A Local Broker's Higher Take on the Museum Tower-Nasher Dispute: the Real Estate Way Back Machine

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SCREMuseumTower2-768x1024One of the cornerstones of this blog is learning about, and hearing from, the Dallas Real Estate community. This blog is their sandbox, and the consumer is invited to both play and STAY. Dallas Real Estate Broker Scott Carlson has written on the Museum Tower-Nasher dispute. When I first read his post, I was reminded once again of why Realtors are such great keepers of the local real estate story. As they show, sell and close properties in a community, they become witnesses to and experts on transactions that have direct, long-term effects on the community. This is Scott’s essay, his words and knowledge, with a little editing for the blog format. I was just moving to Dallas in 1980, so I found this real estate “way-back machine” fascinating.  

Museum Tower: A Higher Perspective by Scott Carlson

What is sculpture? What is art?

Maybe it’s time to get a little philosophical here and shed some back light (no pun intended) on the controversy between Museum Tower and the Nasher Sculpture Center.

I’ve been fascinated with Museum Tower since its conception. I think it’s one of the most beautiful additions to our city’s skyline. I can remember all the excitement back in June, 2010, when they first broke ground. I watched the tower unfold upwards over the next two years from my twenty story balcony on Turtle Creek.

As a residential Real Estate broker and a lover of architecture, I’ve always been in awe of Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center, both the design and space. In fact, I’ve always thought it would be cool to have a home built like the Nasher. Whenever company or friends come into town, the Nasher is the place we go first to experience beauty, creativity, and joy.

In my opinion, Scott Johnson’s Museum Tower has taken Dallas into the 21st century architectural playing field. One of my favorite views of the Tower is from Central Expressway and Henderson, where you see Museum Tower, I.M. Pei’s Fountain Place, and Kevin Roche’s Bank of America all banked together. The view of these three buildings creates a beautiful, spectacular, and unique vista of our skyline.

One of the most creative works at The Nasher is the sky space Tending, (BLUE) by James Turrell. I usually take my guests inside, where we meditate and have amazing experiences, almost like we were in the Kings Chamber in the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt.

I am saddened and do not understand how an artist can declare something as Tending (BLUE) destroyed, for isn’t art a personal experience for what the piece brings out emotionally and spiritually to each viewer? Each individual experience is unique and perfect to the witness of that experience in their own time and space. Is BLUE really “destroyed”? I used to love to sit inside there, look up through the ceiling, and study the clouds passing by, enjoy the birds flying over and marvel as the jet planes prepared for their landing. The best part of BLUE was the energy inside. As the 19th Century French romantic artist Eugene Delacroix said, “Les artistes qui cherchent la perfection dans tout ce sont ceux qui ne peuvent pas atteindre à rien.” That is,  “Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything”.

I patiently wait for the day The Nasher reopens BLUE so I can look up, marvel, experience and behold The Museum Tower sculpture from this new perspective.

How did we, civilized, educated art lovers all, get to the place where we cannot look up? Perhaps the drama began long before The Nasher Sculpture Center’s tiff with Museum Tower. A few weeks ago, I decided to conduct a field trip into the past. My assistant and I headed downtown to search news archives at the Dallas Public Library, right across from Dallas City Hall.

That’s I. M. Pei’s Dallas City Hall, definitely an architectural icon.

As I walked from my car to the library, I studied this unique piece of architecture which houses our city government. It’s basically an upside down building, and in my humble opinion, an energetic mess. I recall going to Dallas City Hall chambers years back to voice Lakewood/East Dallas’ concerns over a controversial 25 story high-rise proposed to be built on White Rock Lake. I actually got somewhat sea sick inside the building. For those who have never visited the chambers, you enter an upside down building, go up an escalator and then go down stairs inside the chambers.

I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.

This is where Dallas conducts all its business. No wonder the City of Dallas dropped the ball on Museum Tower.

We pulled out headlines from a Dallas of long ago to learn that the Museum Tower and Nasher story started a few miles north, across from NorthPark Center. The battles!

”Growth intrudes on Caruth Farm”

”Development Blocked by Council”

”Council Members hope Caruth Developers Got Message”

”Nasher and Crow over Crow Land”

”Crow sets Sights on Caruth Mall”

”Crow, Nasher, Grapple for Turf and Battle of the Titans”

”City Promises Developer Nothing”

”University Park Stalls North Central Plan”

Like most wars, this one was over a giant piece of dirt. Years ago, there was a play by Raymond Nasher to rezone 39-acres of undeveloped land at the corner of Northwest Highway and North Central Expressway. Difficult to comprehend, but this was all one huge VACANT lot at one point. In fact, it was a huge farm belonging to the Caruth family, whose 11,000 acres covered most of North Dallas.  There was an old joke about North Dallas — that is, Dallas north of downtown (far north didn’t exist):

Perhaps a tired old Dallas real estate joke describes it with more clarity: Q: “What’s the synonym for North Dallas?” A: “Will Ca-ruth’s backyard.”

