Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

In our culture of “bigger, better, newer, faster,” historic theaters may well be one of America’s most endangered buildings.

There are at least 160 of these beauties in the Lone Star State, once the center of a city’s entertainment district. But now these Arcadias, Palaces, Majestics, Paramounts, and Pioneers often sit in states of disrepair.

Some municipalities or private groups have stepped up and renovated these architectural treasures, like the Pines Theater in Lufkin, the Historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, and the Crighton Theatre in Conroe.

But all too often, these buildings are demolished to make way for new development that looks flashier and brings in more rent per square foot.

In Odessa, the Ector Theatre is at the center of just such a situation now, with a proposal to make it part of a new downtown hotel and convention center, a $73 million project. Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital, a real estate investment company, made the proposal for development of the area that would include retaining the historic Ector image, but details are sparse.

The Odessa City Council approved a 90-day, $192,000 study on Jan. 13 by Gatehouse and third-party companies to examine the options for the theater, and nothing is off the table yet. Jump to read more!

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The yellow home at 3407 Hall Street could be demolished to make way for new construction. (Photo: Dallas Voice)

The yellow home at 3407 Hall Street could be demolished to make way for new construction. (Photo: Dallas Voice)

This situation is more akin to the Bill Murray masterpiece Groundhog Day than Dallas would like to admit. We walk along our favorite sidewalks on our regular routes in our neighborhood only to be confronted with a city notice that the structure we’ve come to know somewhat like a best friend is slated for demolition. Even worse is when we see the wrecking ball at work with little or no warning. Bonus points if it’s during a Dallas Cowboys game.

Cue the outcry.

That’s exactly what has happened to 3409 Hall St., according the the Dallas Voice. A Board of Adjustment notice was posted in front of the last original structure facing Lee Park, a cute yellow house built in 1940 that is on the tax rolls for more than $714,000.

But the crux of the matter is that demolition permits aren’t issued overnight. For many historic structures, including the ones just demolished to make room for the Joule Hotel’s expansion, the process from requesting a permit to turning a building into a rubble pile takes weeks, if not sometimes months. And not all demolitions require a public announcement

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20131226-MCALLISTER-slide-69UK-jumboThis is a must-read, perfect story to bring us out of our holiday rest: Dallas founder and past president of Preservation Dallas Virginia Savage McAlester takes the world on a tour of her 96 year old Swiss Avenue home located in the 5700 block of Swiss. She is also the author of  “A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture,” a veritable bible of historical preservation in Dallas and comprehensive history of American houses. Despite a life-threatening illness, McAlester has published an update of her 1984 book that is out this month and hopefully found it’s way into many ipads and readers.

Virginia is a native Dallasite whose father was once mayor of Dallas, and her whole family, it seems, have been activists working to improve various factions of the city of her birth for decades. Virginia is one of the people, if not the chief person, responsible for saving the glorious stretch of historic homes we have on Swiss Avenue today. She has lived in a Swiss Avenue home (or very nearby) for the last 64 years.

I’d like to draw attention to two statements made in the article. One,

William Seale, who lives part time in East Texas and is known for his histories of the White House, recalls the days when developers charged like “wild bulls” over the city’s old neighborhoods. “When she started broadening her preservation efforts,” he wrote of Ms. McAlester in an email, “few, if any, in Dallas had the slightest interest in historic preservation, thinking their history too new to be worthwhile.”

Indeed, in the 1960’s Swiss Avenue homes were about 40 to 50 years old, and by Yankee home ages, just not that old!

The local Lakewood Bank would not lend against these properties (and her father had been chairman of the board). They were, apparently, worthless, she said: “I guess one of the reasons that I wrote the first book is we needed to have a survey.”

As the article points out, the grand homes of Swiss became battered and were left very much unloved, except for her family’s and those nearby. At one point you could pick up a dumpy 5,000 square foot Swiss Avenue mansion for $30,000, and you were brave. Now they list for $1 million and more.

Still, Virginia doesn’t believe the housing market has fully come to its senses.

The shelter magazines and coffee-table books of today, she writes, worship “the singular statements — one-of-a-kind architect-designed landmarks, rarely encountered in the field but comprising a great many of today’s design awards.”

Dallas Realtor Ralph Randall says “My first introduction to this house, circa 1974, was at a family reunion. Our city is indebted to the Harris-Savage-McAlester family.”

Indeed, incredibly indebted. It does make us stop and think that we probably need to preserve even more of our “not quite so old” homes of today, because in 50 or 60 years, we will be as delighted to be inside them as we are any one of these mansion on stunning Swiss Avenue.

