The La Cava Building was built by William Burts La Cava, a prominent entrepreneur of the Southside who owned a chain of dry cleaning shops including one at 709 West Magnolia behind his building. The words “service” and “quality” greeted customers at the entrance for more than fifty years. The La Cava Building housed a drugstore for much of its life and is one of five buildings in a cluster, all built in the 1920’s by J.B. Davies Architect.
Fran McCarthy and Ray Boothe, of Daedalus Development, played a major role in the renewal of architectural investment in the Fort Worth’s Near Southside district. They had always been drawn to the potential in the area and enthusiastic about keeping the area as a place to live, work, and play that has a unique, local appeal.
Daedalus Development bought the property, that became Modern Village, from the Hamra family, who operated Modern Drug for 30 years. When La Cava died, they took ownership of all of it.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Near Southside area began to restore its original appeal as a community that supported local businesses and convenient living. The area became an energetic, vibrant, one-of-a-kind suburb for all that visit, reside or work in the area to enjoy on a daily basis.
Toward the turn of the 20th Century, the City of Fort Worth was establishing its infrastructure with the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway (1876), establishment of public school (1882), and the building of the Tarrant County Courthouse (1895). Due to attractions like the beginning of the Fort Worth Union Stockyards (1890), the construction of Cowtown Coliseum (1908, and the relocation of Texas Christian University to the city, people were relocating to the city to conduct business and reside. As a result, Southside, which was Fort Worth’s original suburb, was formed and began to thrive.
The Southside was connected by a very vibrant streetcar system which was the best transit system in the south. Flocks of people were living in the area and working in small businesses already in Southside and also traveled into the central business district (downtown Fort Worth) by using the transit system to go to work downtown.
Residential, Industrial & Commercial – The Southside was a unique, densely packed area with residential, industrial, and small commercial operating side-by-side. Housing neighborhood grew later becoming the Historic Fairmount Neighborhood.
A great devastating fire visited the City of Fort Worth on April 3, 1909 when two boys decided to experiment with smoking. When the fire department arrived on the scene of the incident, the fire had spread from a barn to several homes. Before the firefighters could set up to extinguish the fire, the blaze had already outdistanced them with the aid of 40 mph winds. The intensive heat from the flames melted copper telegraph wires, making it difficult for Chief Bideker to spread the alarm. He eventually located a phone and requested a general alarm. To make matters worse, Engine No. 8 had crashed into a telephone pole, killing the lead horses while veering to avoid a collision with a pushcart peddler.
Hose Company No. 5 also met with misfortune when one of the horses slipped on the pavement breaking its leg and putting No. 5 out of service. Company No. 1 Panther Engine answered the general alarm and prepared to attack a wall of flame, but radiating heat began to burn their rubber hoses before water could be pumped through the lines. In a heroic effort the men of Company # 1 managed to pull the Panther Engine from
the blaze before it was lost.
The fire was consuming everything in its path. Texas Pacific Railroad’s roundhouse and adjacent shops formed a natural barrier between the downtown area and the Southside of Fort Worth. The railroad roundhouse and shops were consumed by fire, but allowed firefighters to gain control of the blaze and breathe a sigh of relief. If not for this natural barrier, the downtown area would have surely perished. Only one fatality was reported, but more than 290 homes and businesses lay in smoldering ashes in an area that covered 26 square blocks.
As a result of the Great Southside Fire in 1909, materials utilized for constructing many of the historic buildings in the Southside District were brick. The notorious red brick, advertised in the La Cava Clothing Cleaners grand opening announcement as being “fireproof,” was meant to provide customers with the comfort that every precaution had been taken to protect their clothing. The brick was chosen for construction because it was produced locally and was easily transported.
In 1927, The La Cava building was built by William Burts La Cava, a prominent entrepreneur of the near Southside who owned a chain of dry cleaning shops including one at 709 West Magnolia. The words “service” and “quality” greeted customers at the entrance for more than fifty years. The La Cava building housed a drugstore for much of its life and is one of five buildings in a cluster, all built in the 1920’s. J.B. Davies Architect had a short commute for the La Cava job. He lived and worked three doors down in the Davies’ Apartments.
The La Cava building was built as one structure and the collection of additional structures were built by the same owner during the 1920’s. Accordingly, this site was often referred to as the “La Cava building” but this reference to “building’ may also include “the collection of buildings” depending on the context. In 1990, the collection of buildings became known as “Modern Village.”
The subject property is bound by West Magnolia Avenue to the north, Hemphill Street to the east, Travis Avenue to the west, and West Morphy Street to the south. The proposed development would occupy much of the block that has remained largely vacant or used for parking for decades.
In the early 1940’s, both Hemphill and Magnolia were very viable areas. There were beautiful trees almost touching that lined Hemphill and people were living and operating businesses in the same area. There was also plenty of parking and no zoning restrictions.
