By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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Oh, all right already: Its outside smells like street-person pee. Its inside, when Buzz was in the bar years ago, looks like your parents' basement rec room. Its concrete and metal exterior reminds one vaguely of the nicest hotel ever built in the old Soviet Union.
So Buzz, who considers nostalgia a form of mental illness, was not exactly whooping it up to learn that The National Trust for Historic Preservation has put the downtown Statler Hilton Hotel on its list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. (For more info, see the Dallas Observer blog, Unfair Park.) It's old, ugly and empty. Tear it down already.
But then we talked to Larry Hamilton, whose Hamilton Properties Corp. does the hard work of preserving and updating older buildings downtown, including the Davis Building, Dallas Power & Light building and the Mosaic towers next to the Akard light rail station. That was our mistake. Speaking to someone who actually knows what he's talking about makes it tougher for us to go spouting off opinions.
Hamilton once flirted with the idea of renovating the Statler, but got no response from the building's owners. "I consider it eminently savable and worth saving," he told Buzz. "The highest and best use would be historic renovation of the building, by far."
OK, that's just his (educated) opinion and not necessarily persuasive. What threw us was when Hamilton asked us what we thought should go in the Statler's place.
Um...something new and, uh, shiny? Buzz's tastes are similar to a macaw's. Like what? Hamilton asked. There was a pause as Buzz envisioned yet another glass and steel office tower rising from the Dallas skyline. Stainless steel elevators. Polished granite entryway. Ah, sweet homogeneity.
"Is it going to be as good as [the Statler]?" he asked. "I think not...You couldn't build it today."
Given the building's construction, age and size, saving it will be a hard job, but tearing it down and finding a replacement isn't exactly a cakewalk either. (Asbestos remediation would pretty much be the same challenge in either case, Hamilton said.)
But keeping the city's architectural legacy alive by saving a mid-century modern building like the Statler will help give downtown a rich mix of styles, he said. Buzz thought of our favorite downtown, Chicago, with its beautiful blend of old and modern. It's tough to picture downtown Dallas that way. Of course, it's even harder to envision if Dallas goes about tearing down every building older than Buzz.
"We are kind of a throwaway culture now, and it's too bad," Hamilton said.