The Undiscovered City

This morning, I took a drive with my favorite tour guide, Preservation Dallas' honcho Dwayne Jones, who offered me a sneak peek at the list of Dallas' 11 most endangered properties, which he is releasing tomorrow. Though it won't be official till then--there are still facts to be checked, etc.--lemme say now it's actually only a list of 10 properties; the 11th item, which is actually the first on the list in terms of importance, is a matter of city policy that will need to be addressed quickly lest some of downtown's more significant structures wither, crumble and collapse from City Hall-imposed neglect. (This is what Jones meant last week when he told Unfair Park the forthcoming list "will not make some of the council members happy.") We will have more about this, and the rest of the list, tomorrow on the blog and next week in the paper.

But on a more general note, it's astonishing the things the city can reveal to you--even if you've lived here your whole life--when you're driving around with a guy who knows everything about every little corner. Just a few blocks away from the Observer's Oak Lawn offices, in fact, is a house I never knew existed: The Daisy Polk House at 2971 Reagan, the former home of the Dallas Opera star of the 1930s. He pointed out several astonishing Oak Lawn homes dating from the early 1900s in danger of being torn down to make way for more condos and townhouses, which are spreading throughout the neighborhood they now threaten to swallow completely. He pointed out the "no-man's land" on Hall Street, between Ross Avenue and North Central Expressway--an area populated by the Scorpions motorcycle club's daunting black-painted headquarters, a sketchy "lifestyles accessories" storefront and other uninviting places. He pointed out old apartment buildings designed by the same men responsible for some of Dallas' fancier mansions--including The Mansion on Turtle Creek, as a matter of fact, which was built for cotton magnate Sheppard King in 1923 and shares an architect, J. Allen Boyle, with the Mirasol Courts Apartments at 3720 Rawlins St. behind the Starbucks on Oak Lawn Avenue.

Almost every block in Old East Dallsas contains some diamond reverting into coal; there are hundred-year-old houses in this town close to never again seeing another tomorrow, and Jones has few allies at City Hall to stave off their inevitable ruin. But there are also things in plain sight going to hell--things that made the list, and things that will not survive long enough to wind up there in subsequent years. Either we take them for granted, or they've been obscured up by the hideous Gables apartment buildings taking root on every other block. Or they've been turned into parking lots: During a trip through Deep Ellum, Jones pointed out a parking lot where once stood old storefronts on Commerce Street, behind the old Bomb Factory. I didn't even notice they had been pulled down--probably no one has or ever will. --Robert Wilonsky

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