Jon Anderson: It Took Dallas 12 Years to Kill a Skyline

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When people hear about “view protection” they think of silver spoon high-rise dwellers not wanting to share “their” sky. As a tin-spoon high-riser, there’s truth to that. Certainly, I checked nearby zoning to see what could be built in front of me (few do until it’s too late).

But what about views towards the urban forest of concrete, steel and glass?  Are those views worth preserving for all residents and visitors? Skylines are certainly signatures, as the opening credits to the 1980s TV show Dallas proved.

Think about Washington, D.C., not allowing buildings taller than the capitol dome. Think about Paris where the Eiffel Tower can be seen for miles because of height restrictions. How about Honolulu in the 1960s abandoning plans to obscure Diamond Head behind a wall of high-rises?  In my Chicago hometown, there are certain buildings that are considered so critical to the visual fabric of the city that views of them can’t be blocked from Lake Michigan – even when those buildings are located blocks inland?

Winning submission for Chicago’s Tribune Tower

Chicago Protects Its Classics

Chicago’s Tribune Tower is one of those buildings. Built in 1925, its neo-Gothic form was the winner of a design contest that included entries from modernists like Eliel Saarinen and Walter Gropius. Located four long blocks back from Lake Shore Drive it can be readily seen from the lake because the city leaders deemed it worthy of a protected view called the Ogden Slip view corridor.

Now the Tribune, like so many other urban city newspapers, has moved away into smaller quarters. Luxury condos now mock an era that valued the duty of maintaining an informed citizenry.

The back of the tower held the printing presses within a low-rise building. Developers being developers, they want to build a tower on that low-built parcel. But as you can see above, that tower can’t block the public’s lakeside views. Nearly a century old, the Tribune Tower remains a staple of the Chicago skyline.

I-35E at Oak Lawn Avenue. Less than 12 years to kill a skyline.

Dallas’ Views

When I first started traveling to Dallas for work in the late 1980s and 1990s, I loved the drive into the city from the airport. Take the south exit to TX-183 and pass the old stadium before seeing a first glimpse of Dallas’ lit-up skyline spread out in the distance as I took the curve onto I-35E. That view is gone – stolen by various blah buildings in Victory (The Katy and Alexan) and the Design District’s tedious AMLI tower (in contrast to the AMLI Fountain Place which at least blends with I.M. Pei’s original).

I wonder if Dallas Plan Commission or City Council ever contemplated preserving that I-35E view for Dallas residents and visitors?  I doubt it.

Was there discussion of the merits of One Arts Plaza’s slab blockading of downtown views from the east? I’m similarly doubtful.

In both these examples, neither building adds architectural verve to the city to offset their thefts. On the other hand, while I’ve always hoped it would be bolder, Museum Tower still adds to the visual language of downtown (less so the Stewart building dumped on the Myerson’s yard, nor the coming Atelier that surround it).

There is no question Dallas’ downtown needs more visually interesting skyscrapers, but it also needs to preserve its citizens’ views of existing impactful buildings. I continually hear City Hall say they can’t define or demand pretty architecture – fine, if a bit of a cop-out. However, it’s another thing entirely to protect its citizens’ enjoyment of what exists. In many ways, downtown is an architecture exhibit with few studs and plenty of duds.

Classically Dallas

Should the Reunion Tower ball ever be blocked?

Should the Bank of America Building (the green building) ever be blocked?

Should Renaissance Tower (the “X” building) ever be blocked?

Should Fountain Place ever be blocked?

Should JP Morgan Chase Tower ever be blocked? (The blue bug logo, yes)

Should the 1943 Mercantile National Bank Building continue to be blocked?

Should the 1923 Magnolia Oil building been better protected?

Unchanged: South Akard and I-30

Views in The Public Realm

Other cities understand the intrinsic value of enjoying views of their natural and manmade wonders.  I think there is a discussion to be had about view preservation for Dallas residents and visitors. As you could see in the image above, the past decade’s development has radically altered and obscured the visibility of the Dallas skyline from points across the city. The dreary, trite buildings now blocking our enjoyment act as shrouds over the canvas of the city.

Interestingly, race plays a role here. The best preserved views of the Dallas skyline are from southern Dallas simply because developers have never invested in view-altering high-rises (or much of anything) facing brown and black Dallas.

