Dallas Preservationistas Are Out to Get Some Money and Some Muscle

his pile of rubble would still be a stately mansion, founders of a new preservation entity say, if they had been around to save it.
his pile of rubble would still be a stately mansion, founders of a new preservation entity say, if they had been around to save it.
Jim Schutze

Historic preservation goes on the muscle today in Dallas with the announcement (see below) of a war chest for buying up threatened properties. A new nonprofit, called Dallas Endowment for Endangered Properties (DEEP), will seek ownership of anything its directors think is worth saving and in the way of harm or destruction.

“No inner city neighborhood needs to be threatened,” said Neal Emmons, spokesman for the new fund and a member of the Dallas Plan Commission.

The new entity will operate as a revolving fund similar to a fund used in the 1970s to save Munger Place, now an expensive inner city neighborhood, slated back then for decay and demolition.

“The city told us Munger Place could not be saved,” Virginia McAlester, a founder of DEEP, said today. “They said it met none of the standards that would make it a salvageable neighborhood.”

So according to City Hall’s vision at the time, Munger Place should now be used car lots, hell-hole apartments and tumble-down rooming houses. Instead, it’s a gleaming jewel in the tiara of historic inner city neighborhoods saved by activists nearly a half century ago.

McAlester said the new entity announced today will operate the same way, as a revolving fund to buy, stabilize and then sell historic properties. She named the Lakewood Theater in Old East Dallas, whose destiny is still unknown, and a recently demolished mansion on Live Oak Street in East Dallas as properties the fund would have tried to acquire had it been in existence earlier.

Nobody knows whether the old Lakewood Theater in East Dallas will survive under current owners.
Nobody knows whether the old Lakewood Theater in East Dallas will survive under current owners.
Jim Schutze

Emmons said the new entity will use the shared knowledge and expertise of its founding members, all of whom have backgrounds in historic and conservation districts in Dallas, to secure the properties it acquires. The intention will be to then sell off properties once they have been protected and use proceeds of each sale to acquire more threatened properties.

McAlester is the author of A Field Guide to American Houses, considered by many to be the American Bible of preservation. A writer in The New York Times recently praised the book as “excellent for the layperson who wants to wander about the neighborhood with a bit more authoriity … also useful to those of us who study preservation professionally.”

Emmons said DEEP, the new foundation, is seeking but does not yet have tax-exempt status. It is beginning fund-raising efforts now.

McAlester said the effect of the Munger Place revolving fund in the 1970s was almost instantaneous. “Within months we had acquired over 20 properties,” she said. Those acquisitions attracted local and national media attention; the home-buying public began to think of Munger Place as a viable neighborhood with a future instead of a forbidding slum; and the rest is history.

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