City Hall

The Old Praetorian Building Downtown May Be Coming Down as Part of Joule Expansion

The high-rise standing at 1607 Main Street looks nothing like the one built on that very spot in 1909, when it was known as the Praetorian Building -- "the West's first 'skyscraper.'" Architect Clarence C. Bulger's 15-story building, once an ornate, golden-hued tourist attraction, was gutted and stripped bare in the late 1950s and early '60s, its interior gutted and its exterior stripped and shrouded by porcelain and steel. All that remains of the original building is its frame, which is why, amongst the inventory of buildings that make up the Dallas Downtown Historic District, it is considered "non-contributing." Its historic significance was erased a long time ago.

And now, we learn, the building itself may disappear sooner than later.

In January 2010 we learned that oilman Tim Headington, owner of The Joule, had purchased the old Praetorian, more recently known as Stone Place Tower; it became official a month later. The high-rise, used in December as the site of that "4D" screening of The Tourist trailer, was but one of several properties Headington bought around that time, some of which will become part of the Joule expansion on schedule to make its bow in November 2012.

But yesterday we discovered that the Praetorian, as well as 1600 Elm, are on the potential chopping block: On August 29, Headington Realty and Capital filed with the city demolition permits for both properties.

Michael Tregoning, the company's CFO, tells Unfair Park that, yes, it may have to come down -- though for now, he insists, nothing is definite. Sources say the property factors into a second phase of the hotel's expansion, which may involve retail and parking. Says Downtown Dallas president and CEO John Crawford, "At this point we're trying to decide the highest and best use based on what they're doing."

Headington, of course, has been acclaimed for his downtown restorations; after all, The Joule at 1530 Main Street was, in a previously life, the Dallas National Bank building upon its completion in 1927. Tregoning says they have looked at every possible way to salvage the Praetorian.

"Given it's such a fine example, especially by Dallas standards of neo-Gothic architecture,  it piqued our interest, and it would be really, really cool to restore it," he says. "It was said to be an even better example than 1530. But when they put the skin on it, all the historical elements and articulation was broken or knocked off. ... We are not unsympathetic to the fact it was a cool building; that's not what we're about at all. And, we don't have a time frame. But we are not in the business of doing something disrespectful to historic buildings."

Katherine Seale, executive director of Preservation Dallas, says they're "definitely looking into" plans to raze the building -- if only because it's one of the last of the C.W. Bulger & Son-designed buildings standing in downtown. The skin, she acknowledges, may have ruined whatever history the building may have once had: "It's been covered for more than 50 years, and it depends how it was applied to the building. Often, lots of those historic buildings had nasty facades applied to them, and the buildings were restored. You see that all over downtown."

There was an effort made by the building's then-owner in 2005 to restore the original building; there's visual evidence of that here. But the California owner fell into financial problems, and that was the end of that. And, besides, by all accounts little of Bulger's original lies beneath the skin; it's a shell, if that.

Says Crawford, adding that it's "just a personal comment," the building has become "dull and dingy and doesn't lend itself to the vibrancy of what [Headington] is doing." He, for one, won't miss it. Others will, should its owner decide it must come down.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky