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Life in our Foothills October 2021 -An Architect, a Musician, a Storyteller

Story and Photography by Mark Levin

Additional photography supplied by Brady-Trakas

Dean Trakas knew he had found home when he came to Tryon in 1999. What he didn’t realize at the time was that he would leave his mark on this community.

Downtown Tryon is dotted with projects created by Dean Trakas and the Brady-Trakas Architecture Firm. It’s not all Dean, his associate Julie McIntyre is herself an excellent architect. Each of them has skills that complement the other. The two have worked together for 20 years and between them have seen their architectural ideas transform the cityscape of Tryon. And to Dean, helping Tryon and other communities shine is his greatest accomplishment.

While residential projects make up the bulk of his business, it’s helping the community improve its image through imaginative use of existing buildings and space that he loves the most.

It didn’t take a lot of enticing to get Dean to check out Tryon over 20 years ago. Growing up in Spartanburg, his parents were friends with Tryon resident and well-known architect Holland Brady. Mr. Brady was a major influence on Dean deciding to go into architecture. At one point Dean thought he wanted to be a professional musician. He had started taking piano lessons at age three and continued with lessons well into college. But Dean’s dad, who was a dentist for 50 years, decided it was time for a heart-to-heart chat. It didn’t take a lot of convincing to help Dean see that one career direction would probably help pay more bills than the other. Dean saw the wisdom in that and has never looked back. He was and always will be a Clemson tiger, so the college choice was easy. Dean says, “My blood runs orange.”

Music continues to play an important role in Dean’s life. He performs regularly on the piano at Harper Eatery & Pub in downtown Tryon and he’s often invited be a member of various choral groups. But all of that is just for fun these days.

Dean does have a classic Clemson story that left him red-faced. As it turned out Holland Brady was serving as a visiting professor in the architecture program while Dean was a student. Dean had chosen a project to design a performing arts center for Tryon. Of course, the current Tryon Fine Arts Center had already been well established on Melrose Avenue for years. Dean’s project was just “academic” and wouldn’t be replacing anything. 

Since the project was “on paper,” he could do anything he wanted and place the building anywhere. So theoretically, Dean’s chosen spot was the large parking lot and adjacent building that happened to be the location of Stott’s Ford on Trade Street in downtown Tryon. To Dean, this was the entrance into the “historic” part of Tryon and with a large corner lot he could just imagine the façade of such a building. And with perfect placement of building on the lot…wow, what a first impression this would give residents and visitors alike.

Dean did a wonderful job on paper of creating this impressive new look for the arts center. He was beaming with anticipation and pride when it was his time to have his project juried in front of a full auditorium of fellow architectural students and professors.

Mr. Brady, now in his professorial role as opposed to family friend, was the last professor to speak. He questioned Dean on the value of tearing down the building of an important business in town. He interrogated Dean on why he wouldn’t at least incorporate parts of the existing building into a new design thus preserving the old. After all, the Stott’s Ford business and building were well known and respected in the town. In Dean’s mind, he could do anything he wanted as this was just a project…but that didn’t prevent him from putting his foot in his mouth. As Holland Brady continued to press Dean on his reasons for tearing down this building, Dean finally said, “Well, it’s actually not the most attractive building in town.” 

The set-up was perfect, but not planned. Holland Brady, in his booming voice, stared directly into Dean’s eyes and said, “Mr. Trakas,” and after a long pause added, “I designed the Stott’s Ford building.” The room erupted into a roar of laughter with Professor Brady leading the chorus. It took a while for Dean to live that down, but in the end…maybe he had the last laugh. When the Stott family was ready to renovate their building, they called on Dean and Julie to do the design. Today, that new and handsome building welcomes folks into Tryon just as Dean had envisioned as an architectural student many years ago.

Before making the move to Tryon, Dean and his family spent several years in Charleston, Spartanburg and Marion. Dean started building his reputation as an architect while his wife, Kelly, was making a name for herself as restaurateur. But Holland Brady wasn’t about to give up enticing Dean to Tryon. Holland continued to prod Dean into moving to the “friendliest town in the South.” It was the perfect career move at the right time and the name Trakas was added to the well-respected Brady Architectural Firm sign. 

When Holland Brady died in 2013, Dean Trakas insisted the Brady-Trakas name remain the name of the firm. After all, as Dean said, “Would you drop the Frank Lloyd Wright name from a firm’s name when he died?” That’s the kind of reputation Holland Brady had and the reputation that Dean was set to perpetuate. Today the Brady-Trakas name is synonymous with beautiful design, excellent use of space and quality construction. 

Working with people is the most rewarding part of his job. To do his best work as an architect, Dean says you really need to know the client. Establishing relationships with clients is a long-term process. Dean prides himself on being a good listener. For many clients, this will be their dream home and the last home they’ll build. They want it to be perfect and that’s the challenge for Dean. Designing a home involves more than just what the finished project will look like…it involves knowing about materials, site placement, use of terrain, and building codes. It involves working with contractors and follow-through on all aspects of the process from initial conversations to move-in day. There’s no prouder moment for Dean as when a new project is finished and takes on a life of its own.

The Town of Tryon has lots of proud moments for Dean Trakas and his associate, Julie McIntyre. A walk of just a few blocks will take you past several starting with the Stott’s Ford building. They designed the plaza across from the Tryon clock tower. At one point, that was the location of a Sinclair gas station. The tall, peaked roof line of that station is incorporated in the new look. And that clock tower…they designed it as well. Beyond the clock tower is the Tryon Train Depot. Yes, they did the redesign of that as well. The three buildings that used to be the site of Missildine’s Drug Store was their work as is part of the Nina Simone Plaza. They’re ready to design the Nina Simone Archives building when money is raised for its construction. And the newly renovated Tryon Theatre, the movie house that originally opened in the 1930s – it’s their work too. Dean is quick to point out that Julie took the lead on that.

Dean believes in being a part of the community. He believes in service and giving back to the places that have helped make him who he is. Dean serves on the boards now or in the past of several local and area organizations. He has a passion for service and a passion for people. And he also is the consummate entertainer. In fact, it is Dean who brought the “ball drop” to Tryon on New Year’s Eve, something he had started earlier when he lived in Marion. But now the ball drops from the top of the clock tower Dean helped design overlooking St. Luke’s Plaza that Dean helped designed. And if you go down the side street beneath the old Missildine’s building on a Friday night into Harper Eatery & Pub, you’ll likely find Dean Trakas playing the piano to another appreciative audience. Most of the diners will never know that the piano player did the redesign on this very building.

Dean points out that every project has its soul. That building means something to the owner, to the builder, to the people who will go inside, or see it passing by. And it means something to Dean. It’s his life. Part of his soul is contained within the walls of that building. He doesn’t believe in slowing down or in retiring. Just like Holland Brady who worked well into his 80s, Dean is in this for the long haul. Just like his architectural creations, Dean Trakas has soul, and you can see it all over Tryon and in towns and cities beyond.

Business Info:

Brady-Trakas Architecture is located at 285 North Trade Street in Tryon. Office number is 828-859-6006. Email: bradytrakas@gmail.com.