Preservation Dallas Announces Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas

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Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas
Preservation Dallas today held a conference to announce their 2016 most endangered listoric places in Dallas list. Photo: Irene Allender

“Historic preservation is the dynamic and deliberate process through which we decide what to keep from the present for the future, and then working to keep it.” —W. Brown Morton

Many historic buildings in Dallas face an uncertain future. Today, Preservation Dallas held a press conference to announce their 2016 “Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas” list.

These are properties too important to lose, for their historic integrity to be diminished, or for the loss of their ability to be used to their full potential, said David Preziosi, Executive Director of Preservation Dallas.

“This list is a roadmap for advocacy, education and development of programs in the preservation community that address the needs of these endangered properties,” Preziosi said. “We must work diligently to protect the places on the list as they are important to the history and fabric of Dallas, for once they are gone, they are lost forever.”

These historic places are irreplaceable community assets that tell the story of the city’s development.

“We hope this list of endangered properties makes the citizens of Dallas aware of how many important historic buildings are at risk of being lost forever,” said Nicky DeFreece Emery, Board President of Preservation Dallas. “Preservation Dallas sees this list as an opportunity for all of us to be more thoughtful in how the city grows and develops.”

Some of them, like East Dallas’ Elbow Room, won’t surprise you. But others will. Read on to see the list.


1. Historic buildings along the proposed DART D2 line

Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas
From left, SoCo Lofts, Statler Hilton Hotel, Lone Star building, and Aloft Hotel. All photos: Michael Cagle

DART is proposing a second rail line through downtown Dallas and Deep Ellum that will impact numerous historic buildings along the proposed route and its design options. The locally preferred alternative for the line is proposed to go through the Downtown Dallas National Register of Historic Places Historic District, the City of Dallas Harwood Historic District, and the West End National Register of Historic Places Historic District. Historic properties like the Aloft Hotel, SoCo Lofts, Lone Star Gas Lofts, Statler Hilton, Continental Building, First Presbyterian Church, Scottish Rite Temple, Knights of Pythias building, and more will all be impacted. The line will also impact Deep Ellum, further cutting it off from the rest of downtown.

Over $350 million in redevelopment of historic properties would be impacted by noise and vibrations from construction and running trains, removal of access to buildings for services and garages, and even potential demolition of portions of historic structures. According to Preservation Dallas, this kind of impact to historic properties is too great for the amazing amount of work that has been done to revitalize them and downtown Dallas. Mass transit benefits the city and the expansion of the DART system to make it more flexible is good for the city’s future. However, in order to create that flexibility, they say the new line should be buried in a subway so that the historic buildings along the line can continue with their full use and access to keep them viable for the future and part of the renaissance of the urban core.


2. Elbow Room

most endangered historic places in DallasThis simple, elegant, workhorse of a brick building was constructed about 1933 and first housed Royal Cleaners. It was gone within a year, followed by the California Flower Shop. Businesses came and left the small 1,824 square foot building every few years, and at times stood vacant. Berta’s Café opened there about 1940, and it proved to be a stable neighborhood institution, occupying the space until about 1957. After the café closed, other short-lived restaurants followed, including Mozelle’s and Grill Thirty-Ten. Around 1964, the little brick building became home to the Thirty-Ten Lounge, drawing its name from both the address and the café. It was followed in 1968 by Cabaret Lounge and in 1998 by the Elbow Room.

The Elbow Room, located at 3010 Gaston Ave. in the Baylor District, is one of the last remaining historic commercial buildings on that block of Gaston and is threatened with being purchased or acquired by eminent domain by the Texas A&M University System. They would like to demolish the building to build a new clinical education building on the lot for their dental school.


3. Historic buildings at Fair Park

Most Endangered Historic Places in DallasFair Park in South Dallas is one of Dallas’ most important and beloved historic sites. From its beginnings in 1886, it has grown in size and importance becoming home to the annual Texas State Fair, the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, and the 1937 Pan American Exposition.

In 1904, Fair Park became part of the Dallas Public Park system. The buildings and landscape of Fair Park were redesigned for the Texas Centennial in 1936 by a group of talented architects and designers led by Dallas architect George Dahl. It is now the nation’s largest collection of Art Deco exposition architecture and public art. The significance of Fair Park is so important that it was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1986 and is only one of two such sites in Dallas, the other being Dealey Plaza.

