Historic Designation Protects Dallas Treasures from Demolition

The Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, in downtown has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, this structure was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Downtown Dallas’ Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. In 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, it was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Dallas has a rich historic and architectural legacy, shown through buildings like the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, DeGolyer House and Gardens in East Dallas, and the Eastside Warehouse District and State Thomas neighborhood in Uptown.

But just because a building or neighborhood plays an important part in the story of Dallas doesn’t mean it’s protected from big changes, up to and including demolishment.

Just last September, 1611 Main Street and neighboring buildings were razed as part of the Joule’s expansion plans. It was a beautiful Romanesque Revival built in 1885, one of downtown’s oldest structures. It sat next to the site of another Dallas landmark torn down by the Joule in 2012, the former Praetorian Building.

Lakewood Theater is another example of an unprotected structure—it may be beloved, but nothing stands between it and the wrecking ball besides the assurances of the owner that they won’t demolish as part of renovation plans.

That’s where historic designation comes into play and the efforts of Dallas preservationists to care for the future of the buildings and neighborhoods that have shaped what our city into what it is today.

Historic designation criteria

David Preziosi is the executive director of Preservation Dallas, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the city’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, and places since 1972. In his role, Preziosi deals extensively with the requirements surrounding historic designation.

“There are few different levels of historic status,” Preziosi said. “There’s local status with city of Dallas, state-level designation through the Texas Historical Commission, and at the national level through the National Register of Historic Places.”

All three levels of historic designation require the same amount of information and often-painstaking research to be done in order to designate a property or neighborhood. But they are quite different in what they offer.

“The National Register does not provide any protection for the property, except for projects with federal money or permitting being involved, like if TxDOT wanted to put a highway down Swiss Avenue,” Preziosi said. “All of your protection comes at local level through ordinances that are adopted by cities and within the city of Dallas, we have landmark status for about 120 individual properties and about 20 historic districts.”

The Filter Building on White Rock Lake, aka White Rock Pump Station, is a Renaissance Revival  building from 1911 with historic designation. Photo: The Filter Building on White Rock Lake.

The Filter Building on White Rock Lake, aka White Rock Pump Station, is a Renaissance Revival building from 1911 with Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. Photo: The Filter Building on White Rock Lake.

The process of applying for historic designation in Dallas is long and complicated, and includes a rezoning application, landmark nomination form with detailed research on the history of the property or neighborhood, meetings of the Designation Committee, approval of City Council, and, if it’s a neighborhood, public hearings.

“Sometimes it’s two to four years to review and select. It’s not a quick process,” he said. “If you have all your ducks in a row, it could just take six months.”

All of that is to determine worthiness and to tailor an ordinance to the specific location, which includes what changes can and can’t be made to the property and protect it from demolition.

“Each one of those structures and districts are protected through ordinances that are developed and tailored for those specific properties or districts,” he said. “Swiss Avenue will have a different set than Winnekta Heights, and the same applies for different properties. Those are all determined in the process.”

The designation process is smoother if the owner of the property is on board, but properties can be designated over owner objections.

“There have been very few—Dallas High School was landmarked over owner objections, as was St. Ann’s School and Knights of Pythias Temple in Deep Ellum,” Preziosi said.

The Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas is a Beaux-arts building constructed by Adolphus Busch in 1912. It has both Dallas Historic Landmark Designation, as well as a listing on the National Register. Photo: Ron Jones via Creative Commons

Dallas has a historic preservation tax incentive program on city taxes a reward for those who invest in historic resources that can save owners serious cash. There are other tax incentives available, too.

“At the city level, it will provide some tax abatements for the property and the property is protected for the future,” Preziosi said. “If it’s on the national register, you are eligible to receive federal and state tax credits for rehabilitations to the building, although these are not available for private properties. It has to be an income-generating property, like offices, restaurants, retail, and hotels.”

Neo-classical Revival structure Scottish Rite Cathedral has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. It was designed in 1913 by Hubbell and Greene architects with a large portico and Corinthian columns. Photo: Wolfgang Demino.

Neo-classical Revival structure Scottish Rite Cathedral has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. It was designed in 1913 by Hubbell and Greene architects with a large portico and Corinthian columns. Photo: Wolfgang Demino.

Anyone can start the process of historic designation, but because of the time and effort required, it’s often someone connected with the property or a paid professional.

“Some of the properties that come through the committee are larger scale properties and they will have a consultant do the work,” he said.

There are two properties currently in the queue for historic designation, Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery (also known as Haymarket Cemetery) in West Dallas and the Pearce-Matson House in South Dallas.

What buildings would you like to see with Dallas Historic Landmark Designation? Leave us a comment and let us know!