 

Monte Vista Front

I know that sometimes, preserving historic neighborhoods and architecture can be a big ol’ pain in the butt. Just ask the folks over at Casa Linda Estates who have tried at least twice to pass an NSO (Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay) and failed. Some people say that whittling down property rights in a residential neighborhood makes it harder to sell a home. Others think that any regulation of private property puts a costly burden on homeowners.

Monte Vista Living

But what if historic preservation elevated a neighborhood, made it more consistent, gave it its own personality, and ensured standards that would endure beyond this decade to the next? That’s the story behind Hollywood/Santa Monica — an East Dallas neighborhood that used to be dumpy and ignored — the red-headed stepchild of Lakewood. That was until some very determined neighbors decided to come up with some standards for their community that they could enforce, some rules and regulations to hold others accountable. And what do you see now in Hollywood Heights and Santa Monica? Homes like this amazing 1928 Tudor at 618 Monte Vista.

Monte Vista Hall

Marketed by Joe Kacynski for an astonishing $445,000, this gorgeous home is all traditional on the outside — totally in step with the rest of the neighborhood — but inside it is a modern work of art. There are so many great features to this 1,720-square-foot home that you will be bowled over. The gorgeous modern custom millwork and cabinetry, the nooks and doors that make this home so extremely versatile, and the backyard that is begging for a fall soiree — all designed by Coy Talley, an absolute genius who is known for his work at the Perot.

MonteVista Kitchen MonteVista Breakfast

Can you imagine the possibilities? I mean, check out the huge ash pivot door that opens to the dining area, or the gallery hallway with built-in cabinets and drawers. The kitchen, which has some of the most unique counters and cabinets I have ever seen. And the master bathroom, which might inspire the buyers to become Zen practitioners. Of course, not everything is uber modern, as the original stained glass windows are still installed.

Monte Vista Master Monte Vista Master Bath

With three bedrooms and two baths, this home is worth every bit of its asking price just for the great design that went into it. And you’ll also love the garage, which Talley designed to be a sort of icehouse with sliding doors that open to the terraced backyard.

If you want to see this home up close (and come on, you know you do) it’s open from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Run, don’t walk, to check this amazing home out!

Monte Vista Backyard

10-nonesuch-rd-dallas-tx-1-High-Res-6

Why is preservation important? That’s a question that can be answered differently depending on where you live, what you do, and your personal taste. To me, I think preserving historic architecture allows a city a shared sense of history, as well as a barrier from becoming homogenous.

Mark DotyFor Mark Doty, a staff member with the city of Dallas Historic Preservation office and author of Lost Dallas, a city’s past is written in its streets and buildings, its neighborhoods and its public spaces. They stand as everyday monuments to the people who lived and worked within them every day.

Doty took some time out of his very busy schedule to share his thoughts on the significance of 10 Nonesuch Road, the famed estate of retail magnate Stanley Marcus, and how the Lovvorn family’s work can serve as an example of how preservation isn’t a fixed equation. Jump to read more …

CandysDirt.com: In 2008, the Lovvorns set off a huge citywide debate over historic preservation when they set out to demolish 10 Nonesuch Road in order to build a more energy efficient home in its place. What were your thoughts on the proposal?

Mark Doty: At first I was disappointed that the property owners were seeking demolition, which is why the city of Dallas initiated historic designation over the owner’s objection in order to at least begin the conversation with the owners about the value in landmark designation. Through the initiation process, the Lovvorns understood the constraints and benefits to designation and our office was able to work with them to craft a document that protected the main facades of the historic structure, but also gave them flexibility on the rear and the interior to make any changes they deemed appropriate for their lifestyle.

However, what this particular discussion did was to highlight again the fact that there are many structures and entire neighborhoods within the city that have no protection. The preservation community at large should take a more proactive approach to starting a conversation with either property owners or neighborhoods to have these buildings or neighborhoods protected or to reach an understanding to not object when they are threatened with demolition or inappropriate changes.

The entire community was lucky that the Lovvorns were open to other suggestions besides tearing the structure down. They should certainly be commended for their hard work and patience.

CD: As author of Lost Dallas, I am sure you are thrilled that the Lovvorns chose to renovate the Stanley Marcus estate instead of demolish it. Can you tell us your thoughts on the home’s historic significance?

