There Are a Number of Familiar Places on Preservation Dallas's Most Endangered List

At this very moment Preservation Dallas executive director Katherine Seale is at the Women's Museum in Fair Park formally presenting its annual list of properties, neighborhoods and "historic resources" that are among the "most endangered" in the city. Even the most casual Friend of Unfair Park will recognize, perhaps, all of them.

There is the old Dallas High School, which continues to rot at the intersection of Pearl and Bryan Streets. (Just this weekend, in fact, I drove by and noticed several boards have fallen off windows that are, by agreement with the city, supposed to remain covered.) There's David Crockett School, also a husk abandoned by the Dallas Independent School District. Also: Adamson High School and O.M. Roberts, both at the center of controversy in recent months.

Several abandoned branch libraries, among them the boarded-up Walnut Hill location.

Also on the list: 508 Park Avenue -- which, need I remind you at this late date, is where Robert Johnson recorded half of his immortal catalog. At present, it's the subject of litigation: The owners want to tear it down; the city has said no, you can't. Deep Ellum too makes the list -- the third year in a row. Also on the list: three buildings on Elm Street that are likely to be razed for the expansion of old Central Expressway downtown, among them the ca. 1898 Preston Loan Building.

And, of course, the return to the list of an old friend: the Statler Hilton, for which there are occasional rumblings of new life but nothing, so far, beyond wishful thinking. But there are also neighborhoods listed -- South Dallas. And the city's Historic Preservation Program, now on life support following budget cut after cut after bloodletting.

Many of these properties have been on previous lists. I asked Seale why the repeat. She explained: "Well, we debated re-listing some of the properties such as Crozier Tech for fear of sounding like a broken record, but we decided to list it in the end because so many of the people who fought so hard to save the school are disappearing. And, many people at City Hall now were not there to witness the tear-filled alumni in their letter jackets, singing their school song. The story of Crozier Tech represents one of those special defining moments in a city's history, and we felt the need to remind people that this building does indeed matter to Dallas' citizens."

The release follows.


Locations: Various
Threat: While it is clear that many DISD schools - new as well as historic - require updating for technology and to correct deficiencies due to lack of or improper maintenance over the years, the solution is NOT to demolish these venerable and beloved schools that are important landmarks to the city and its history. Distinctive, historic schools contribute to our sense of history, context, and community. A successful model exists of combining historic and new educational facilities within DISD - the recently completed Booker T. Washington High School. Such an approach of utilizing a historic school has been successful in other cities making the schools the pride of the neighborhood.

Examples include: Adamson High School and Old Oak Cliff Christian Church in Oak Cliff; Oran M. Roberts School in east Dallas; and Davy Crockett School in Old East Dallas

Location: 2214 Bryan Street
Threat: This former high school was built in 1907 and is the oldest remaining school building in Dallas. Prominently located next to the DART station at Bryan and Pearl, the structure has sat vacant since 1995. Once vacant, the school alumni organized, attending 44 public meetings in hopes of designating their school a city of Dallas historic landmark. During this process, a California investor purchased the building with plans to knock it down for a parking lot. But the alumni prevailed, and Crozier Tech was saved from the wrecking ball. Now, it sits empty, boarded-up with no plans for redevelopment.

We commend the City Attorneys Office in issuing citations, and encourage the city to be more aggressive in its application of liens against the property for the unlawful neglect the owner is performing. The out-of-town owner investor should sell the building so that it may once again be a viable, attractive building for downtown Dallas.

Locations: Various
Threat: Dallas' South Dallas historic districts are not getting the private investment and public funds that they merit. Too many empty lots pockmark these historic districts, and demolition has been seen as the only tool to deal with abandoned houses. There is a great opportunity for public entities to turn the situation around. HUD funds could be used to save these neighborhoods, programs could work on clearing property titles, empty lots could be put into the land bank and made available for compatible new construction, thus stimulating the tax base, revitalizing the entire neighborhood, and adding to our affordable housing stock.

Location: 1914 Commerce Street
Threat: Since the opening of Main Street Garden, there has been renewed interest in The Statler Hilton Hotel, located at 1914 Commerce Street in the eastern end of downtown Dallas. Completed in 1956 at a cost of $16,000,000, the Statler was the first major hotel built in Dallas in nearly three decades and the largest convention facility built in the South. The Statler played an important role establishing Dallas as a business center for the Southwest. It was the largest hotel in the Southwest, and helped attract convention business to Dallas for many years.

Today, the building sits vacant. A challenge in attracting developers is lack of parking. Located on an increasingly attractive piece of real estate, the Statler Hilton faces increasing development pressure. City of Dallas landmark protection and financial incentives are needed to ensure the successful redevelopment of this iconic block of Mid-Century Modern architecture.

