On Monday, preservationists launched the process of designating the Eagle Ford School building as a historic landmark. If you’ve driven down Chalk Hill Road just south of Interstate 30, you may have wondered about the rather small, oddly out-of-place concrete building, brightly colored with lavish details at the entry. Above the front entrance is inscribed “Eagle Ford District 49.”
The almost-forgotten Gothic revival building at 1601 Chalk Hill Road was at risk of being demolished. The road was recently closed due to construction, but neighborhood historic groups had been talking to the owner for years about plans for the building.
From 1916 through 1963, the school served the many immigrant families living in Cement City, Arcadia Park, and other nearby neighborhoods.
Bonnie Parker, of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, is the most well-known attendant of the Eagle Ford elementary school — her report card was found in its basement.
Elsa Cadena attended school there from 1952-56. “When I grew up there,” remembers Cadena, “West Dallas was where North Dallas went to throw their dead dogs.”
The school and the company housing they lived in was grey and dusty from the adjacent cement factory. Up the hill, the anglos lived in pretty houses with white picket fences and green grass. Life was hard.
“We need to remember the sacrifices of previous generations,” Cadena added. “We had no running water. A lot of honest and good citizens had their humble beginnings there.”
This is the little schoolhouse where Cadena first learned English. She says she cried every day for 6 months until she finally settled in. For the community, the school was an emblem. “We were becoming Americans there,” she says.
“What I hear at preservation conferences across the country is, ‘We need more diversity in our history and preservation.’ ” explained Michael Amonett, City of Dallas Landmark Commission member and Oak Cliff preservation activist, at Monday’s public hearing. Commission colleague Daron Tapscott followed: “We are woefully under-represented in historic sites for Mexican-Americans.”
Representatives from the Dallas Mexican-American Historical League spoke in favor of the historic designation, citing only three historically designated buildings of Hispanic heritage in Dallas: Saint Anne’s School and Pike Park (both in the Harwood District of Uptown), and Luna’s Tortilla’s (just west of Dallas Love Field.)
The Eagle Ford School is in poor condition despite being made of concrete piers, concrete beams, and solid concrete walls cured between two layers of concrete bricks. Soil shifting over the decades has caused more than a few major cracks. But historic designation will make the building eligible for historic tax credits, which can offset a significant amount of the costs to rehab the structure.
“We’ve worked with owners to find solutions they didn’t even know existed.” said Tapscott. The designation will also relieve some of the parking and ADA compliance issues.
Although the building owner’s representative and a third-party engineer claimed that the building is beyond repair, Landmark Commission members didn’t see anything about its condition that’s beyond what they typically see.
“It’s the owner’s responsibility to not let it get to this point and keep it in a habitable state,” said Mattio Flabiano. “Some of that blame is on the present and past property owners. Yes, foundation restructuring is expensive but you can’t find buildings like this anymore.”
“It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of Gothic revival style.” says David Preziosi, executive director of Preservation Dallas. Though Gothic revival style buildings “are not typically this small.”
The building incorporates battle molds along the top edge, gothic arched windows and doorway, with hood moldings and dripmold over the door. Bands of molding stretching the length of the building and quoining stone framing sections of the front wall. It’s a work of art, a cultural relic, and a remnant of our city’s storied past.
The case will next go before the designation committee to be confirmed.