Doty: To say the least I was thrilled! This is a home that was one of the first International Style residential structures built in Dallas and one that is associated with a Dallas icon, Stanley Marcus. I mean, Grace Kelly, Eleanor Roosevelt, not to mention scores of fashion royalty spent time in this house. So the significance goes far beyond the physical. It is a cultural touchstone and really speaks to Dallas’ place in fashion history.

CD: We’ve posted photos of the interior of 10 Nonesuch Road, showing that the renovations not only preserved much of the home’s character, but added modern amenities and earth-friendly features. Do you see this home as being a model for how a historic structure can meet modern demands without losing its soul?

Doty: Absolutely. I think there is such a rush these days to build things as quickly and cheaply as possible that there is a lost opportunity to take a step back, truly review what makes an historic structure special or unique and then make changes that increase a structure’s value and function without sacrificing its history or heritage.

CD: The Lovvorns and W2 Studio spared no expense to preserve 10 Nonesuch Road. What is your favorite feature of the home after its renovation?

Doty: Unfortunately, I have not been able to view the house since the renovation was completed. However, I may try to sneak into one of the open houses to see it for myself! [Editor’s Note: Someone get this guy a private tour!]

Mark Doty is a treasure trove of information. He seems to know the history of Dallas’ architecture backwards and forwards, no small feat from a man who grew up in Abilene.

Doty, who works as a senior planner and historic preservation officer for the city of Dallas, has compiled an impressive collection of photos and facts surrounding some of the Dallas architecture that became casualties of progress. “Lost Dallas” is an excellent resource for amateur historians or people who love learning about Dallas’ past.

Of course, we wanted to find out more about Doty, a member of Preservation Dallas, and what made him want to write “Lost Dallas.”

Why is preservation important to you? I grew up in Abilene, Texas, and during my childhood, the City made a concerted effort to restore and revitalize the downtown area. An historic theater, old abandoned hotel and train depot were all restored and repurposed for new uses. This effort in turn spurned additional development and now downtown Abilene is known as a model for historic preservation. So, I witnessed firsthand the effects of historic preservation and how it can be an economic tool and source of pride for the city.

Sanger Library Branch ("Lost Dallas")

What made you decide to make preservation a career? Although I do have a degree in architecture, I realized at an early age that my mind simply is not mechanically inclined to be as detail oriented for such a career. However, I have always enjoyed seeing  a building or neighborhood that has been abandoned or neglected restored or repurposed back to its original glory. The old adage ‘They don’t build them the way they used to’ is certainly true.

Elizabeth Chapel ("Lost Dallas")

What new things did you learn about Dallas when doing the research for this book? Anything shocking or unusual? I think people forget that Dallas is older and has a more layered history than it gets credit for. As the book mentions, Dallas is an antebellum city, but it really didn’t grow until the railroads came to town.  You have frontier elements, Civil War history, influences from the railroad and other eastern cities, religious and political viewpoints, a large and active minority community and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned Texas ego that created the city we know today. People like to say Dallas is plain-jane, vanilla, but that is simply not the case if one takes the time to dig a little deeper. Another thing that shocked me was the time period that some of these amazing buildings lasted. Some structures, in particular in the burgeoning downtown area, lasted a scant twenty or twenty-five years.

What do you think are some of the best-preserved structures in Dallas? The Dealey Plaza area is remarkably well-preserved, especially the Old Red Courthouse. Shawn Todd and his team has done a fantastic job on the adaptive use of the old U.S. Post Office building on Ervay Street. Union Station is a remarkable building, especially with Ferris Plaza in front. Of course, Fair Park is a true wonder and our historic residential neighborhoods are also fantastic.

Conversely, what historic at-risk buildings need to be preserved? There is a conversation going on in the preservation community about what should be the next focus area in Dallas. With the Statler Hilton, Old Dallas High School and other major structures that were the focus of intense past conversations assured of plans for rescue


Lastly, what was the best part of writing this book?
The best part of writing this book was learning so much more about the city where I chose to live. While it is bittersweet to see and document what has been destroyed here, it has heightened my awareness of what is still here. Which is quite a bit. My hope is that readers will come to the same conclusion and become involved in whatever way to make Dallas a better place to live. and rehabilitation, there needs to be a focus on those ‘everyday’ buildings that people pass by on a regular basis, but don’t appreciate until they are no longer there. The old church in East Dallas, the brick apartment building in Oak Cliff, the streetcar commercial buildings in South Dallas, even the ranch style house in North Dallas; all of these buildings add to the tapestry and provide interest and texture to our built environment.

Reserve your copy of “Lost Dallas” (Arcadia Publishing) via their website.