Whilst listening to the Deep Ellum deep-dishing on KERA-FM's Think yesterday afternoon, I overhead Deep Ellum Association prez Gianna Madrini say something about how the Knights of Pythias Temple, located at 2551 Elm Street, had been sold. She did not say to whom; she merely suggested that the building was no longer in the hands of Westdale Properties, which has owned the building for years and allowed it to slowly self-destruct. The 91-year-old building -- described in an 1986 Dallas Times Herald story as "the only commercial structure in Dallas built for blacks, by blacks, with black money" -- was designed by Sidney Pittman, Booker T. Washington's son-in-law.
It also has city-designated historic landmark status -- which has meant nothing to Westdale. The company's all but ignored the property, allowing it to disintegrate into a gutted pile of rubble in which squatters and junkies regularly set up shop. You can see traces of its historic past -- it is "one of the few remaining non-religious structures in Dallas that was designed by an African-American architect," according to the city's own Web site -- but little more. For years it has looked like a good breeze could erase all memory of Pittman's creation.
So, yesterday, we set out to see if Westdale has indeed sold the building. The answer's after the jump -- as is the story about how we got hung up on by one of Deep Ellum's biggest caretakers. So, about the future of Deep Ellum ... you were saying?
Madrini says she heard that the Pythias Temple -- which historian Alan Govenar considers among the most important buildings in this city, rightly so -- had been sold; someone she knows told her he'd seen it listed on Westdale's Web site. Only, there's no such info there. Indeed, its "acquisitions and dispositions" page doesn't even work.
Then I called Westdale's Chuck Hixson, who manages the commercial properties down in Deep Ellum. Left a voice-mail message -- which I've done often in the past, never to get a return call. Ah, well. A boy can dream.
So then I checked with the Dallas County District Clerk's Office, using the online records search to see whether Westdale had offloaded the Elm Street property. Nope -- no sign of it anywhere. Made a few more calls to people who would know about the deal, and nobody's heard nothin'.
So I called Hixson again. Got his voice mail again. I hit "0" and got the receptionist. Told her I needed to talk to Chuck, that I'd gotten his voice mail and that, ya know, it was important. She asked my name and told me he was on the phone and asked whether I wouldn't mind holding. "Not at all," I told her, and waited. She popped on three times to see whether I wanted to leave a message; I said I'd keep holding.
After 10 minutes, Hixson gets on the line, clearly without knowing who's on the other end. I identify myself, he says nothing, and I ask whether the Pythias Temple's been sold. All he says is, "No." I ask him whether there are plans to sell it.
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"We own it, and it has not been sold, and that's all the comment I am going to give you," Hixson says.
I try a follow-up. "Are there plans for the building in the future?" I ask, not the hardest-hitting question in the world -- but certainly a fair one, as it is, you know, a city-designated historic landmark. And Westdale actually has the listed on the county tax records as 2505 Elm, not 2551 Elm -- the historic address. Fact is, if Westdale went to the city and asked to get 2505 Elm demolished to make room for a parking lot, no one would ever notice -- and in the meantime, 2551 Elm would get adiosed.
"Thank you, Robert, that's all I'm going to say," Hixson says in a tone of voice usually reserved for government officials accused of contempt of Congress. And then hangs up on me.
Let me ask this very simple question one more time: Where's the outrage? Where? Where. --Robert Wilonsky