Architect Has a Plan (Maybe) to Save Elm St. Buildings Threatened by Chávez Expansion

A few weeks back we were reminded that the city still has plans to widen César Chávez Boulevard from Live Oak to Commerce downtown. At which point we were also reminded that the plan calls for the purchase and demolition of several historic buildings along Elm Street -- chief among them 2226 Elm, which dates back to 1898 and once housed the Preston Loan Building. Preservation Dallas, though, it worried about that building and its two next-door neighbors, which made the 2010 most-endangered list: "These small buildings are some of the last late nineteenth and early twentieth-century structures remaining in downtown ... we encourage the City to explore options for moving the buildings out of harm's way."

Turns out, such a plan exists, if only conceptually at the moment: Craig Melde, a founding principal at Marilla Street-based ARCHITEXAS, would love to move them next the Dallas Farmers Market -- site of the old Harlan Building, which he spent the better part of the early 2000s restoring the only remaining original warehouse in that part of downtown. Melde says Karl Stundins in the Office of Economic Development called about a year ago and asked: Um, would he maybe, like, think about doing it again?

"I was the only one crazy enough to save buildings in the city, and they called and wondered if I'd be interested in relocating these buildings if they could be saved," Melde says. "And I said I'd like to move them to the Farmers Market district, which has TIF funding available. Any venture like this you'll need some assistance, otherwise it's not at all feasible."

That's right -- relocating. As in, picking up and buildings and moving them, oh, thataway. Easy.

Or not: The city's still negotiating with the buildings' owners, who, last we checked a few weeks back, weren't at all happy with City Hall's offers. And when that hurdle's cleared, there's the larger question of: Is it even possible to move these buildings? And if so, how much will it cost?

"I've got to look at the economics of it," Melde says. "I known larger buildings of this type have been moved. In San Antonio, the [Fairmount Hotel] down there was moved -- and it was a much larger brick building." Indeed: On April 4, 1985, the 3.2 -million-pound building was "lifted onto rollers, trussed with bands of steel and moved five blocks to its present location," at the cost of around $1 million.

But Melde's not committing to anything -- he says things like, "I'm gonna explore it" and, "I'm not saying it's definitely going to happen." But he, along with local preservationists, would hate to see the buildings razed -- for more lanes of downtown traffic, no less.

"And we might lose the buildings," he says, not wanting to raise anyone hopes. "I don't want to make money on this. But I don't wanna lose money on it either."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky