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Making Dallas Even Better

Historic Buildings Are Now a Little Safer in Dallas (Sort of)

Dallas has a brand spanking new ordinance designed to help prevent the midnight demolition of the city’s historic buildings. The Dallas City Council passed a demolition delay ordinance which will force a mandatory review period after a developer files for a demolition permit that will allow the city to double check to make sure that the building is not, well, historic. Here’s how it will work, via the Dallas Wilonsky News report:

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The Convention Center That Ate Dallas

A couple of weeks ago, after reading that the taxpayer-funded Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau apparently wanted to lend us the letter “D” from their “DALLAS” logo to replace the City of Dallas’ existing letter “D” logo, I got to thinking once again about the outsized influence the DCVB wields over municipal affairs.

Late last year, after Philip Jones, the DCVB’s president, tossed out a plan to have taxpayers pay for a $300 million addition to the convention center, I took a look into the finances and found that it lost $37 million per year before debt service and $54 million after interest expense — amounts that were virtually identical to its losses prior to the opening of the half-billion-dollar city-owned Omni Convention Center Hotel in 2010 (one of the primary justifications for building the hotel was that it would drive more business to the convention center and stop its losses). Some of the most interesting observations, however, came from reader comments to my post. Former city council member and the executive director of the Dallas Arts District, Veletta Lill, made the following observations:

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How Good Is Preservation Dallas at Saving Endangered Places?

Stating that “recent events have necessitated its return,” Preservation Dallas is compiling a list of Dallas’ Most Endangered Historic Places for the first time in five years. You’ve got a few days (until Friday) to make a nomination of an important old building that deserves inclusion. They’ll announce their list in September.

There’s nothing binding about this designation by the nonprofit organization, but the hope is that it will draw attention to bits of Dallas’ past that could soon disappear from our landscape. I thought I’d take a look at how well that worked for the last batch of places Preservation Dallas’ stood up for — in 2010.

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Say Goodbye to the Dallas Symphony’s di Suvero, Hello to Office Box

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. As the general building boom in and around downtown and Uptown continues, and Klyde Warren Park’s popularity transforms what were once undesirable lots abutting a freeway into the hottest plots of land in the region, someone noticed that there’s a well-located little parcel doing nothing more than housing a giant sculpture. And so, yesterday Steve Brown reported that the land at the southeast corner of Pearl St. and Woodall Rodgers Freeway will be sold by the Dallas Symphony to make way for a new office tower.

It makes perfect sense. A spokesperson with the symphony said the proceeds from the sale (estimated at $7.2 million, one of the highest prices ever for the Arts District) will go to fund symphony operations. And while the symphony has pushed through their own rocky financial times, the financial world around orchestras is ever an uneasy one. So from a symphony perspective, it’s fortuitous that the DSO had a little land to flip to shore up their operations. Bravo.

Of course there are concerns about the development — there always are.

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How Will the City Council Settle the Preston Center Skybridge Battle?

In case you haven’t noticed, Preston Center basically sucks. If you want to know why, read this piece by the Dallas Observer‘s Eric Nicholson. Long story short, the decrepit parking garage in the middle of the development is owned by the city of Dallas, and all of the 70-odd property owners in the vicinity have usage rights. This highly fragmented ownership also impedes the area’s redevelopment.

Enter Harlan Crow.

Earlier this year, Crow proposed building a skybridge at Preston Center West to connect a new Tom Thumb grocery store to the adjacent parking garage. Even better, Crow proposed spending more than $1 million to renovate the garage and make it handicap accessible. As with every other new development proposed in the vicinity within the last year, however, it quickly became mired in controversy, with former mayor Laura Miller leading the charge, stating that a new grocery store “would only add to congestion,” and that “the oversized sky bridge … will cast a big shadow over an area that will now have obstructions in the sidewalk…”

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On the Semiotics of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

Yesterday I had a conversation with a fellow who told me a story that blew my mind a little. Thought I’d share. This guy’s daughter was doing some volunteer work at a school in West Dallas. Mostly poor, mostly brown and black kids. The daughter asked some of them what they thought of the fancy Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, expecting to hear how much they loved it. But the kids told her that they hate it. They said the bridge divides the city. They said white people built that bridge to remind folks in West Dallas where the border lies, the one that separates rich from poor. “They stay on their side, and we stay on ours,” one of the kids said.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Strange Case for the Trinity Toll Road

Back in December, Mayor Rawlings met with the Dallas Morning News editorial board to make his case for the Trinity toll road. At the time, the story was reported by the DMN, with subsequent editorializing on FrontBurner by Jason Heid and Wick Allison. I was also tempted to write something about it at the time, but dropped the idea after the pieces by Jason and Wick appeared. Since then, however, I find myself going to back to re-listen to the audio recording over and over. It’s not that politicians don’t say crazy things at times. We all know they do. It’s the idea that someone, somewhere, thought the DMN editorial board would find this pitch persuasive.

What I’ve attempted to do below is step through the mayor’s case point by point.

