DALLAS — Most longtime residents of Dallas have a story about the Blue Garden in downtown Dallas — memories of its hopping heyday.
Those days may come back — at least that is the hope of prospective new owner Bob Collins.
He is in the process of buying the deteriorated 125-year-old building, located at 827 Main St. The sale is currently in escrow, but with rumors running around town about its possible purchase, he decided to come forward about his plans for the landmark.
A 35-year Dallas resident and owner of Collins & Lindsly Construction, Collins has his own Blue Garden story.
A deputy for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office from 1979 to 1994, he was offered his first job with the department during an interview at the restaurant.
“That turned into a 28½-year career,” said Collins, who retired from law enforcement in 2007.
Now he’s a general contractor with the expertise to restore the place to its former glory. His goal is to turn the ground floor into a restaurant again, keep the second-floor apartments, and build an office for his company and meeting space on the third floor.
Collins said he has someone in mind to run the restaurant, but isn’t ready to reveal who yet.
“I watched it decline to the point it is now and it’s made me sick,” Collins said Monday. “I want to bring it back to what it was.”
Ginnie McDaniel, owner of Dallas Antique Mall located next door to the Blue Garden, couldn’t be more thrilled about the prospect of the restoration.
“I love it,” she said Monday. “I’m so thankful that it’s got a business going in.”
McDaniel said the last thing downtown Dallas needs is for it to remain vacant much longer.
Dallas City Manager Ron Foggin is equally as hopeful for the restoration — and for the further development renewed activity at the location may inspire downtown.
He said the condition of the Blue Garden building is one of the most frequently mentioned concerns about Dallas’ city center.
“As far as the core downtown buildings, it is the most iconic — and most picked on — buildings,” Foggin said. “It had been a gem of downtown. To have it sit there idle and looking so shabby is disconcerting to long-time residents.”
Foggin said he’s glad to see someone local with an interest in seeing the building be active again take possession.
“It will be a shot in the arm for downtown,” he said.
Fully aware of the condition of the building, Collins understands how much work he has ahead of him.
“The building was all but condemned,” he said. “It’s 125 years old. It deserves some love. It really does.”
Collins has been in touch with the city about his plans and inquired about funding to help refurbish the facade. His vision is to replace the blue tile that had to be removed and restore the Blue Garden sign to its original condition when it was placed on the building in 1924.
Collins said restoring the sign will one of the first projects he takes on after the sale is complete. The sign will be removed temporarily and taken to a shop in Salem for some much needed TLC and placed back on the front of the building.
“We will be trying to return its basic street facade to what it was,” he said.
Collins said before beginning the process of buying the building, he researched its history. He found it opened in 1890 as a mercantile and later was a candy store. After that it became the restaurant many people remember, which closed in the 1990s.
But just in the short time he was outside the building taking measurements recently, he’s learned more about its history — and place in the community — from passersby who stopped to tell him their Blue Garden stories.
“Just story after story,” he said. “People are excited to see it come back on line.”
Seeing nothing that will bring the sale to a halt, Collins estimates he will have possession of the building in about two weeks. He invites more residents to share their memories and experiences at the Blue Garden and is excited to be able to end the former hot spot’s long years of decline.
Likely, many others in Dallas will share that feeling.
“It’s a beautiful building,” McDaniel said. “I think it’s going to benefit the whole town.”