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Dallas County Pioneers Association Homestead House in Downtown Dallas

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Kovandovitch House

523 Eads

Dallas, Texas

This truly unique house, one of Dallas’ architectural treasures, is well known to many who travel Interstate 35 as the “Concrete House.” It is visible from the freeway. This one-of-kind house was constructed by Joseph Kovandovitch, his wife and others in 1913-1914.

Joseph (1868-1951) came to America from what was then called Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) in 1885. Two years later he came to Dallas. Other than for a brief period in European schools, he was a self-educated man. He found employment as a chef at Dallas’ Oriental Hotel, as a cider manufacturer, and as a restaurateur.
For $225.00 in August 1912, Joseph purchased the supplies that Mr. F.J. Kowaski had used to operate the New Akard Café. The list of supplies included two gas stoves, 1 gas griddle, five kitchen tables, one dish/sink table, two ice boxes, all dishes pots, pans, and silver, one water cooler, one side board, four dining room tables, eight chairs, one counter eight stools, three electric fans, one clock, one coffee urn, I cigar case, one cash register, one meal board, and all articles on the walls. With these supplies he opened the Eagle Café at 213 Akard between Elm and Pacific and ran it until he retired in 1920[i].

Mr. Kovandovitch played the harmonica, wrote articles on different subjects for various publications (including the Dallas Morning News) and above all, he read.[ii] Two subjects that intrigued him were architecture and concrete. Concrete that was used in Dallas had been imported until the late 1890s. Southwestern States Portland Cement Company was organized in 1907 in West Dallas and the initial operation was in 1909. This new industry in Dallas County found a ready market. There had been an extreme shortage of cement in this country and this local product was much cheaper and of better quality. Buying property that had been occupied by the ill-fated La Reunion Colony, the limestone cliffs that so frustrated the colonist were just what the Portland Cement industry needed.[iii]

Kovandovitch built two structures using this method of building. In 1907 he started constructing his first concrete structure on Ross Avenue between Akard and Field.[iv] This was a two-story addition to a frame house and it received front-page coverage in the Dallas Times Herald. In 1924 the facility was occupied by Dallas Paint and Paste Company. In 1940, Kovandovitch leased this site at 1410 (1412) Ross to V.T. Meriwether for $25.00 a month for a cafe. This one year lease specified that Meriwether would keep it in good repair.[v]

The structure on Ross Avenue, originally named Carondelat, was near the current site of Fountain Place, one of Dallas’ skyscrapers. When Ross was widened in 1972, this site was demolished.[vi]

The town of Oak Cliff was incorporated in 1890 and after several years, much debate, and several votes, Oak Cliff was annexed to the city of Dallas in 1903.[vii] There was an interurban route between Dallas and Fort Worth that passed near the subject property and other than during the 1908 flood had been dependable.[viii] The North Texas Traction Company bragged that the thirty-five mile ride only took eighty-five minutes to go between Dallas and Fort Worth and ninety-five minutes eastbound. Adversity of grades probably accounted for the difference. A steam railroad also ran between Dallas and Oak Cliff allowing citizens to reside in Oak Cliff and work in Dallas.

When Joseph found the property on Eads to start building his concrete house, the Houston Street Viaduct, between Oak Cliff and Dallas had recently been completed. This new bridge over the Trinity was described as being the longest Reinforced Concrete Bridge in the world, providing the first permanent connection between the East and West Side of the Trinity River. The citizens of Dallas had demanded a bridge be constructed after the devastating flood of 1908 and slow recovery of transportation that had stranded people between Dallas and Oak Cliff for weeks. [ix]

The site on Eads that Kovandovitch had found was on the bluff overlooking the flood plain of the Trinity River. There was a splendid view of the city of Dallas across the Trinity River. The property, that measures approximately 95 by 100 feet, was purchased in 1913 from William L Diamond and his wife Lura, for $500.00. [x] A full page advertisement in the city directory for the year 1915 for W.L. Diamond Real Estate Company states they had been in business since 1888.[xi] This land was a section of the Elizabeth Robertson Survey on the west side of the Trinity River that was formerly in Robertson County before this area became Dallas County in 1846. The heirs of Elizabeth Robertson who had been in Texas since 1844 were issued a certificate in 1853 for 640 acres.[xii]

In 1915 Eads was only four blocks long. One of the neighbors across the street from the Kovandovitch site was a plumber with the city water department and the other one was a widow and her daughter who worked at a seed store and lived with her mother. [xiii]

The neighbors in the seven hundred block of Eads were shown as “colored” in the 1915 city directory. This area is very close to the 10th Street Historic District and Elizabeth’s Chapel. Both designated as City of Dallas landmarks. The Chapel was recently demolished as being dangerous. The 10thStreet District is also endangered due to so many demolitions.

