by COURTNEY SPALTEN
Today, high-rises can be found all over Dallas — but when did things first go sky-high? This year marks the 50th birthday of one of the oldest, 21 Turtle Creek Condominiums. As one of the city’s first residential high-rises, the building was among the earliest efforts of modern urbanization in Dallas. From changes in ownership to celebrity visitors to foreclosure, the building has seen its ups and downs — but things are decidedly looking up at the moment.
Ground was broken in the summer of ’62 next to the former 1907-built Jesuit High School. With an address of 3883 Turtle Creek Blvd., the land was a prime piece of real estate then and now. The $12 million building was first called 21 Turtle Creek Square because it sat on part of the generous, 21-acre Jesuit parcel bordered by Turtle Creek Boulevard, Blackburn Street and Irving and Oak Lawn avenues. It debuted on January 31, 1964, as an affordable but quite luxurious high-rise. Each apartment’s color scheme? Olive green, antique gold or turquoise blue. Residents enjoyed two swimming pools, a putting green, men’s and women’s health spas (complete with steam closets and vibrating-belt waist massagers) and a Japanese garden with a koi pond lined in slate. A former outbuilding boasted one of Dallas’ finest supper clubs, the Moorish-themed 21 Turtle Club, which was considered the place to see and be seen in the ’60s. Two private gas pumps — regular and ethyl — were installed for residents’ low-slung Mercurys and Buicks.
The building has had its share of controversy. Two days before the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby planned to move into a $195-a-month apartment at 21. He shared his intentions with entertainment columnist Tony Zoppi of The Dallas Morning News, saying, “Tony, I’ve skimped all my life. Now I want to live a little.” (Zoppi replied that, at 21, Ruby would be living large “in tall cotton.”) Ruby never got to enjoy the view: He spent what would’ve been his move-in day in a jail cell for gunning down Oswald. Actress-model Gennifer Flowers was living at 21 when the frenzy of her self-proclaimed affair with Bill Clinton prompted paparazzi to dig through the building’s garbage bins in search of dirt on the scandal. Paul Neinast, the A-list hairdresser to celebrities and Dallas society women, resided on the 22nd floor with his big white poodle Leopold. Neinast was found mysteriously dead in his bed in December 2012.
Today, 21’s residents — the building “went condo” in the 1980s — are committed to preserving their brick-and-concrete home. The tower’s sleek Bauhaus design was one of its major appeals when it opened; now, the building’s history is part of its charm. Being such a busy vertical city — at nearly 400 units, it is one of the largest buildings on the boulevard — for half a century had left the building in need of revamping. It is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation project launched in 2009. Energy-efficient new windows are in, along with new balcony railings and doors. The elevators have been upgraded and once-dormant fountains are bubbling again. Future plans include a collaborative project with the landscape architecture department at the University of Texas at Arlington; preliminary designs call for the rolling landscape to be more functional and environmentally sustainable. Twenty-One Turtle Creek has indeed endured — and is heading into the second half of its first century with far more than a fresh coat of paint.