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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The Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, in downtown has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, this structure was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Downtown Dallas’ Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. In 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, it was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Dallas has a rich historic and architectural legacy, shown through buildings like the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, DeGolyer House and Gardens in East Dallas, and the Eastside Warehouse District and State Thomas neighborhood in Uptown.

But just because a building or neighborhood plays an important part in the story of Dallas doesn’t mean it’s protected from big changes, up to and including demolishment.

Just last September, 1611 Main Street and neighboring buildings were razed as part of the Joule’s expansion plans. It was a beautiful Romanesque Revival built in 1885, one of downtown’s oldest structures. It sat next to the site of another Dallas landmark torn down by the Joule in 2012, the former Praetorian Building.

Lakewood Theater is another example of an unprotected structure—it may be beloved, but nothing stands between it and the wrecking ball besides the assurances of the owner that they won’t demolish as part of renovation plans.

That’s where historic designation comes into play and the efforts of Dallas preservationists to care for the future of the buildings and neighborhoods that have shaped what our city into what it is today.

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Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

If the last year is any indication, 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for real estate development in Downtown Dallas.

This is according to downtown advocates, urban planners, and real estate and development experts, who gathered Friday to talk about city living in downtown at a panel, sponsored by the Dallas Business Journal.

Moderated by John Crawford, President and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., an advocacy group for Downtown Dallas, the panel shared candid insights into past successes, lessons learned, and where the area is headed in the future.

“There’s a pretty distinct spirit and energy in Downtown Dallas and we’ve reached a point of permanency, as far as what downtown has become,” said Crawford. “Residentially, we continue to be about 94 percent occupancy in all the buildings that have been converted and the new construction and depending on who you talk to, we have between 6,000 and 8,000 units under construction from 2015 to 2017. There’s an urban lifestyle that is continuing to catch on down here.”

Panelists included Theresa O’Donnell, Chief Planning Officer for the city of Dallas; Yogi Patil, an Associate at HKS Architects Inc.; Steve Shepherd of the Downtown Residents Council; and Michael Tregoning, President of Headington Company. Jump to read more!

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