June 20, 2012
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 Preservation Officer and author of Lost Dallas, the book that is the basis of the latest exhibition at the Dallas Center for Architecture. They discuss Mark’s research process, preservation as an economic driver and ways you can get involved.
Come to the Center and see the exhibition. It runs through July 13, and Mark will help lead a special Lost Dallas walking tour on July 7.
In the meantime, here’s the interview:
I want to begin by congratulating you on the completion of “Lost Dallas”. I have had the opportunity to read through it and am truly amazed at the volume of lost buildings in this city. I am interested to have you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and if it had any influence on your fascination with buildings, cities, and preservation.
I am a native of Abilene, Texas, and when I was growing up there, the city formulated a plan to revitalize the downtown area. An old movie theater, train depot and hotel were all restored and adaptively used which in turn sparked the majority of the other historic downtown buildings to be restored or renovated. Downtown is now a great source of pride for the citizens and a great tool for economic development for the entire city. This transformation had a profound effect on my thinking about not only architecture and historic preservation, but also how historic preservation could really define a community and serve as a job creator.
It is obvious there is a vigor in your research. As you know well, exhuming buildings of the past can be quite exhausting. What was your process like? Where did you begin and how did you move through a structure or neighborhood where these structures once stood?
I first began by looking at previous books written on Dallas history and architecture. I then began to identify those buildings either previously written about or research those structures recently demolished and to compile that information in a ‘neighborhood-focused’ format. Due to the format constraints established by the editors, I had to really edit how many buildings I could use and how much information to include in each caption.
Were there any public spaces, as opposed to buildings, that have also been lost? Are you able to tell us a little bit about how public spaces might have grown and functioned differently from the buildings you have documented. Is it a chicken and egg story or do today’s planning methods ring familiar tones of these past songs?
Quite a bit of our park spaces might not have been necessarily lost but have been so diminished over the years due to budget cuts to the Parks Department that I would consider them greatly altered. Old City Park 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 End is a great example of a park that was created to spatially compliment the JFK Memorial across Main Street, torn up to accommodate an underground parking garage and then rebuilt with a design that many consider a failure.
As you spent your time searching and discovering “Lost Dallas” were you able to pick up on any political, social, or economic patterns that helped pave the way for the situation we are in? Have buildings and public spaces become disposable, or almost temporary?
Earliest Dallas was definitely lost due to the economic prosperity that came with the railroads coming to Dallas. Historic South Dallas has yet to recover 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 on business and business development. I mean, city leaders moved City Hall in 1910 due 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 believe the preservation movement has matured and gained a little more support within the community at large.
I think we all know the situations we are in. Populations are rising drastically, cars are being sold at an exhausting rate, insurance and energy is more expensive. Preservation is simply inevitable right? Are we behind the curve in Dallas?
I don’t think we are necessarily behind the curve, but I do think that most people don’t see preservation as the economic tool and generator that it truly is or can be. The majority of the residents in downtown Dallas live in historic buildings. People, especially younger people, enjoy living in a quirky and unique environment. I think State-Thomas and the McKinney Avenue corridor are perfect examples of this thinking and lifestyle. Instead of preservation or adaptive use being an after thought, I look forward to the day where it is part of the initial conversation. I also don’t think people in Dallas have fully understood that the most ‘green’ building is the one already standing and that it is quite practical to use an older building than start from scratch. It might take a little more thought and money, but in the end it can be quite successful. Look at DART’s adaptive use of Monroe Shops is a prime example of this relationship.
To end, could you explain how people can get involved with preservation techniques and agendas. Where does one go to voice an opinion or research to save an endangered structure?
Obviously, joining Preservation Dallas, the Dallas Historical Society, supporting Dallas Heritage Village or Old Red Courthouse Museum or any other non-profit are easy ways to become involved in the local preservation community. Even something as simple as joining your neighborhood association and participating in what is going on around you can have a profound effect. However, letting your Council member, the Mayor and others at the City level know the importance of an individual building or historic preservation in general to the entire city is perhaps the most effective. They are the ones that set public policy and will ultimately decide whether a building or neighborhood will be preserved for future generations.