You probably never noticed the boarded-up tan brick building near Park and Young streets in downtown Dallas. It sat abandoned for two decades, its sidewalks littered with trash and walls vandalized with graffiti.
But behind the grime and neglect, there was a story of intersecting histories waiting to be told.
This Art Deco structure, called 508 Park, was once the hub of the local music scene. Mississippi Delta blues legend Robert Johnson recorded nearly half his songs, as well as his final work, in 1937. In fact, over 800 blues, jazz, western swing, and Mexican recordings occurred at 508 Park by Johnson and other legends such as Gene Autry, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Light Crust Doughboys, and Lolo Cavasos.
The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church across the street purchased 508 Park in 2011. Thanks to their efforts, as well as dedicated preservationists, historians, architects, and volunteers, this architecturally significant building is singing again.
The campus, known as Encore Park, is a multi-phased, multi-venue campus that aims to bring all cultures together to experience and appreciate history, art, music, and community gardening.
Pat Bywaters is executive director of Encore Park Dallas and grandson of influential Texas artist and “Dallas Nine” member Jerry Bywaters. He’s been spearheading the research into 508’s history, visiting archives in California, Louisiana, and New York.
“I love doing research, and I’ve always loved history. As soon as we looked into 508, the music history came flooding,” Bywaters said. “The Encore Park project preserves not only the architectural relic, but a special place and time in Dallas’ history.”