Locations: Various, see below.
Threat: While staff cuts and reduced hours within the Dallas Public Library system are a sad reminder of the major reduction in public services, a number of the city's mid-century modern branch libraries are now being replaced with new libraries to accommodate shifts in demand in library services.

These mid-century branch libraries were built in response to Dallas' new suburban growth, and are representative of a time that continues to define our City. The branch libraries were designed by some of the best young architecture firms in the city who would go on to become prominent firms.

Once the new replacement libraries open, the existing buildings are moth-balled, and the utilities are turned-off. Deterioration sets in, and the buildings become vulnerable to neglect, arson, and vandalism. As part of the de-accession process, the City is encouraged to consider appropriate preservation restrictions and to monitor the status of these buildings on a regular basis.

Libraries include:

Former Downtown Central Library (George Dahl, opened 1955)
1954 Commerce Street
(Now owned by a private investor).

Walnut Hill Branch Library (Fisher & Jarvis, and Associates Architects, opened 1961)
9495 Marsh Lane
Honor Award, Texas region/American Institute of Architects, 1963

Casa View Branch Library (William H. Hidell, opened 1964)

10355 Ferguson Road

Hampton-Illinois Branch Library (Harold A. Berry, opened 1964)
2210 West Illinois

Lancaster-Kiest Branch Library (Harper & Kemp, opened 1964)
3039 Lancaster Road

Locations: Main, Elm, and Commerce Streets
Threat: For a third year in a row, the Deep Ellum area is listed as endangered. Deep Ellum, the center for Texas blues and jazz in the 1920s and 30s, includes remnants of the largest collection of one & two story storefronts from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s still standing in the city. Multiple business closings, increased development pressure due to the new Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail station, and no city historic overlay in place, has Deep Ellum ripe for demolition. Current zoning allows for larger buildings as tall as 15-stories to replace the 1 and 2-story buildings that characterize the area. Alterations not in keeping with the historic character of properties also threaten to diminish the historic look of the area.

While historic district designations have been drafted, property owners have declined designation. Deep Ellum retains its early-twentieth century commercial character once nearly universal in American towns but now all but vanished from the landscape. A tone or "look" has been created by accumulation over many years of commerce, music, and history. As Deep Ellum is potentially redeveloped for the future and an ever larger population, the existing character becomes an asset to preserve and enhance.

Threat: 508 Park Avenue and 1900 Young Street were the subject of an application for demolition last year. The demolition certificates were denied by the Landmark Commission, and upheld by the City Plan Commission.

508 Park was built in 1929 as the Warner Brothers Film Exchange. It also served as lease space for Brunswick Record's regional distribution center. With its Zig-Zag Modern detailing, the Art Deco edifice is one of the best examples of this type of architecture in the city. Also, the building has significance for its association with giants in the music industry including Art Satherley (inducted into the Country Music Hall of Music in 1971), famous record producer Bob Wills (inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968), legendary producer Don Law (inducted into the Country Music Hall of Music in 2001). 508 Park is perhaps best known for its association with Mississippi Bluesman Robert Johnson (1911-1938), who reportedly made his second and last recording there.

With the future development of the new convention center hotel and potential plans for light rail transit in the area, and vacant space in near-by historic buildings, Preservation Dallas hopes that a new owner will seize the opportunity to take advantage of federal preservation tax credits and redevelop these historic properties.

Location: 501 Second Avenue
Threat: Originally known as the Gulf Oil Company Distribution Facility, these six buildings from the 1920s served as a sales center and warehouse for the regional distribution of Gulf Oil products. Gulf Oil was a major contributor to the economic development of Dallas, and the state of Texas.

Today, the complex has been preserved, and the buildings have been re-used for commercial office and event space. However, part of the complex lies within the planned I-30 Highway expansion project. According to the site-plan, one of the buildings would be demolished by the widening of the highway. Although the Hickory Street Annex is not in immediate danger, we encourage the city and federal agencies to re-design the proposed intersection and entrance ramp now so that the complex will not be harmed by the planned expansion.

Locations: 2226 Elm Street, 2224 Elm Street, and 2222 Elm Street
Threat: These small buildings are some of the last late nineteenth and early twentieth-century structures remaining in downtown, and they stand in the way of the proposed widening of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, formerly Central Expressway. Preservation Dallas supports the plans to expand and beautify the new Cesar Chavez Boulevard, and we encourage the City to explore options for moving the buildings out of harm's way.

Threat: All city services are being cut to meet major gaps in the City's budget. Programs like Historic Preservation, which are supported by the Enterprise Fund, were cut by 50% last year. More cuts are to come, and with no historic preservation officer in place, the program lacks the much-needed support to be pro-active. As the economy improves, and renovations and construction increases, the staff will be stretched too thin, resulting in delayed landmark designations and protections of our historic buildings.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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