In the years after World War II, Fort Worth grew by leaps and bounds and nearly doubled its size through a series of annexations. Across the nation, there was a shift in lifestyle. People wanted to get out of the old houses and get into newly air-conditioned homes. Families gathered around the TV, shutting down interaction outside.
In 1946-47, the people of Fort Worth began the rapid abandonment of the city. With automobiles becoming prevalent, the city widened the streets and stripped off parking. At the same time, the city instituted zoning which prevented any occupancy of residential living above the businesses in the Southside area. Sadly, these changes had a major impact on the area and multiple buildings were boarded up at this time.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, block-after-block of abandoned, deteriorated housing began to emerge in the immediate core of the Southside area. Demographics shifted, economic opportunity declined, and banks stopped loaning money to the area which created a period of dormancy as the sense of community, which was the original draw to the area, disappeared. Several small businesses left the area as people moved away. The perception of the area also deteriorated as streets became filled with many empty, boarded-up buildings and very limited nightlife. Reputable businesses such as Paris Coffee Shop and Benito’s Mexican Restaurant continued to persevere and carry on the original spirit of the area which had been negatively impacted by the ever-changing Fort Worth.
William Burts La Cava was a prominent entrepreneur of the near Southside. He opened his new business in his new building in 1920. In 1927, he built the La Cava building next door to 1300 Hemphill Street. He also operated Magnolia Market Neighborhood Grocery at 1304 Hemphill (and in a side business, La Cava sold dahlia seeds from his dry cleaners building.)
W.B. La Cava retired in 1969, after over 40 years of owning and operating successful businesses. Two years after his retirement La Cava passed away and was buried at Mount Olive Cemetery.
After the death of W.B. La Cava, Frank and Mary Hamra, the family who operated Modern Drug took ownership over the entire collection of buildings.
Photo: Frank Hamra holding his daughter in front of the Modern Drug.
The story of any community begins with what they share; therefore a coalition of public and private stakeholders was formed including the City of Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, and representatives from the Medical District. Sasaki Associates prepared the Strategic Plan in 1995 detailing a process for revitalization. Subsequently, Fort Worth South, Inc. was created to advocate on behalf of local interests according to the plan.
As Southside began to make a comeback, people started understanding the value of small communities and sought gathering spots to convene. Several local entrepreneurs saw the potential of the area, drawn to the charm of the old drug store building, Modern Drug, which at the time consisted of five separate buildings that eventually grew together over the years.
Although they were met with some resistance, the combined efforts of those who saw potential in the once vibrant Southside area built the foundation for the area’s future success.
After the passing of Mary J. Hamra, her estate sold the property to Daedalus Development Corporation, led by primary development partners Ray Boothe and Fran McCarthy along with support from then Fort Worth South, Inc. The team converted the building into retail on the ground floor and loft apartments on the 2nd floor.
The La Cava section had been empty for 15 years and there was nothing upstairs. There was some evidence that the drug store had been remodeled in the 1950’s. In 1997, the property, that had been known as Modern Drug, became known as Modern Village.
The section to the west, La Cava, had a façade of aluminum siding over the whole second level. It had a field stone base with strip long horizontal strip windows around the Hemphill and Magnolia sides. The backside of the building, including the grading had changed when they lowered the street during the time that they stripped parking from the street.
Still today, some doors hang in space because of it. During his remodel, he blocked the doors from inside/outside access. There were also two large go boards on the second story roof that later became the apartments. It had an old tin material above a lay in ceiling still in-tact, vinyl tile on the floor, strip, fluorescent lighting and some items were still sitting on the shelves.
The second floor of the La Cava Cleaners building was empty and unfinished. The wood floors had never been finished. Pins could be found on the floor as this area was originally used as the cleaners’ alteration area. The clerestories on the roof were open on four sides and had been leaking for several years. Down the south side of the building, which became the courtyard, was used as a dump and there was a remaining pile of trash with antique bottles. There were not any finishes on the second floor, which is the two-story section over the bank, and had been at the time used as a storage area. There was also no parking at the time. Mechanical and electrical was not up to code and needed to be addressed.
Through research at the University of Texas at Arlington archive, Boothe found an architectural rendering by J.B. Davies in a 1924 newspaper article that showed the north facing façade. The article announced that section of the building as being newly built and showed the windows and doors as were originally intended. He decided to recreate the façades from the faded architectural rendering. He very carefully recreated the façades on the north, east, and part of the south to historic standards.
As these visionaries began pulling these five buildings together for a single concept, eventually known as Modern Village, they realized that the project had the ideal bones for both commercial small business at the ground floor and residential tenants above.
As Daedalus began pursuing the mixed-use development plan, they were met with much resistance from the city’s existing zoning policy which did not allow for a mix of uses. However, with support from Fort Worth South, the team was able to secure city approval through a planned development that allowed for an exemption to the limitations of the zoning in place for the buildings. The renovation of the Modern Village project took 14 months and Daedalus Development delivered retail (a bank and hair salon) and office space downstairs and loft apartments upstairs.