Deferred maintenance due to lack of resources has taken its toll on the historic
buildings at Fair Park. Roofs are leaking, plumbing and electrical systems need to be updated and the HVAC improved. These items must be addressed in order to make the buildings more viable for use throughout the year. Resources must be put into Fair Park now in order to avoid more costly repairs in the future.

The Fair Park Texas Foundation has identified the numerous needs of the buildings and is the organization that can take on the monumental task of saving Fair Park’s all too important historic assets. They have committed to raising $100 million for Fair Park to match bond fund money; however, the city needs to secure the needed bond money in upcoming bond elections. A properly preserved and maintained Fair Park, with its landscape, buildings, art, and historic spaces can serve the city on many levels. Thoughtful and careful planning, with citywide engagement, will serve to reinvigorate the National Historic Landmark site. A vibrant site with preserved historic structures will help entice development in surrounding neighborhoods and improve civic pride in one of Dallas most important historic sites.


4. Penson House

Most Endangered Historic Places in Dallas 2016Located at 3756 Armstrong Ave. in Highland Park, the Penson House was designed by O’Neil Ford, and built in 1954 for Jack and Nancy Penson. It is one of Ford’s largest residential projects and was designed in one of his favorite styles, Texas Regionalism. The exterior and interior of the 9,800-square-foot home remains very close to the original design with the expectation of a second story addition, a master bath expansion, and enclosure of a rear porch.

The house will be going up for auction tomorrow and with the impressive lot on a corner, closeness of the Turtle Creek tributary across the street on one corner, and Davis Park directly across the street on the opposite corner makes this lot very valuable. This amazing property paired with a beautiful, large O’Neil Ford house makes for a very unique combination and one that is in jeopardy of being torn down for redevelopment if it doesn’t go to a bidder who appreciates the house, especially as Highland Park does not have any mechanism to protect historic buildings.

5. Polar Bear

Most Endangered Historic Places in DallasThe small but unique building with an extraordinarily whimsical façade across from Lake Cliff Park is commonly know as the Polar Bear for its association with its longest tenant the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop, a beloved shop of many. Located at 1207 N. Zang Boulevard in North Oak Cliff, the structure was originally built in the early 1930s and its first two tenants were the U.S. Sandwich Shop and the Schell Grill. In 1946, the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop opened in the building. Most people associate the cool “frosty” design with Polar Bear thinking it was designed to look like a glacier or an igloo, most fitting for an ice cream shop.

The area surrounding the park and the nearby historic Bankhead Highway (that ran down Houston Street to Zang Boulevard) had many such small restaurants including Pig Stand #2, A&W Root Beer Stand, Pig ‘n Whistle Restaurant, and more. All of which were supported by the 1950’s teenage car culture.

The building has been vacant since 2014 and a wind storm in early 2015 blew down a portion of the unique parapet. The building has been on the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s Architecture “at-risk list” and has been singled out in the newly created PD 830 Gateway ordinance as one of four buildings the city considers a priority for landmark designation in the ordinance area. The parcel of land the building sits on is zoned for eight-story mixed use and could face pressure from development and increasing land values in Oak Cliff.


6. Williams House

Most Endangered Historic Places in DallasLocated at 3805 McFarlin Blvd. in University Park, the Williams house was designed by architect David R. Williams in 1932 for University Park Mayor Elbert Williams. David R. Williams is considered the father of the Texas Regionalism style and the Williams house is considered the premier example of the style. The home was Williams’ last residential project of its type and contains all his hallmarks including hand carved interior woodwork by Lynn Ford (O’Neil Ford’s brother), a mural painting by Jerry Bywaters, and abundant lone star ornamentation.

The 6,000-square-foot Williams House occupies 1.15 acres of University Park property. Having only two owners in its lifetime, the house’s exterior and interiors are remarkably intact with original details and layout.

The particular plat of land it sits on is exceptionally valuable because it runs along the Turtle Creek shoreline, as well abutting the Dallas County Club golf course. This house is the most important example of the Texas Regionalism style and will be coming up for auction soon and, with such a valuable piece of property, is ripe for tear down and rebuilding as there are no protections in University Park for historic buildings.


Leah Shafer

Leah Shafer is a content and social media specialist, as well as a Dallas native, who lives in Richardson with her family. In her sixth-grade yearbook, Leah listed "interior designer" as her future profession. Now she writes about them, as well as all things real estate, for

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  1. Sada B. Dallas says

    This type of mentality is why Dallas has lost so much of its character, and thus it will never be a top tourist attraction. No matter how many wealthy people move to its outskirts or how many vanity Bridges to Nowhere we build.

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