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An Interview with Lost Dallas Author Mark Doty

An Interview with Lost Dallas Author Mark Doty

Ryan Flener of GFF has provided us with more news you can use.Recently, he interviewed Mark Doty, City of Dallas Historic PreservationOfficer and author of Lost Dallas, thebook that is the basis of the latest exhibition at the Dallas Center forArchitecture.  They discuss Mark’sresearch process, preservation as an economic driver and ways you can getinvolved.

Come to the Center and see the exhibition.  It runs through July 13, and Mark will helplead a special LostDallas walking tour on July 7

In the meantime, here’s the interview: 

Ryan Flener:

I want to begin by congratulating you on the completion of“Lost Dallas”. I have had the opportunity to read through it and am trulyamazed at the volume of lost buildings in this city. I am interested to have youtell us a little bit about where you grew up and if it had any influence onyour fascination with buildings, cities, and preservation.

Mark Doty:

I am a native of Abilene, Texas, and when I was growing upthere, the city formulated a plan to revitalize the downtown area. An old movietheater, train depot and hotel were all restored and adaptively used which inturn sparked the majority of the other historic downtown buildings to berestored or renovated. Downtown is now a great source of pride for the citizensand a great tool for economic development for the entire city. Thistransformation had a profound effect on my thinking about not only architectureand historic preservation, but also how historic preservation could reallydefine a community and serve as a job creator.

 

RF:

It is obvious there is a vigor in your research. As you knowwell, exhuming buildings of the past can be quite exhausting. What was yourprocess like? Where did you begin and how did you move through a structure or neighborhoodwhere these structures once stood?

MD:

I first began by looking at previous books written on Dallashistory and architecture. I then began to identify those buildings eitherpreviously written about or research those structures recently demolished andto compile that information in a ‘neighborhood-focused’ format. Due to theformat constraints established by the editors, I had to really edit how manybuildings I could use and how much information to include in each caption.

 

RF:

Were there any public spaces, as opposed to buildings, thathave also been lost? Are you able to tell us a little bit about how publicspaces might have grown and functioned differently from the buildings you havedocumented. Is it a chicken and egg story or do today’s planning methods ringfamiliar tones of these past songs?

MD:

Quite a bit of our park spaces might not have beennecessarily lost but have been so diminished over the years due to budget cutsto the Parks Department that I would consider them greatly altered. Old CityPark used to be twice its size before the freeway lopped off the northern half.Lake Cliff in Oak Cliff was a large amusement park at the turn of the century.Union Terminal Park disappeared underneath I-35. Founders Plaza in the West Endis a great example of a park that was created to spatially compliment the JFK Memorialacross Main Street, torn up to accommodate an underground parking garage andthen rebuilt with a design that many consider a failure.

 

RF:

As you spent your time searching and discovering “LostDallas” were you able to pick up on any political, social, or economic patternsthat helped pave the way for the situation we are in? Have buildings and publicspaces become disposable, or almost temporary?

MD:

Earliest Dallas was definitely lost due to the economic prosperitythat came with the railroads coming to Dallas. Historic South Dallas has yet torecover with I-45 and 175 crossing through those neighborhoods during the 1970’s.What people tend to forget is that Dallas has always been a city centered onbusiness and business development. I mean, city leaders moved City Hall in 1910due to the fact Adolphus Busch wanted to build his new hotel on the same spot.So I don’t think the ‘pro-business’ attitude has changed one bit, but I believethe preservation movement has matured and gained a little more support withinthe community at large.  

 

RF:

I think we all know the situations we are in. Populationsare rising drastically, cars are being sold at an exhausting rate, insuranceand energy is more expensive. Preservation is simply inevitable right? Are webehind the curve in Dallas?

MD:

 I don’t think we arenecessarily behind the curve, but I do think that most people don’t seepreservation as the economic tool and generator that it truly is or can be. Themajority of the residents in downtown Dallas live in historic buildings.People, especially younger people, enjoy living in a quirky and uniqueenvironment. I think State-Thomas and the McKinney Avenue corridor are perfectexamples of this thinking and lifestyle. Instead of preservation or adaptiveuse being an after thought, I look forward to the day where it is part of theinitial conversation. I also don’t think people in Dallas have fully understoodthat the most ‘green’ building is the one already standing and that it is quitepractical to use an older building than start from scratch. It might take alittle more thought and money, but in the end it can be quite successful. Lookat DART’s adaptive use of Monroe Shops is a prime example of this relationship.

 

RF:

To end, could you explain how people can get involved withpreservation techniques and agendas. Where does one go to voice an opinion orresearch to save an endangered structure?

MD:

Obviously, joining Preservation Dallas, the DallasHistorical Society, supporting Dallas Heritage Village or Old Red CourthouseMuseum  or any other non-profit are easy ways to become involved in thelocal preservation community. Even something as simple as joining yourneighborhood association and participating in what is going on around you canhave a profound effect. However, letting your Council member, the Mayor andothers at the City level know the importance of an individual building orhistoric preservation in general to the entire city is perhaps the mosteffective. They are the ones that set public policy and will ultimately decidewhether a building or neighborhood will be preserved for future generations. 

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