Shortly after receiving approval their PD approval, the team found partnership from in a newly hired City Planner, Fernando Costa, who was astounded to find that there was no mixed-use zoning policy in place. Under Costa’s leadership, a zoning review committee was formed with Boothe serving as a member. The mixed-use development plan of the Modern Village project later became the model for a district-wide re-zoning effort in the Near Southside district.
Staying true to the values of an urban village, the model for the old Modern Drug, development focused on creating opportunities for and attracting small local businesses instead of on larger, retail businesses or chains. Once remodeled and reconstructed, people were attracted to historical architectural design that had been maintained with a new vision for use with local businesses, the bank with its drive-thru, an outside deck with its beautiful landscaping downstairs, and the residential apartment living located upstairs. People began realizing it is a fun, exciting place full of energy to live, work, and play.
Top Left – Dry Cleaners Before Renovations
Top Right – Dry Cleaners Renovated to Loft Apartments
Middle Left – 1920’s Modern Drugs Pharmacy
Middle Right – Modern Drugs Renovated to Community Oriented Bank
Bottom Left – Renovated Barber Shop
Bottom Right – Renovated Salon
Images Courtesy of Ray Boothe
From the turn of the century to present, the City of Fort Worth has grown to be the fifth-largest city in Texas and the 13th largest city in the U.S. According to the 2019 census, Tarrant County estimates Fort Worth’s population as 909,585. Fort Worth-Arlington ranked 15th on Forbes’ list of the “Best Places for Business and Careers.” In 2018, Fortune named Fort Worth the 18th “Best City for Hispanic Entrepreneurs.” In addition, in 2018 the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex ranked 18th on U.S. News & World Report’s list of “125 Best Places to Live in the U.S.A.” It is understandable that the revitalization of the Southside area has played a role in the progress and success of Fort Worth.
Frank Kent Group purchased the Modern Village project and undertook a remodel the upstairs apartments while saving the historic character. Also, with the downstairs bank area recently vacant, Kent welcomed Panther City Salon’s extensive renovation of the Hemphill corner. Graphic design firm Pytch Black also leased a prime piece of the ground floor commercial space.
Modern Village Today
Over the years, Modern Village has hosted a variety of tenants including: retail, restaurant, hair salon, bank, creative services, film studio, advertising. Today, Shinjuku Station, an izakaya Japanese restaurant, is the building’s most recognizable and beloved tenant serving nearly a decade as the face of Modern Village.
Approximately 40,000 jobs fuel Tarrant County’s second largest employment center, where pride of ownership has nurtured the vision for development in the Near Southside for over twenty years. The pulse of this lively economy is organic with investment couched in love of the neighborhood. Acting as a model for other cities, Near Southside has achieved a rare balance between the medical district, local business, and passionate residents. A burgeoning renaissance is taking place amidst a litany of restoration and new construction projects. The areas acclaimed restaurants and historic landmarks continue to attract attention, the various flavors representing opportunities for residents as well as investors. Southside guides progress while protecting history; in fact, many of the original founders remain active today in development towards a brighter future.
The Near Southside guides progress while protecting history; in fact, many of the original founders remain active today in development towards a brighter future.
West Magnolia Avenue was selected by the American Planning Association as “one of the Great Streets in America” for 2018.
The streets here are lined with eccentric bars, coffee shops, vegan diners and B-Cycle stations – a citywide bike-share program. While much progress has been made, opportunity is still available for developers in the district as chic hot spots now thrive inside century old buildings that continue to find renewal.
With a walk score of 84 from WALKSCORE.COM, the immediate area is one of the most walkable locations in north Texas. As the area continues to grow, more entertainment, office, and residential options will become increasingly walkable. With award winning local restaurants like Ellerbe Fine Foods, Shinjuku Station, Heim Barbecue, Cane Rosso, Cat City Grille, and Nonna Totta, Magnolia Avenue and the Near Southside are a food lover’s paradise. Within the recent years, Texas Monthly has crowned Heim Barbecue as one of the Top-50 BBQ restaurants in Texas and Bearded Lady’s L.U.S.T. Burger as one of the Top-5 burgers in Texas. In addition, Magnolia Avenue’s pioneering street re-design and the city’s Bike Fort Worth plan has made the Near Southside, Fort Worth’s most bike-friendly district.
The development group has plans to build a new mixed-use office building that features: retail on the ground floor, two floors of office, and a three-level structured parking garage.
The proposed mixed-use building will be constructed in the area where there is currently an open parking lot that services the existing buildings on the property along with neighboring restaurants. There will be a thirty-five foot wide separation between the new building and the rear of the existing buildings. The space between the old and new will become an outdoor “Pedestrian Plaza” which will feature: brick pavement, outdoor dining, trellises with hanging lanterns, and planters. The plaza will accentuate the back-patio culture of already thriving businesses such as Shinjuku Station, Grandma’s NSFW, and Brewed.
Frank Kent Group purchased and remodeled the apartment area.