In September 2014, Headington Companies began razing a 129-year-old building in downtown Dallas, and proceeded to demolish almost an entire block of historic storefronts along Main and Elm streets. Photo: Harry Wilonsky/Dallas Morning News

In September 2014, Headington Companies tore down a 129-year-old downtown Dallas building as part of the development of The Joule, also demolishing almost an entire block of historic properties nearby. Photo: Harry Wilonsky, Dallas Morning News

Last September, the Dallas preservation community let out a collective gasp as an entire block of century-old buildings was demolished by Headington Companies as part of the Joule’s expansion plans. Because of the way historic preservation is handled in Dallas, there was no time to discuss alternatives with the bulldozers or the company that employed them. They rolled into place and had their work done in a week.

At the time of the razing, Dallas Morning News Architecture Critic Mark Lamster wrote a scathing column, We regret to inform you that your city has been destroyed, calling the demos “acts of vandalism.” Preservation Dallas, a 43-year-old nonprofit dedicated to the protection and revitalization of the city’s historic buildings, neighborhoods, and places, called it “wanton destruction.”

But out of that surprising event (Headington Companies had received a Preservation Dallas award just the year before), a conversation started about how we take care of our historic buildings in Dallas, particularly in downtown.

“We shouldn’t be able to demolish a 100-year-old building in a matter of a couple of days,” said Katherine Seale, the former executive director of Preservation Dallas and chairman of the Downtown Historic Preservation Task Force, which was authorized by Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings in response to the demolitions.

Seale chose the 11 members of the task force, with includes members from the development, preservation, design, and planning communities, as well as city hall. They have been meeting since January to discuss what changes need to happen to the way Dallas does preservation to better protect our city’s history.

“Historic buildings are downtown’s greatest asset,” Seale said. “They should be treated like precious infrastructure.”

With the task force’s recommendations, approved yesterday, they just might be. They voted on nine recommendations (the executive summary is at the bottom of this post) to take place in incremental stages. Those recommendations will go before the Dallas City Council for approval in coming months.

“I couldn’t be more pleased—it was unanimous,” Seale said. “It’s an incredible outcome from a broad base of people that represent different interests and they all agreed on the recommendations.”

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