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Statler, Deep Ellum and Crozier Tech Among Preservation Dallas' Endangered

Luna Tortilla Factory, also on the Endangered list
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For the fourth year, Preservation Dallas has announced its “Most Endangered Resources” list, which features everything from specific buildings to general neighborhoods -- and includes this year a plea for the city to change its teardown procedures, lest more historic properties get razed before preservationists can step in front of the bulldozers. No surprise, of course, which building tops the list: the Statler Hilton Hotel, just last week named one of the most endangered properties in the entire U.S. and A. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Also on there: Crozier Tech High School, the oldest high school in Dallas, which rejoins the endangered list after years of slowly self-destructing -- despite its already being a city designated landmark. Notes the PD release this a.m., "The building sits vacant with no plans for redevelopment [and] until a new owner is in place the building continues to be threatened."

Deep Ellum makes the list for the second year in a row. Notes the release, "The closing of multiple businesses in recent years, increased development pressure spurred by the construction of a new Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail station, and the lack of a historic overlay designation has several historic buildings in Deep Ellum ripe for demolition." Also mentioned is an old Unfair Park favorite, the Knights of Pythias Temple, which remains vacant. (The city recently asked owners Westdale Asset Management to install ceiling fans, to at least keep the air circulating in the musty building.)

The entire release is below. But also making the list: W.H. Adamson High School, for which designations proceedings began earlier this week, and the Luna Tortilla Factory, which, after 70 years in what remains of Little Mexico, sits empty and for sale.

In fact, that's a curious tale concerning a city-designated landmark: At the end of July 2007, it was announced Luna would have to move from its original McKinney Avenue location because it had been purchased by restaurateur Cretia Drydale. Only, Preservation Dallas executive director Katherine Seale says recent plans to develop the property "never materialized," and nothing's been done with the property since the big announcement was made last summer.

"The reason why we put it on the list is it's emblematic of a lot of our little commercial structures that have extremely high property taxes," Seale says. "It's very difficult for a building like Luna Tortilla Factory to generate income when they're paying the rising property taxes for that property -- especially when it's sitting empty. But even if there was a use for the building, the reason Luna Tortilla Factory moved out was because of the rising property taxes. And the little bit of Little Mexico that existed a decade ago has disappeared because of rising property taxes of the area." --Robert Wilonsky

Statler, Mid-Century Structures Top Dallas’ “Most Endangered”

Preservation Dallas Releases Annual List of Threatened Properties

The former Statler Hilton Hotel in downtown Dallas, named last week as one of the most endangered properties in the nation, tops this year’s list of eleven other endangered buildings and neighborhoods announced by Preservation Dallas.

“It was a timely and fortunate coincidence that the continuing threat to the Statler is recognized by both the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Texas, as well as our organization,” said Chris Culak, president of Preservation Dallas. “Across the nation there is growing awareness, appreciation and support for the distinctive Mid-Century Modern architectural style we see with the Statler.”

Culak says the back-to-back listings may boost the prospects for renovation of the historic hotel, especially among city leaders and staff as well as from the foreign-based owners of the property and potential buyers. Other Dallas commercial and residential properties classified as Mid-Century Modern are threatened with demolition, and Preservation Dallas notes that the city has some of the best examples of the sleek architectural style in the nation.

“The strength of this style in Dallas is due to the tremendous growth in city during the 1950's and 1960's,” says Katherine Seale, Preservation Dallas executive director. “Dallas is receiving national attention and admiration for these buildings, even though our recent past is not always valued locally. Downtown Dallas has some notable recent successes in adaptive reuse in mid-century buildings, but there continues to be a perception that these properties are ‘dated’ and should just go away.”

This marks the fourth consecutive year that Preservation Dallas has issued its list of historic buildings, sites, places and programs that are significant to protecting the city’s past.

For a second year in a row, the Deep Ellum area is listed as endangered. The closing of multiple businesses in recent years, increased development pressure spurred by the construction of a new Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail station, and the lack of a historic overlay designation has several historic buildings in Deep Ellum ripe for demolition.

An example is perhaps Deep Ellum’s most significant historic building, the Knights of Pythias Hall, also known as the Union Bankers Building. Designed in 1916 by William Sidney Pittman, Dallas’ first African-American architect, the building was an important social and commercial center for the African-American community in Dallas. The Knights of Pythias is designated a City of Dallas historic landmark, affording protection from demolition as well as potential preservation tax incentives. But the building remains vacant.

Nearby, the former Dallas/Crozier Tech High School returns to the 2008 list. The city’s oldest high school buildings (1907 and 1911), the Dallas historic landmark was the subject of six years of litigation between the property owner and the City of Dallas. While the building is legally protected from the wrecking ball, the building sits vacant with no plans for redevelopment. Until a new owner is in place the building continues to be threatened.

Opened in 1917 and designed by William B. Ittner, an icon of American public school architecture, Adamson High School has been designated to be “replaced” as part of the recently approved DISD bond program. While it is clear that Adamson requires updating, a successful local model already exists of integrating historic and new educational facilities -- the recently completed Booker T. Washington High School. Such an approach to rehabilitation could provide a state-of-the-art Adamson High that retains its historic features.

Likewise, there is a vanishing Neighborhood Around Adamson High School that is threatened by further destruction of its historic structures, trees and residential street patterns. The proposed additions to Adamson High School and the purchase of additional property for athletic fields, parking and related purposes could result in an insensitively designed campus that results in further deterioration of its surroundings. Originally a vibrant residential community, the neighborhood suffered from the intrusion of large, multi-family buildings following WWII; however, many of its historic Victorian and Craftsman homes and other structures remain.

In the last year, city bond money has provided new sidewalks, curbs and drainage for the Tenth Street area of Oak Cliff. Located between Interstate 35 and Clarendon Drive, several Tenth Street Historic District homes have been renovated but additional attention and resources are needed to save the oldest relatively intact freedmen’s town in Dallas.

The last remaining business from Little Mexico, Dallas’s earliest Hispanic neighborhood, the Luna Tortilla Factory faces increasing pressure from the development occurring in the immediate area and a sharp rise in property values. Built in the Spanish Eclectic-style in 1938, the building is in good condition but is vacant and for sale. The Little Mexico neighborhood is fast disappearing with only a few physical reminders remaining.

Unlike most major cities in Texas, Dallas retains many of its Historic Streetcar Shops. These small, one-story commercial buildings were built at prominent stops along streetcar routes from the late 1800s through the 1930s. Examples are found near residential neighborhoods in historic South Dallas, Oak Cliff, and East Dallas, such as the unusual crescent-shaped shops at the southeast corner of Swiss Avenue and Hall Street where the infamous Bonnie Parker reportedly waited tables. Sensitive redevelopment of these largely unprotected buildings can help support Dallas’ increasingly desirable urban neighborhoods.

As part of its Endangered List, Preservation Dallas also notes the city’s Lack of Demolition Review for Historic Properties. Other Texas cities have procedures that allow city preservation staff to review demolition applications for properties of probable historic merit. This allows the city and property owners additional time to explore alternatives to demolition and the availability of tax incentive programs for rehabilitation. The City of Dallas Long Range Planning Division and city volunteers are already investigating possible solutions, but political support for such a review is necessary.

Preservation Dallas uses the Endangered List to raise awareness with the public, development community and city officials about the threats to historic properties. The nominations are solicited from citizens and hundreds of Preservation Dallas members.

Preservation Dallas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to advocate for the preservation and revitalization of Dallas’ historic buildings, neighborhoods, and places in order to enhance the vitality of our city.

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