How Historic Preservation and the Film Industry Could Help Economic Recovery

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When you think of the term historic preservation, unfortunately the city of Dallas is not top of mind. Dallas is generally regarded as the Oz of the Southwest.

Tall, shiny new buildings seem to sprout up every time you turn around. However, this gleaming city has continually been sought out for television series, commercials, and movies. It’s not just because we have skyscrapers. We have everything, but we keep losing iconic and historic locations. It’s to our detriment on many levels.

The Municipal Building was a location for RoboCop.
The Old Red Courthouse was a location for Phantom of the Paradise.

The opening scenes of “Dallas,” the American primetime soap opera, showcased our city as modern and exciting even in 1978 when it premiered. But, you also saw oil wells, ranches, historic homes, and century-old buildings as part of the architectural fabric of Dallas. That show put our city on the map in a good way. We were no longer just the place where a beloved president was assassinated. We were Hollywood, baby! In the 1980s, Dallas was known as the Third Coast in the film community.

As we were discovered, guess what? It was not just the lure of locations like the uber-modern Apparel Mart, used for the dystopian saga, Logan’s Run, starring Texas darling Farrah Fawcett. It was not just our I.M Pei designed City Hall used in RoboCop. Our historic districts, homes, and buildings also became a real draw.

How Hollywood saw our I.M. Pei City Hall for RoboCop with a little help from digital artists.
historic preservation
Dallas Hall at SMU
Dallas Hall as Oliver Stone used it in Born on the Fourth of July.

During the 1980s film crews were on the streets of Munger Place, Junius Heights, Swiss Avenue, and Deep Ellum every week.

The original home for the Dallas series was the historic Aldredge House on Swiss Avenue. Oliver Stone returned three times to make his movies Talk Radio, Born on the Fourth of July, and JFK. Hollywood could not get enough of Dallas.

“Historic preservation and film go hand-in-hand,” Dallas Film Commissioner Janis Burklund said. “Every time we lose a historic building, I think, there goes another great location. It’s not just the beautiful historic homes, but also places like the Bronco Bowl and the Sportatorium that were used all the time. They are a huge loss to the film community.”

The Sportatorium was a popular film location for years.

With the rebirth of Oak Cliff, the Bronco Bowl would have been as big of an attraction as The Kessler. However, that requires a community that understands historic preservation is not just about a building or a home from the 1920s. It’s often about something you’d never expect, a dive bar like Ships in East Dallas or a warehouse deep in The Cedars that can be turned into an Iraqi neighborhood with the help of talented set builders.

“You want everything,” Burklund said. “The more diversity we have of locations, the better. We want all socio-economic backgrounds and periods.”

Do you get the picture? Directors and producers have repeatedly chosen Dallas as their location star. “The annual average economic impact for Dallas is over 200 million,” Burklund said.

The full circle in the marriage of historic preservation and film is demonstrated in The Night of the White Pants with Selma Blair. This was filmed by Amy Talkington. Talkington is the writer for Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere and the daughter of legendary Dallas preservationist Virginia Savage McAlester. It’s not surprising that Swiss Avenue, Deep Ellum, and The Adolphus Hotel are locations in the film.

historic preservation
Amy Talkington’s childhood home on Swiss Avenue and one of her locations for Night of the White Pants.
In addition to film and photography, The Adolphus Hotel has hosted Queen Elizabeth II

Think about that. Historic preservation encourages film, television, and commercial production.

Kim Davis has been a location scout in Dallas for at least thirty years. Regarding historic preservation and the film community, Davis said, “Save it and they will come! What makes a place unique is the variety of architecture and historic architecture. One of our gems is Fair Park. It’s the largest collection of art deco outside of South Beach and a great place to film.”

historic preservation

Paul Jensen, Executive Director at the Texas Motion Picture Alliance, lived in Dallas in the early 2000s. “I saw first-hand the fact progress was winning at the expense of history. Just look at what no longer exists. For instance, Owen and Luke Wilson shot their first short using the Highland Park Pharmacy soda fountain.

How does this marriage of historic preservation with film create economic impact? A case in point is the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.” Who stopped in Waco to do anything but grab a Dairy Queen cone on the way to Austin before Chip and Joanna Gaines? It’s called the Magnolia Effect. That is the clear evidence that a television show not only put a city on the map but also has created an industry, and built a popular cultural landmark.

“There is a genuine correlation between tourism based on film and television locations,” Jensen said. “You can see that playing out in places like Dubrovnik, where people travel just to see Kings Landing from “Game of Thrones.”

So, the question is, are we getting rid of landmarks in the name of progress, and are we hurting economic impact based on tourism? No one went to Waco before “Fixer Upper.” Prior to the pandemic, four busses left New York weekly to go on a Magnolia tour.

Historically, Texas was a vibrant place to film. Domestically there were incentive programs. States started to compete, and we lost leverage. We have a competitive program now so, we’ve seen a resurgence in film and television production. We can begin to compete with Louisiana and Georgia. Film and television production has an economic impact and people want to shoot here. COVID-19 detrimentally affected production ability in New York and Los Angeles. A lot of that could easily shift here. There will be a real demand for content. We have a serious opportunity when we need it the most.”

“Think about what is spent, “Davis said. There is an immediate impact on the hotel, restaurant, and housing industries. We provide location fees to home and building owners, hire local crews, police officers, and purchase everything we need, locally. Then there is the charity aspect. We give away a lot of stuff when production ends. Former Governor Ann Richards said it best, “We just love you people in Hollywood. You come here, spend money, and take your trash with you!’

The history of preservation is not just about the buildings. It’s also about the stories.

The Statler Hotel
Photo courtesy of AG Media

“The Statler Hotel is a real success story, “Davis said. ‘Im so proud that was saved. It was one of the last examples in Dallas of that kind of architecture and they did a great job on preservation. It’s where Tina Turner left Ike! They had the big fight and she ran through town to the Ramada, now the Lorenzo Hotel, and offered up her wedding ring if the manager would give her a room. “

Historic preservation is woven into our film industry. It may also well be what puts us back on to a path of economic recovery. Now, we just need our city council to listen, and place value where historic preservationists and the film community already know it exists!

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Karen Eubank

Karen is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager for more than 25 years and a professional writer for over 20 years. Karen is the mother of a son who’s studying for his masters at The New England Conservatory of Music. An ardent animal lover, she doesn’t mind one bit if your fur baby jumps right into her lap.

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Comments

  1. Becky Rader says

    Great article and City Council should definitely support this.

    FYI
    The TV series, Walker Texas Ranger, used White Rock Lake Park, numerous
    East Dallas homes and Fair Park repeatedly while in production.

    Thanks for the reminders of the film industry’s use of our fabulous landmark locations and historic buildings.

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