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Jan 10, 2007


Norman Alston

I've been on the front lines of this fight for decades now. As much as we like to think this problem is "so Dallas", I can tell you that it's a problem across the country. It's rooted in a number of issues, a VERY short discussion of which would include:

Making money: There are plenty of folks among us who care primarily about the money and do not allow themselves to get "sentimental" about their instruments for making it. This attitude is most certainly not unique to Dallas.

Spending money: "Everyone knows" that preserving historic buildings costs too much to be practical, not to mention the perceived headache of the approval process. This is urban legend more than anything else. It is self-fulfilling as those who "know" this are almost always the ones who have been unwilling to do the real homework to find out.

Perception. As you noted, a large number of today's Dallasites are from other parts of the country, many from areas with a longer and richer heritage. Often, what we call our history doesn't measure up to what someone from New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Chicago considers either old or important. It is surprisingly difficult to get people to understand that you history is your history, no matter how old.

Comfort Zones: Buildings are outrageously expensive undertakings which make people very hesitant to risk their money on an unfamiliar process like preservation.

Market Presures: At a very basic level, our economic system promotes replacing the old with the new. There are manufacturer's of building products, windows for example, who have multi-million dollar marketing programs to promote the replacement of historic windows with new. The preservation of historic windows has nothing and no one to balance against that market force. That's just one example. Similarly, modern building and energy codes can be perceived to be very hostile to the retention of important historic structures.

Ego: Lots of building owners and their architects are more interested in making their own statements than they are working with someone else's. Again, this is not unique to Dallas.

What this all demonstrates is that historic preservation in Dallas is reaching it's awkward adolescent years, if it's not still in infancy. The first real organized preservation efforts were in the early 1970's, we didn't get a protective ordinance until the early 80's, virtually every preservation project of any size that can demonstrate the economic viability of preservation has occurred since 1995. As heartbreaking as it was to lose the Dr. Pepper Building, that one event was the turning point in garnering public support and strengthening protective measures for preservation in Dallas. Believe it or not, our program here holds up well when compared to others across the country. The legislative power to preserve that you can see in places like New York and Chicago is unique to those places and is the result of many decades of effort to preserve internationally important buildings.

The solution for us lies in a combination of fair and effective protective ordinances, economic viability, access to knowledgable assistance and public awareness about the value and viability of our remaining historic buildings. Unfortunately, this will take some time, something that many of our buildings have little of. Education through publications like the Advocate, are an important resource in this effort.

Kyle Rains

I think a lot of us were fooled into thinking that our longtime East Dallas institution, Dallas Theological Seminary, had been a good neighbor and would continue to be a good neighbor.

Rick Wamre

Norm makes some great points - many I hadn't really considered, particularly the one that Dallas' historic preservation program compares favorably with those of other cities. Also, the "awkward adolescent stage" comment is pretty insightful; it probably could be said about a lot of things going on in Dallas. We seem to be in the process of switching generations of leaders, with a lot of behind-the-scenes name-calling and hair-pulling, so I guess we can look forward to the high school and college years before everything just falls into place (like it always does after college graduation)...

Michael Davis

For me, it depends on the building. Some old stuff needs to be torn down. But the Old Y needed to be preserved. That was such a grand old building.
I know that preserving

Maybe someone can identify a few buildings that are in danger a la Preservation Dallas, but work to secure a "Restore America" grant or something like that and cull funds to save a structure in advance. Otherwise, we won't know the buildings set to be demo'd until it's too late to stop market forces.

Norman Alston

Actually, Preservation Dallas began publishing a list of Dallas" 11 Most Endangered Buildings a few years back and is taking nominations for that list right now with an announcement of the new list set for late February.

Rick Wamre

One building that I've always liked is the old East Dallas YMCA building near J.L. Long middle school. I know that it was built by the family that originally operated a huge farm in this area, and it was always a pretty neat building inside before the Y sold it and the buyer eventually lost it to the lender. If that was a building that people wanted to save, what could be done about that?

Rick Casner

As Rick W. knows, the Old East Dallas YMCA is also a favorite of mine. I hate to see it there all fenced up with a perpetual for sale sign in front.

I am not sure about the long term history of the house, but I will say, everything inside is a testament to everything that is nice/neat/cool about our old neighborhood.

A house/building like that deserves better than it's current fate and condition.

Norman Alston

There has to be more to the ongoing story on that house than meets the eye.

It looks like the address is 6220 Worth and a quick check of the zoning reveals that it is residential, just like the houses around it. That zoning pretty much prohibits any use going there other than single family residential without significant buy-in of the neighborhood. That's good. It doesn't, however, seem to prevent demolition on a whim, nor does it prevent the unusually large site from being broken up into maybe 3 or 4 individual lots for new development. Pretty scary. There could be (and likely are) other issues in play. Good question.

The most effective preservation tool is an informed, caring, well-financed owner. We may well have that here. I don't know.

Veletta Forsythe Lill

The short answer to the Old East Dallas YMCA (Parks Estate) question is that it is in pre-designation. Therefore, it is protected from demolition.

Almost 10 years ago when the YMCA was considering their move to the White Rock Lake area I met with the neighborhood and the "Y" management. We came to the consensus that upon the departure of the civic organization the SUP (special use permit) for community service use would be removed through a change in zoning and the zoning would revert to the underlying single family zoning. That action was completed by the city.

The property was purchased by an individual who attempted a renovation and also built a house on a lot that he carved out of the back portion of the property. This ia a separate piece of property now. The individual encountered financial difficulties and also violated many of the city's codes regarding the care of the property.

Eventually the bank forclosed on the Parks Estate (the old "Y"), the city sued the property owner for the numerous code violations, and the city started the process of historic designation on the property to ensure stabilization and prevent demolition.

The legal entanglement was very complex and the proceeding drug on for years. Recently, most of the issues relating to the Parks Estate have been resolved. The property has been turned over to Preservation Dallas for resale. The property will be sold to a buyer with the understanding that it must be renovated and the final proceedings for landmark designation will move forward to conclusion.

Norman Alston

Great news, Veletta! Thanks

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