Nasher wanted the land across from his Northpark Mall (which was on a 99 year lease from the Caruths, starting in 1965 when it opened) rezoned from residential to commercial because it was prime dirt for commercial development. The area was consistently declined for rezoning by the Dallas City Council throughout the years.  Why? At first, the Caruths fought it, and then 300-plus homeowners who ended up living near this property fought him. They didn’t want to change their peaceful, leafy neighborhood.

Pay attention: before this, the Caruth land was also of huge interest to Trammell Crow, who held a series of options that were said to be contingent upon getting the land rezoned for development. Crow never could get that zoning. The homeowners didn’t want it, and fought the development for years.

Somehow, in 1980, Raymond Nasher purchased or got control of the dirt. Crow sued Nasher, Nasher counter-sued. But the case was settled on the eve of the trial in 1981.

Nasher kept the property. In 1991, Nasher lost a 6:8 defeat at the hands of the city planning commission to re-zone it.

Downtown Dallas: since 1994, the “chosen land” for the future Nasher Sculpture Center Garden had been a 2.1 acre parking lot in the western half of city blocks 527 and 528, right at 2001 Flora Street. This site sits just north of Trammel Crow Center, and directly across from the Dallas Museum of Art.

Checkmate: Trammell Crow owned the land that Nasher wanted for his sculpture garden.

It was a nasty titan battle. The city threatened condemnation on Crow’s property in the middle of the art’s district, and thus Nasher got his way.

Then, in 1996 the win/win barter. The Downtown Dallas Arts District would get a world renowned sculpture garden in exchange for a zoning change to let Ray Nasher rezone that dirt up on Northwest Highway he wanted to develop so very badly. The same land Crow had wanted to re-zone. A win, win for everyone, right?

Not exactly. The losers in this case were 300-plus Park Cities home-owners who had been fighting the zoning change for decades. But their sacrifice as real estate soldiers would give Dallas a world-class museum.

I have come to understand the true law of the universe is action and reaction. Some people call it the boomerang effect. In some cultures they use the word Karma and of course Jesus of Nazareth said you reap what you sow. But in real estate, what some may think is good for the neighborhood can be perceived as bad for others. Who wins in neighborhood changes and zoning?

Could it be that the Museum Tower dilemma is a result of an energy… a karma, caused by the re-zoning that took place 5 miles north of downtown Dallas? I personally find it ironic that one man’s decision and desire to plow against a neighborhoods’ will, with the support of a city government, could come back to possibly bite him with the same, well, karma. Was the city of Dallas inattentive to the reflection issues that would affect the Nasher Sculpture Center?

It’s baffling to me how American Culture is not very good at accepting their Karma. We are so easy to find someone to blame, and then with all the over-lawyering of our society, how do we balance this action, this karma?

Karma is a Sanskrit word that means action. Are all actions from the divine? What are the different actions and reactions to a particular energy? A cause and effect? Is this truly the law of the universe?

Both Museum Tower and The Nasher have a responsibility, as does the City of Dallas. In my opinion, the City of Dallas government and the city planning commission is the biggest culprit in this cause and effect.

There are rumblings, unsubstantiated, that The Nasher will pull out of Dallas and relocate to another city or country, sell their land to another developer for a high-rise, and make Museum Tower the bad guy. I recently heard a rather high-profile woman say she will not step foot in Museum Tower. Seriously? A client became angered when I suggested we look at units in Museum Tower.

SCREMuseumTower3-1024x944I’m completely flabbergasted by all this. You won’t step foot in this amazing 21st Century Sculpture of Architecture? Why so much anger? ENOUGH!

Now the City government is all over the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund’s business. And that is probably a good idea, since Dallas taxpayers would foot the bill should investments go south. But let’s not be checking math on behalf of the Nasher. And didn’t the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund finance the Northpark Mall addition?

The Nasher Sculpture Garden and Museum Tower are each tremendous gifts to our city. Both are here, and BOTH parties have a little dirt on their hands when you look far enough back. But this is the way cities are built, this is the way we move forward and grow: some homeowners, some group loses a battle to keep everything the same. Because the only certainty in our lives is that everything will change, it always does. The Nasher and Museum Tower are both beautiful and complement one another rather remarkably. The winners are those of us with Nasher Sculpture Center memberships enjoying all the creativity, art, joy and hopefully, again, BLUE.

The winners are those purchasing units and making their homes at Museum Tower.

Let’s revel in the greatness of each, continue to be proud and support both. And let’s not forget the sweet rays of forgiveness, for Dallas is … THE CITY OF FORGIVENESS!

– Scott Carlson



Candy Evans

A real estate muckraker, Candy Evans is one of the nation’s leading real estate reporters. She is also the North Texas real estate editor for Forbes.com, CultureMap Dallas, Modern Luxury Dallas, & the Katy Trail Weekly. Candy has written for Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography, Inman Real Estate News, plus a host of national sites. Constantly breaking celebrity real estate news, she scooped former president George W. Bush's Dallas home in 2008. She is the founder and publisher of her signature CandysDirt.com, and SecondShelters.com, devoted to the vacation home market. Her verticals have won many awards, including Best Blog by the venerable National Association of Real Estate Editors, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism associations. Candy holds an active Texas real estate license but does not sell. She is on the Board of Directors of Braemar Hotels & Resorts (BHR).

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