Towering flophouse turns into modern high-rise

HARLINGEN — Laisa Chavez Macias chuckles when she remembers her father’s odd job at the iconic building she called “the Nine Story.”

About 30 years ago, she visited Eleazar Chavez at the Blaschka Tower, which loomed over downtown Harlingen like a giant tombstone for decades.

She still remembers her father cranking up one of the nine-story building’s historic relics.

“He helped run the elevator for years,” Chavez Macias, a fashion designer, said.

Now, the city’s tallest building is named Baxter Lofts after MRE Capital, a Kansas City, Kansas, developer, launched a $4.5 million renovation project that’s transformed it from a flophouse into the city’s first high-rise apartment development offering so-called “affordable housing.”

“It’s inspiring,” Chavez Macias said. “It’s amazing. It’s so cool. I’m absolutely excited for downtown Harlingen. I can’t wait to see it now.”

The building’s mystique captivates many in town, said Suzanne Davis, who’s running Baxter Lofts’ leasing office.

“It’s turning people around to enjoy it,” she said as she guided a tour of the building. “It’s the transformation — the mystery of the Baxter Lofts.”

As a school girl, Chavez Macias used to visit her father’s apartment on the building’s seventh or eighth floor.

“I remember visiting with him there all the time,” she said.

Built as an office building offering a prime address in 1927, the tower was “pretty rough” during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Chavez Macias said.

“They were already pretty run down by then but still totally livable,” she said of its apartments.

The building’s owner didn’t rent out too many of his apartments — and most of those he rented were on the top floors, she said.

“There weren’t a lot of people,” she said. “It was like a few.”

Chavez Macias believes her father’s work on the elevator might have been tied to his rental arrangement.

“My dad knew the guy who owned it so I guess he helped out,” she said of her father.

Photograph chronicle

Like Chavez Macias, Kathie Dalum marvels at the building’s transformation.

“It’s real neat they’re fixing it,” said Dalum, who works in a library in Bryan.

When she was about 5, she remembers gawking at the city’s tallest eyesore.

“I would be in my parents’ car always passing by,” she said. “It was still vacant. It was kind of fascinating. I’d wonder why it’s still there — are they going to demolish it?”

Now, Dalum’s photographs chronicle the building’s historic transformation.

In 2017, she photographed the building as it stood vacant.

Then last month, she captured its fabulous makeover as Baxter Lofts.

“I photograph many abandoned buildings throughout Texas,” Dalum said. “It’s neat to see some come back to life with their architectural style.”

How we got here

For decades, Harlingen’s leaders had talked about ways to rid the city of its tallest building after it had turned into a flophouse looming over downtown.

When he won election to the mayor’s post in 2007, Mayor Chris Boswell made the historic building’s renovation one of his administration’s goals.

Then in late 2015, city commissioners entered into an agreement with MRE Capital to renovate the nine-story building to its original condition.

As part of a contract, the Harlingen Community Improvement Board agreed to sell the Baxter Building to MRE Capital for $250,000 on the condition the developer clinch federal tax credits to help fund the $4.5 million renovation project.