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One More Bit of Dallas' History About to Bite the Dust

Take a good look at Proctor Hall, which currently sits at 1206 N. Haskell. It's been there since 1921. Probably won't be there much longer. Awesome.
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On Wednesday afternoon, Katherine Seale, the interim executive director of Preservation Dallas, sent an e-mail with the subject heading, "Lincoln Hall to be demolished." She was referring to the building better known as Proctor Hall, a Georgian-style boarding house designed in 1921 by legendary Dallas architect Herbert M. Greene -- the very man responsible for the Dallas News building and the A.H. Belo Mansion, Neiman Marcus' downtown location, the Dallas Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Nurses Home on the campus of the old Parkland Hospital and several buildings on the University of Texas at Austin campus, including the Littlefield Dormitory. The place is also known as "Lincoln Hall" in an American Institute of Architects guide, because that's the name it was given after the building was more recently taken over by the Dallas Theological Seminary and used to house students.

Whatever it's called, since Seale's initial e-mail concerning the fate of the former YWCA women's dormitory -- that's what it was for most of it 85 years -- there has been much action: a last-minute appeal filed with the city's Landmark Commission, some digging at City Hall to see if the demolition certificate was filled out properly (if not, it could be voided), a Dallas Morning News story that appeared on the paper's Web site yesterday evening, even a desperate last-minute call from a city council member to the California company that's planning to raze the historic structure.

But the end result will likely be no different than Seale originally predicted two days ago: Herbert Greene's 85-year-old building, which looks today not so different than it probably did in 1921, is going to be demolished. All we don't know is when.

The magnificent building, which stands at 1206 N. Haskell, was recently sold to California-based Skilled Healthcare Group, which is going to tear down the facility and, as David Flick reported yesterday, "replace it with a rehabilitation facility aimed at older adults." Which means one more piece of Dallas' history will be razed and, soon enough, forgotten about entirely. And why? Because the city never sought to protect the building -- at least, not till it was way, way too late.

On Wednesday afternoon, Seale said she had found out about the building's imminent demise from a friend. She confirmed it with the city. Then she did everything she could to stop it.

First, she submitted to the all-volunteer Designation Task Force -- which makes recommendations to the Landmark Commission -- a report concerning the building's significance. In her report, Seale wrote that "Lincoln Hall is potentially eligible for designation as a Dallas landmark meeting seven of the city's ten designation criteria: Architecture, Architect, Unique visual feature, Historic Education, Historic Context, National or State recognition, and History/Heritage/Culture." She described it as "one of east Dallas' few institutional buildings left standing from the early-twentieth century." She called it "a magnificent interpretation of the Georgian architectural style by one of the city's most capable architects."

She all but begged for the task force to stand in front of the bulldozers. From her report:

The building was built in 1921 for the YWCA as a women's dormitory. It is a three-story, red brick building with a raised basement. Prior to its design, a study was performed by the young women of the association comparing "pictures from all over the country of different types of construction and club buildings" in an effort to design the ideal building (Dallas Morning News, 1921-01-02).

A recent exhibition of Herbert Miller Greene's work describes many of accomplishments including: . Architect of 90 projects throughout Texas and the United States; . Founder of one of the oldest continuously operating architectural firms in Texas, Greene LaRoche and Dahl. . Recipient of a 10-year contract from the University of Texas to succeed the esteemed Cass Gilbert as University architect; and . First Texas architect to be elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Greene was a versatile architect who designed many of Dallas most prominent landmarks. His work includes: the downtown Neiman Marcus, Scottish Rite Cathedral (National Register listed), Number 4 Hook and Ladder Company on Cedar Springs Road (National Register listed), parts of Crozier Tech High School (National Register listed), A.H. Belo House on Ross Avenue (Recorded Texas Historic Landmark), Lipscomb Elementary School on Worth, John Deere Building on Elm, and the Titche-Goettinger Company store building (National Register listed).

Thursday morning, Doug Edwards, chair of the Landmark Commission, initiated proceedings to have Proctor Hall certified as a city landmark, which would mean no alterations of any kind could be made to the building -- including, most certainly, its demolition. That prompted the city's long-range planning head, Teresa O'Donnell, to "flag the address," as Seale put it Thursday afternoon. In other words, a simple demolition was shaping up as a bigger battle.

"Essentially, when a property is initiated for designation, it puts a moratorium on any work done on the building, including demolition, until the Landmark Commission makes a motion to do something," Seale says. "And then the property owners have 180 days to respond to the council. In that time period, who ever is bringing the designation forward makes their case to the council."

Seale says she was told by the city there was no demo permit, but someone from building inspection called to say, yeah, there was and that Preservation Dallas' efforts to save Proctor Hall were "moot." She then called the city attorney's office so see if there was a way to rescind the demolition permit; no such luck. There is state legislation in place that prevents any demolition permits from being revoked on the grounds of historic preservation.

On Thursday afternoon, Seale was so desperate to save the building she sent an intern to City Hall to make sure all the i's were dotted and all the t's were crossed on the permit -- just in case. She also got city council member Angela Hunt involved, even though the building is technically in Pauline Medrano's district. (Hunt's begins more or less just across the street.)/p>

Hunt told Unfair Park Thursday night that she first called the Dallas Theological Seminary to find out more about the building; she says she was told the seminary "made a conscious decision not to protect the building so they could sell it to whomever at the highest price." She then called Skilled Healthcare and was put in contact with Randy Christopher, an exec there. She asked him if there was any room for discussion, given the historic significance of the building. Though Hunt says Christopher was "nice," he also said he'd be happy to put her in touch with the company's attorneys -- "which, to me, says, 'We're not interested,'" Hunt says.

"I drove by the building tonight, and it appears to be in such good shape and is such a nice piece of architecture," Hunt says. "It should be a crime to tear something like that down. Unfortunately, the building is not protected, and it just makes it impossible for the city to do something. So we'll put pressure on the owner. We'll come at it from a business standpoint and tell them, 'We want you to be a good community neighbor.' Other than that, our attorneys don't know any way we can address it.

"But we need to be more proactive, absolutely. What we need to do is ask Preservation Dallas to help the city identify structures we believe are critical to preserve and let's move forward with preserving them now or watch them be destroyed, especially in a city where it's, 'Build, baby, build.'"

The building's destruction looks inevitable as this point: The electrician shut off the building's power yesterday, and asbestos abatement has already been performed. Unless Seale and Hunt can essentially guilt Skilled Heathcare into putting their facility somewhere else -- or unless a few hundred people link their arm around the building and redirect the wrecking ball with a little "Kumbaya" -- that building's coming down, sooner than later, before Skilled Healthcare watches their little feelgood project in faraway Dallas turn into a real pain in the ass.

"It could be done as early as Friday or Monday," Seale says. "This week has been an emotional rollercoaster." That would explain the sinking feeling. --Robert Wilonsky

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