Demolishing Old Buildings in Dallas Is Easier Than Saving Them

Main Street circa 1910. The taller building is the Praetorian, Dallas' first skyscraper, which Headington demolished in 2012.
Main Street circa 1910. The taller building is the Praetorian, Dallas' first skyscraper, which Headington demolished in 2012.

Tim Headington, the oil billionaire behind the Joule Hotel, has a weird relationship with local preservationists. On the one hand, Preservation Dallas honored him with an achievement award last May for his work on the hotel, which sits in a restored 1927 building. On the other hand, Preservation Dallas Executive Director David Preziosi says that when he tried to talk to someone from Headington's company about the 129-year-old building it also owns across the street from the Joule, nobody got back to him.

"In May, after the article came out about the demolition of the building, we tried contacting [Headington Companies President] Mike Tregoning," Preziosi says, referencing a Dallas Morning News story confirming that the building at 1611 Main was going to be demolished at some point. "We did not get any response back from them."

Preziosi says his group gave the Joule the award "before everything came out about the demolition of the building." Then, he says, he sent emails and left voicemails for Tregoning, asking for a meeting to talk about 1611 Main. Preziosi claims he never got a response. (We also left voicemails for Tregoning but haven't received a response.)

A few months later, in August, Preziosi says it seemed like 1611 Main might survive after all. He points to an article in FD Luxe that reported that Brian Bolke, owner of boutique Forty Five Ten, had formed a partnership with Headington and planned to move his boutique to a historic building across the street from the Joule. The store, FD Luxe wrote, "will open in a grand, multi-story historic building on Main Street," suggesting that maybe 1611 Main would be restored, not destroyed.

But this past Friday, a demolition contractor applied for a permit to tear down 1611 Main. That same day, the city signed off on it, and the wrecking ball came two days later.

Councilman Philip Kingston says he had no idea the building was going to be demolished, even though it's in his district. "There is no mechanism for alerting me or the public or anybody else who might be affected," he says. "To do it on a Sunday on a Cowboys game, it looks like they are trying to not alert anybody to it. That's troubling."

Dallas' instructions for "How to Get a Demolition Permit" make the process look super easy. You can typically get a permit to demolish a building the same day you apply, the instructions say. Even being located in the Central Business District, as 1611 Main was, makes no difference.

"I spoke with a building inspection manager, and was told there is no additional process or wait time to get a demolition permit in the CBD," says Dallas public relations officer Robyn Gerard in an email.

Even though 1611 Main was old, it wasn't labeled a landmark by City Hall. For a building to get that special protection, someone has to nominate it to Dallas' Landmark Commission, which then has to approve it and send the nomination over to City Council. The designation pretty much guarantees that the building won't be demolished.

But getting that protection is the hard part.

"There are a number of buildings in downtown Dallas that should be landmarks," but aren't, says Marcel Quimby, a Dallas preservationist architect. The problem, Quimby says, is that getting that landmark status for a building is virtually impossible without the building owner's cooperation, and "many owners do not want any encumbrances of the building or people telling them what to do."

Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.

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