HISTORY OF PRESERVATION DALLAS
In September 1972, a group of citizens concerned about the need to formally protect and preserve our city’s historic buildings founded the Historic Preservation League (later to become Preservation Dallas). It was a volunteer-run organization, but the mission was broad – to preserve and revitalize Dallas’ buildings, neighborhoods and other historical, architectural and cultural resources.
The Historic Preservation League (HPL) went to work immediately and laid out a program of work that continues to impact preservation efforts in Dallas.
Only a year after its founding, the HPL succeeded in urging the City Council to adopt the Dallas Preservation Ordinance. A year later, in 1974, the HPL published Buying a Home in Historic Old East Dallas, part of a major marketing program to interest potential residents in purchasing and preserving homes in inner-city neighborhoods. The first effort to save endangered buildings also occurred in 1974, when the HPL campaigned and succeeded in saving Old Lakewood Library and Trinity Methodist Church. The church was designated as Dallas’ first Landmark building.
In 1976, the HPL was instrumental in the establishment of the Munger Place Historic District Revolving Fund. Between 1976 and 1979, 27 homes were purchased and sold with restoration covenants, and Munger Place attracted approximately $5 million in private reinvestment. During that time, HPL also focused on other historic areas. The HPL purchased and rehabilitated a craftsman bungalow in Junius Heights to demonstrate the potential of the underrated neighborhood. That effort was aided in 1977 when Fannie Mae extended its lending program to cover homes in Junius Heights. Previously, it was extremely difficult to get a mortgage loan for an historic property in that neighborhood. Also in 1977, the HPL financed a study of the Magnolia Building, and persuaded the City of Dallas not to demolish the landmark, but to sell it so that it could be restored and reused.
In 1980, the HPL purchased the Wilson Block from Fox & Jacobs, a housing developer, in order to save a group of significant Victorian-era homes from demolition. The HPL restored the Arnold House, set up headquarters in the beautiful Swiss Avenue mansion and, in 1981, sold the Wilson Block to the
Meadows Foundation for their award-winning preservation project. Between 1982 and 1984, the HPL identified the Harwood Street Historic District and structures such as Hart Furniture and the Santa Fe buildings as significant historic resources and funded a study that convinced the Dallas Independent School District not to demolish Crockett School. In 1983, the HPL surveyed Fair Park and successfully lobbied for landmark designation status and, in 1986, the organization published A Guide to the Older Neighborhoods of Dallas.
The HPL moved its headquarters to the Wilson House in 1993 and established the Resource Center with the help of the Meadows Foundation. In 1994 the HPL changed its name to Preservation Dallas (PD) and began a series of outreach programs in addition to its preservation advocacy efforts. With the support of the West End Association, PD appealed the issuance of a surface parking lot permit in the West End Historic District, leading to the sale of the Awalt Buildings for adaptive reuse. New programming efforts during the 1990s included Intown Outings, the popular Historic House Specialist Seminar program, and neighborhood assistance programs that focused on neighborhoods inside Loop 12.
In 1996, Preservation Dallas began conducting architectural tours, starting with the works of O’Neil Ford and Clifford Hutsell. Those initial events proved popular and were followed by a series of loft tours – Lofty Spaces – and visits to the works of Charles Dilbeck and Howard Meyer. During the 1990s, PD continued its work with neighborhoods – promoting “intown living” – and recognizing that strong and healthy historic neighborhoods make Dallas a vibrant and enticing place to live.
In 1998, Preservation Dallas advocated for — and saved — local historic preservation incentives by co-sponsoring a Rutgers study of economic benefits of historic preservation in Texas. Continuing its work with neighborhoods, PD published the Preservation Dallas Neighborhood Handbook: A Resource for Neighborhood Associations and distributed it to neighborhood groups throughout Dallas and the rest of the country. The following year, 1999, Preservation Dallas co-published Historic Preservation at Work for the Texas Economy, a report on the economic impact of historic preservation on Texas. That year, the organization also became one of the founding sponsors of the Legacies Dallas History Conference.
In 2000, the Dallas City Council unanimously passed into law the first sweeping changes in the City’s historic preservation ordinance in 26 years. After three years of work, a coalition consisting of Dallas City Council members, Preservation Dallas, the Dallas Landmark Commission, developers and others successfully crafted a new ordinance that will better protect the city’s historic landmarks and districts for future generations.
Successful programs such as Intown Outings, architectural tours, the Dallas History Conference and the Historic House Specialist Seminar were joined by the first annual Preservation Achievement Awards held in 2000 at the historic Lakewood Theatre and “Summer Sizzlers,” a series of informal talks on a wide variety of preservation topics. “Mid-century modern” architecture also entered the preservation scene as these buildings both reached the fifty-year mark and were threatened by new development. In 2001 PD celebrated the extension and revision of the City’s property tax incentive program for historic buildings, which was renamed as the Neighborhood Revitalization and Historic Preservation Program.
Preservation Dallas also began an extensive survey of the city’s architectural, cultural and historical resources called Discover Dallas! Utilizing professional staff and neighborhood volunteers, over 28 neighborhoods were surveyed, photographed and researched. These efforts give neighborhood and preservation advocates a better understanding of the wide variety of resources in Dallas’ built environment and help craft a strategy for preserving them.
As mid-decade approached, PD began to issue an annual list of endangered historic properties believing that making their status public while advocating on their behalf bettered their chances for revitalization. PD also returned to its roots working directly with two threatened structures. The Parks Estate, a foreclosed property that faced demolition, was acquired by PD and, with protective covenants in place, sold to a buyer able to restore the home. The Baldwin House, in the Swiss Avenue Historic District, was acquired, rehabilitated and sold to a new owner averting the first threatened demolition in the city’s first historic district.
Building on the Discover Dallas! survey, PD is placed a series of informative signs in Downtown Dallas in 2011, beginning with signs describing the historic structures surrounding Main Street Garden. The project is expanding to Ferris Park as the next set of signs to be installed.
In an effort to bring younger folks into the preservation fold the Preservation Dallas Young Professionals group was started in 2011 with the goal for it to be a networking group and to learn more about preservation in the city. They have since gone on to hold events, happy hours and participated in National Rebuilding Day in the historic Tenth Street neighborhood in 2014.
The Urban Armadillos group formally joined with Preservation Dallas in 2013 in an effort to develop walking trails in downtown Dallas. Their volunteer group made up of folks interested in “digging up the history of Dallas” had been working on researching sites in downtown Dallas before joining Preservation Dallas. The trails idea expanded into a free mobile app called Pegasus Urban Trails which launched in 2014.
After the unfortunate surprise demolitions of four historic buildings in downtown Dallas in the fall of 2014 Preservation Dallas called attention to the lack of protections for significant buildings in downtown. Preservation Dallas was represented on the city’s newly established Downtown Preservation Task Force to look at the issue. The task force came up with nine recommendations for the city to implement. The most important was a Demolition Delay Ordinance which was passed in the fall of 2015.
To help educate the public about the incredible diversity of architectural styles in Dallas a temporary exhibit was launched at the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture in 2015. The exhibit was subsequently developed into a booklet which has been donate to all public libraries and the libraries of all DISD middle and high schools. The exhibit has continued to travel since its debut in 2015.
Expansion of the celebration of National Preservation Month started in 2016 with a roster of activities throughout the month to showcase and celebrate the power of historic preservation in Dallas. In 2017, National Preservation Month culminated in the biggest awards event for Preservation Dallas at the Statler Hilton with Stephanie Meeks, the President and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as the keynote speaker.
Today, neighborhood advocacy and support continues as do efforts to save threatened structures and the continuation of a wide variety of events and tours.