When interviewed in 1987 for the Landmark designation, three of Joseph Kovandovitch’s sons and one daughter were able to describe the process used when the house was under construction. Their mother, Mrs. Mamie Kovandovitch, aided Joseph while he climbed a ladder carrying buckets of concrete to pour into the forms he had built. She was adept at using a pulley system he had devised to raise buckets of concrete. The sons, though very young, also helped.

The Kovandovitch family only lived in the concrete house a few years, before moving back to the residence on Ross Avenue that was much nearer to the Eagle Café in downtown Dallas.

The concrete house then had several owners. In 1920 E.L. Ozment purchased the house for $4500.00. He paid $500.00 down and owed the remaining $4000.00 to be paid at $40.00 a month with 8% interest per annum.[xiv] He rented rooms out for a while.[xv] While he owned the property, it was allowed to deteriorate as this long time occupant lived in the house without heat, electricity, or running water. A guardian had food brought to the man twice a day. He was finally admitted to a nursing home.[xvi] For tax purposes the property remained in his name for many years. The house then sat abandoned and unoccupied for many years. Years of vandalism destroyed any remaining assets. Graffiti on the inside and outside of the house was so deplorable that the city was required to paint over the nasty signs from time to time. Homeless people used and abused the remaining structure. Several fires were started, some to keep warm, some for cult activities. Although supposedly boarded up vandals even entered through an opening on the third floor!

In 1983 a Dallas architect, Jess S. Epps, Jr. was able to purchase the site that the city of Dallas planned to demolish, with plans to start the project of rehabilitating the site. Two months after closing, the final fire destroyed most of the remaining features. It was now a shell. From time to time, the city of Dallas Code Enforcement Division would issue citations, clean-up orders, and file yet more liens against the property. The Landmark Designation that Mr. Epps procured was in hopes of preventing the city from issuing a demolition order on the structure. Before he was able to proceed with his plans, his suffered from some business setbacks, and his health was failing so he moved to Houston. He was never able to proceed with any of his plans to rehabilitate the concrete house.

Four years ago a new owner, aware that it was going to be a mammoth project started the process of rehabilitation. Not only was it necessary to work with Mr. Epps for months to reduce his sale price to a more reasonable figure, but to get clear title, he had to pay off the taxes and liens against the property that had been accruing - placed by the city. This was very disappointing as the funds that he had planned to use in rehabilitating the house were being eaten up. Years of filth, trash, and debris, had to be disposed of. The landscaping was overgrown. Little by little by doing much of the work himself, but hiring a contractor for major plumbing, electrical and sheet rock installation and painting the concrete house became livable again. Plumbing is new, electrical wiring is new and up to code. There is heating and air conditioning to the areas that are completed. Wooden windows were custom made and installed, but in a few weeks unknown persons deliberately broke all the windowpanes. Unfortunately, the new owner had a heart attack and several strokes and the project was put on hold, but rented out for a year. Another heartbreak awaited him, when he came back to work on the house, the renter had been such a filthy housekeeper the owner had to repaint and re-carpet yet again. All of this has ended up costing much more than he estimated since he can not personally do as much of the labor as he once did.

There are several rooms in the house that will need further restoration, particularly the space in the basement. The walls need to be sealed either from the inside or outside has not been determined to clear up the problem with mildew. Further work on the wooden windows needs to be done for energy efficiency.

The current owner, Robert Bazan, who has diligently attempted to follow all historic criteria, is applying for a Registered Texas Historical Landmark for the site that is truly “one of a kind” in Dallas.

Compiled by Frances James

Endnotes

[i] Dallas County Deed Records Volume 551 page 340 dated August 29, 1912.
[ii] Personal Interviews with Joseph Kovandovitch’s sons who were still alive in 1987-89. See Endnotes for City of Dallas Landmark designation.
[iii] Southwestern States Portland Cement Company page 8.
[iv] Block 229 in the City of Dallas
[v] Dallas County Deed Records Volume 2239 page 45.
[vi] Dallas County Deed Records Volume 396 page 205 dated May 7, 1907.
[vii] Annexed to Dallas March 16, 1903.
[viii] Texas Electric Railway page 47, Dallas Interurban History this line opened on July 1, 1902.
[ix] Houston Street Viaduct officially opened on February 22, 1912.
[x] Dallas County Deed Records Volume 598 page 170.
[xi] Worley’s City Directory, Dallas, Texas 1915
[xii] The Peters Colony of Texas page 380.
[xiii] Worley’s City Directory, Dallas, Texas - 1915.
[xiv] Dallas County Deed Records Volume 818 page 10 dated January 30, 1920.
[xv] Worley’s City Directory, Dallas, Texas - 1924.
[xvi] Records from the City of Dallas Urban Rehab Standards Board – contact Virginia Welch. 726 Story Street, Dallas, Texas 75203

 

 



 



 



 
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