Denton’s Historic Landmark Commission again has urged the city to preserve the former Fairhaven Retirement Home, affirming Monday a resolution that it first forwarded to the City Council in 2009.
The commission called an emergency meeting after an investment group asked the city to rezone the property. During the proceedings, the investment group questioned whether Fairhaven was truly designed by O’Neil Ford, a respected Texas architect who lived in Denton.
Mike Cochran, a former council member and local historian who has written about Ford’s buildings in the Denton area, called the investment group’s question of Fairhaven’s provenance a “sad state of affairs.”
“They feel the need to trash the reputation of one of our favorite sons,” Cochran said.
In addition to affirming its original resolution, the commission voted to send a letter to the City Council. The letter tells the council that, after reviewing the evidence presented at Monday’s meeting, the commission intends to begin exploring landmark status for the building. The commission agreed that sufficient evidence showed that Ford was involved in Fairhaven’s design and that the building met criteria showing cultural significance.
The one-story building, located at 2400 N. Bell Ave., housed a chapel, library and commons areas as well as apartments for seniors. It opened its doors as a nonprofit in 1965. By 2006, Fairhaven was deep in debt and was sold to Plano Community Homes. That group closed the home in 2009 rather than spend about $1.5 million for needed repairs.
Plano Community Homes has been in talks with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about redeveloping the property. A new investment group, Greatvine Eldercare, requested a zoning change for the property.
Several commission members were troubled by the investment group’s argument that they should be asked to consider the degree of Ford’s involvement. The commission has no authority to determine provenance, commission member Eric Pulido said.
Dallas architect Robert Troy told the commission that Ford had only 18.5 billable hours on the project and that construction documents contained A. B. Swank’s architectural seal.
“If you say this is a historically significant building, you’re making a big mistake,” Troy said.
Copies of a portion of the floor plan provided to the commission by Cochran list the architects as Ford, Swank and Roland Laney. The registered seal beside the listing is Swank’s.
Even if the commission granted the investment group’s claim that the building could be Swank’s design, Fairhaven still meets more criteria than required to designate it as a community cultural asset, Cochran said.
“We have so few resources in the community and they are dwindling,” Cochran said. “We should hold onto them.”
Cochran also told the commission that the state has no law determining architect of record. If the city uses the standard offered by Troy, most architectural history — not just Denton’s — would have to be rewritten.
“That’s the way it is. The big shot gets the credit,” Cochran said.
Significant Denton buildings attributed to Ford include much of the municipal complex at Quakertown Park — the Denton Civic Center, City Hall and Emily Fowler Central Library. He also designed the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods at Texas Woman’s University and some buildings at Selwyn College Preparatory School, one of which did not survive a devastating fire Jan. 26.
Commission member Pati Haworth said she lived in Denton when Fairhaven was built. That Fairhaven would be another Ford building in town “was a big deal then,” she said.
Civic leader Myrtle Richardson and the Business and Professional Women’s Club led the fundraising drive to secure donations and a federal loan to build Fairhaven.
Larry Reichhart, the investment group’s consultant, told the commission, as he had told the City Council last month, that the group’s intention was to rehabilitate Fairhaven, but if that proved too costly, it could be demolished.
Lee Ann Hubanks, a representative of Plano Community Homes, told the landmark commission that it would take a “mountain of money” to address Fairhaven’s structural problems.
Last month, the City Council delayed a vote on the rezoning request, directing the city staff to provide it with more information on the building’s cultural significance.
Peggy Riddle, the county’s new museums director, told the commission and repeated in an interview Tuesday that federal law can trigger certain review requirements when a building is more than 50 years old and any federal money is involved. Riddle has performed such reviews in her previous positions.
“I have no idea what the plans are for the property, but if there is any city money involved, any federal housing program, small business loan or tax credit for the project, that review requirement kicks in,” Riddle said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her email address is email@example.com .