Ironically, all that northern high-rise money is the self-inflicted wound obliterating white Dallas’ skyline views.

UPDATE: After this column ran, I received a tip on a zoning case illustrating my point. Hop over for a read.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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Comments

  1. Eric says

    If skyline views are that valuable, it seems like it would be a self-correcting problem. Buildings should start popping up in South Dallas. Also, those buildings you say are blocking the views all have views now. Stop worrying so much about views from the freeways – the freeways are ugly and serving people passing through from suburb to suburb.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      Do you see the AMLI Design District, Alexan, The Katy and One Arts Plaza as worthy of blocking Dallas’ classic skyline? Yes, those buildings now have views but is the massive reduction in citizens who can enjoy them a fair trade?

      I’m not saying all views are sacred, but some should be. It’s a discussion that Dallas leaders seem to have never had.

      As for highway views, a lot of people spend a lot of time on them. They’re also the easiest places where Google Streetview offers pictures going back years to highlight change.

      • Leon Miller, retired architect says

        I worked on the drawings for One Main Place, in 1964, when I was an employee of Harwood K Smith & Partners architects. The building sits at th corner of Elm and Griffin, in downtown Dallas. It was intended to be the first of 4 buildings; the 2nd and 3rd were intended to be a 60 story “duplex” that was to straddle Main Street. Unfortunately, a tragic event occured that prevented this from being built. The 70 story monolith took its place and will remain there forever.

  2. Reagan says

    Loved in Dallas my whole life and, for me, we went from blah to exciting. We’ve been rated worlds best skyline in USA Today 2 or 3 times in the last few years.

    • mmJon Anderson says

      The only year I can see USA Today ranking any skyline was 2014 and yes, Dallas was #1. But that same year Thrillist ranked Seattle #1 and Dallas #8. In 2018, The Luxury Travel Expert ranked their Top 10 with Hong Kong #1 with the only US city in listed at #8 being Chicago. In 2019, Better Homes and Gardens’ Top 10 didn’t even list Dallas – New York was #1 and Houston was #8.

      My point being that there’s likely a list somewhere where your pick will be #1.

  3. Robert Adell says

    Would be nice to read some news (any news at this point) where someone doesn’t feel they need to force the subject of race into it.

      • mmJon Anderson says

        Which facts? That all these new buildings are north of I-30? That southern Dallas isn’t invested in by developers? That those developers and banks don’t invest because there’s no money because people who live there make less and have higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts (and whose homes didn’t appreciate similarly in value due to decades of redlining)? Just coincidence?

        I wonder if you’d be fake-news-ing stories that include a racial dimension if men and women lived in separate parts of town. Given women’s historic pay gap, you’d be in the same type of under-invested-in poor side of town.

  4. TG says

    Don’t forget the Richards Group bldg at CityPlace West, which now obliterates downtown as you drive south on 75. So weird that a “creative” ad agency would have extruded a big dull black box. Compared to the Chiat Day bldg in Venice and how cool that is!

  5. Olivia Delgado says

    Thank you for this story! I was born & raised here. I work in Downtown Dallas (at a landmark hotel), and one of the most fascinating things about working there is the amazing history on display including how our skyline has changed. It is a shame so much of that rich architectural history has been obscured by what I call concrete boxes (the condos/apartments) that are like pimples to the face of Dallas. I know some might disagree, but I felt your story was very objective in highlighting something so many of us have noticed.

  6. Karen says

    I’ve been saddened by the ugly growth of Dallas and in the suburbs in the last few years. Is there any attempt at beauty? Not that I’ve seen.

    Thank you for pointing out the cop out from City Hall.

  7. Susan Ernst says

    Thank you Jon for a very thoughtful and thorough article. Another view blocking that really bugs me is the additional entrances and exits to highways being built on the west side of downtown, so we look at more highways right in the middle of the downtown skyline

  8. James Hauglid says

    Dallas has some great buildings and views of them should be protected. Fountain Place is an architecturally important building and the Magnolia is an iconic Dallas building, views of these buildings should be protected for all to enjoy. Austin has successfully protected views of the capital through the use of view corridors. Skylines on the other hand are ever evolving and should be allowed to change over time. One way to protect the quality of a cities skyline is to set higher standards for architectural integrity.

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