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Museum Tower Designer Insists Nasher Needs to Yield in Reflectivity Dispute

In a piece earlier this month for the Architect’s Newspaper, Scott Johnson of Fain Johnson, the principal designer of Museum Tower, says the only possible solution to the Nasher Sculpture Center’s demands to be free of the light reflected upon its building and garden lies in the proposed alterations to its roof — changes which the museum has refused to make:

In the meantime, the Dallas Police & Fire Pension Fund, after exhaustive technical studies, has recommended recalibrating the clerestory cells in the ceiling without touching any other elements of the Nasher’s architecture. It is my understanding that they will turn their engineering research over to the Nasher design team to vet, design, and install the recalibration, and they will pay for it. The Nasher, I understand, has declined this solution, however, the original charge to “eliminate all reflection and do it all on Museum Tower,” given what we know, seems frankly unachievable.

I remain hopeful that new participants in the process will look beyond entrenched positions and a consensual and effective solution will be agreed upon. Dallas is a beautiful city and I hope that a resolution for this difficult issue between Museum Tower and the Nasher can be found soon.

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It’s Only a Matter of Time Before Mark Lamster’s Head Is Too Big for Him To Navigate the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

First we named him the best critic in the city. Then the Observer named him the best architecture critic in the city. Now comes this fawning story from The Atlantic’s CityLab. You know who I feel sorry for? Lamster’s wife. He must be impossible around the house. (All kidding aside, you should read the CityLab story. It puts into perspective the great work he has done in his short time here, and it should make you realize how fortunate Dallas is to have him.)

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Headington Companies Pursue Odd PR Strategy While Tearing Down Buildings

Tim Headington — oilman, movie financier, real estate mogul — is a very private man. He doesn’t do press — at all. Here and there, he has been written about. But to my knowledge, he has never given an interview for a magazine or newspaper profile (please correct me if I’m wrong). We’ve asked for time with him. In fact, a couple years back, we killed an innocuous story about a very small part of his empire after his people told us that the timing was bad (it was) and that a look at the bigger picture would serve Dallas better (they were right). We were told that it would be possible to get time with Headington to tell the larger story. That never happened.

His penchant for secrecy is well and fine, when it comes to most of his operations. Check out the website for Headington Companies, for example. In how little it reveals about the organization, it feels like a repudiation of our selfie society. It is brilliant. But this secrecy fails him when it comes to demolishing old buildings.

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1611 Main Street, R.I.P.

Sunday afternoon, while the Cowboys were losing to the Rams, I heard a loud bang and went to investigate. It was the sound of a wrecking ball hitting the 129-year-old building next door to ours. I walked out to Main Street and saw people standing in front of Neiman’s, their phones pointed toward 1611 Main Street. I had missed the first few swings of the crane, but I got there just in time to see the top portion of the building crumble to the ground.

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The Difficulties of Explaining McKinney Avenue to 3 Guys From Miami

Saturday night, after dropping a friend at her swanky Main Street pad, I decided to head over to Highland Park Village for a bit of merry-making. This would require cash. Luckily, a strip shopping center with plenty of free parking (and, most importantly, an ATM) was right on the way, located at the corner of Pearl and McKinney.

As I whipped in to the parking space in front of the bank, I observed three bewildered-looking, well-dressed middle-aged men standing in front. A rough transcript of our conversation follows.

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Jim Schutze Changes His Name to Charles Schultz and Decides He Likes Mark Lamster After All

Don’t know about you, but one of my regular stops every day is the blog for the Architect’s Newspaper. Yesterday they posted an item about how Mark Lamster is winning hearts and minds in Dallas. They wrote:

Since arriving in North Texas to take up the job of Dallas Morning News architecture critic, Mark Lamster has been under a trial by fire, suffering scrutiny and criticism for everything from his Yankee origin to his unsympathetic take on the city’s built environment. Well, local opinions seem to be warming a bit to the sharp-tongued scribe. In a recent piece in the Dallas Observer, Charles Schultz went so far as to praise how quickly Lamster has come to understand Big D’s development landscape and the insider track around its so-called zoning regulations. Schultz even showed a little contrition for a previous quip: “I apologize for calling him ‘Mark Lamster, New York Pinhead’ when he first showed up.”

Two things about that. 1) Guests who join us tonight at the Rustic for our Best of Big D party will get an early look at our August issue, in which we name Lamster the city’s best critic. So the editors at the Architect’s Newspaper are quite right. And 2) please, everyone, let us forevermore refer to the Observer’s bearded, laconic gadfly as Charles Schultz.

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Richard Tettamant Likely Out as Director of Police and Fire Fund

I’ve heard a high-grade rumor that Richard Tettamant is stepping down from his directorship of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. I stress: rumor. I can, however, confirm that next week’s pension board meeting will feature an executive session to discuss a personnel matter. I’m not sure what this possible move might signal about the fund’s finances. Maybe it means nothing. Maybe the fund’s unorthodox, real-estate-heavy portfolio is in good shape. Maybe Tettamant just decided — suddenly — that it was time to retire. But I think I do know what his possible departure means for the Nasher: good news.

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