tudor, Prairie, Greek Revival and other classic styles. They rivaled the great homes of Swiss Avenue just a block away.

During World War II, many Gaston mansions were divided into rental units for Dallas war-plant workers. After the war, Gaston was rezoned for multifamily use and developers razed many of the large homes between Lakewood and Peak Street to build apartments.

During the past two decades, a number of Gaston apartments were acquired by absentee landlords concerned more with cash flow than maintaining their property. As a result, apartments deteriorated, code violations went unaddressed and crime increased, making Gaston a symbol of urban decay.

Fortunately, in recent years there has been a renewed interest in Gaston by both apartment owners and urban pioneers.

For instance, in October 1994, Alternative Building Concepts Group, a nonprofit corporation, purchased the Buckingham Apartments, located in Gaston’s 6100 block. Previously, the Buckingham was the scene of unruly tenants and drug dealing. The new owner booted out problem tenants and made major repairs.

Other Gaston apartment owners have undertaken similar improvements. Braden Power, for example, is renovating the Lakewood Apartments in Gaston’s 6000 block. His project is expected to turn a crime-infested, neighborhood blight into an attractive, upscale complex.

Renovation of homes also is revitalizing Gaston.

Two old prairie-style houses in Gaston’s 5100 block, previously half-way houses operated by a Waco nonprofit foundation, were renovated last year and sold to families.

Another beautiful prairie style house at 5015 Gaston was extensively renovated by the aptly named Urban Pioneer Construction Co. and has received historical landmark status.

Urban Pioneer owner and designer Kambiz Khadivi, who plans to restore another historic Gaston home to single-family use, says he is optimistic about Gaston’s future because of its historic character and proximity to Downtown, Greenville and Deep Ellum.

The 1990s have brought a new spirit of cooperation among Gaston property owners. In 1995, homeowners and apartment owners formed the Historic Gaston Avenue Property Owners Association, which extends from Nesbitt to Fitzhugh.

Association members have planted dozens of trees along Gaston, removed graffiti and are working with other neighborhoods to reduce crime and enforce codes.

The Association is drafting an ordinance with City staff and other neighborhood associations to preserve Gaston’s historical character. It will require new and renovated houses and apartment buildings to conform to one of Gaston’s historical architectural styles.

Another cause for optimism is the East Dallas Managers Association (formerly the Gaston Avenue Managers Association), which has built a coalition between Gaston apartment owners and the Dallas Police Department to reduce crime.

This collaborative effort is producing results. Police statistics show a six percent decline in Class 1 offenses (major crimes against persons and property) on Gaston from 1994 to 1995. Sgt. Kevin King, the residential crime watch coordinator for our area, says reducing crime in the Gaston corridor has had a ripple effect, reducing reported crimes in surrounding neighborhoods.

Though further progress needs to be made, conditions on Gaston have improved substantially. With the continued efforts of property owners and the City, strict code enforcement, and perhaps a little luck, this historic street will have a bright future.