Reviving the Past
By Meda Kessler
A remnant of a WWI military base hospital, this historic Camp Bowie house gets a modern update
The neglected wood-frame house on the corner of Pershing Avenue and Sanguinet Street in Arlington Heights was visibly unloved. Rental property for many years, the house then sat unoccupied. Untrimmed trees and shrubs threatened to take over the yard; the interior, which had been chopped up during past remodels, was completely gutted.
Gail Landreth is a longtime board member of Historic Fort Worth, a lover of old homes and a champion of historic preservation. She lives nearby in the 107 off of Camp Bowie Boulevard. In 2020, she saw a social media post about the property going up for sale with the likelihood that it would be torn down. After her initial walk-through, Landreth felt there was a story behind the house and immediately started to research its past.
Historic photographs and maps of the WWI Camp Bowie military base, which covered 60 acres from 1917 to 1919, proved Landreth’s hunch correct. The long, narrow building was once a portion of a hospital ward, part of the base’s massive hospital complex. Landreth says it’s likely that it’s the only remnant of the military training facility, as most of the buildings were dismantled when the base closed. The portion still standing on what is now Pershing Avenue was converted to a residence as Arlington Heights came into existence. With such a storied past, it needed saving. Her goal was to get the structure designated as a local historic landmark by the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission and then have the planned restoration work approved by Fort Worth’s Historic Site Tax Exemption program.
Landreth relished the task. “Having renovated our own home, I was familiar with the process of working with an architect and contractor. My background in preservation proved invaluable in knowing what steps I needed to take. And I always find historic research fascinating.”
We did a walk-through of the 1,300-square-foot structure last summer. The house was in the throes of construction to convert it to a livable home with modern conveniences while keeping the nods to its historic past.
Its wide but shallow shape sets it apart from most of the homes in the neighborhood. The long, covered porch features slim wood columns. There’s no backyard, although the front and side yards are substantial. All the single-pane windows are original and were in the process of being repaired as part of the historical designation. The wood exterior had been scraped and repainted.
Inside, the gutted interior showed the bones of the house including the distinctive clerestory windows over the double front doors, interior transom windows and the exposed diagonally framed wood walls (there was no insulation or drywall). A floor-to-ceiling chimney was being integrated as an architectural design of one of the new bedrooms.
We revisited the property just after Christmas to see the finished project. (Landreth has hosted open houses for several historic groups.) Neighbors, strolling by on their evening walk, are thrilled to see the house come back to life.
Outside, the trees and shrubs are tidy, and an existing picket fence — not original to the structure — hems the perimeter. Stone steps leading from the street to the fence gate match the front porch stairs.
New wood front doors match the style shown in the historic photographs. Inside, Landreth had shades made by J&D Interiors of a neutral canvas that both snap close or roll up using leather straps, similar to what you would see on a tent.
A portion of one wall in the living room and the hallway are covered by wood laid on the diagonal (the rest have been covered in Sheetrock). “The original plan was to leave the original boards exposed, but we had to hide the insulation and new wiring.”
The long front room includes a modern kitchen with counter seating. “I wanted to include design elements that were a nod to its past as a hospital, so I had custom stainless steel counters made,” says Landreth. “I did splurge on the vintage-looking refrigerator, but it makes such a statement.”
The two bedrooms are on opposite ends of the house. The two bathrooms are stylish with tiled showers, leathered granite countertops, vintage-style fixtures and all new plumbing, of course. There’s also a small room with a washer and dryer plus a utility sink.
“I got some of the glass doorknobs on the doors from a historic house in Rivercrest that was being remodeled,” says Landreth, who plans to lease the house.
One of the historic photos shows the same clerestory windows and wood framing, and was key to Landreth’s research on the home’s past. Walking through the house, it’s easy to imagine young soldiers lying in their narrow, metal-frame hospital beds with white-clad nurses walking through the wards.
While the tax exemptions are nice (and will be transferred to future owners), Landreth admits she would have taken on this project regardless.
“The history of Fort Worth and our neighborhood is so important. It makes me proud to be a steward of the past.”