by Mark Doty
I’ve written before about the need many writers have for a day job, a need both economic and in many cases, inspirational. Dallas writer Mark Doty doesn’t need my advice. His book, Lost Dallas, stems directly from his work in the city’s Historic Preservation Section, dealing with historic districts and individual historic structure designations.
But for all the historic structures saved, more have fallen to Dallas’ growth and changing economy. The fallen buildings were those the group at Lakewood Library had gathered to mourn.
Not every fondly-remembered house and business can obtain protected status. The Historic Section’s website notes that historic structures are those with at least one of several attributes -- character, identification with a historically significant person, architectural style, archeological significance, “or value as an aspect of community sentiment or pride.” Even with those criteria, a building can fall to the wrecking ball, or more commonly nowadays, implosion.
In the meeting sponsored by the Friends of Lakewood Library, Doty provided a brief overview of the history of the architectural preservation movement, beginning with demolition of the original Penn Station building in New York. The 1910 Beaux-Arts style building had been considered one of the architectural jewels of New York. In 1963, it was demolished. The outcry led to new landmark preservation legislation.
Everyone in the room remembered the 1997 demolition of the Art Moderne Dr Pepper National Headquarters building on Mockingbird Lane by what Doty’s book terms “an indifferent developer.”
“That was our Penn Station moment,” Doty said.
Still, in Dallas, Penn Station moments occur repeatedly. One of Dallas architect Harwood K. Smith best designs, at 2505 Turtle Creek Boulevard, fell to wreckers on a Sunday morning in 2008. It was the same day an article in the Dallas Morning News called it one of the city‘s best examples of mid-century modern architecture.
Despite such examples, Doty insisted not all demolition even of historic structures is bad, if something finer takes their place. He cited the 1930’s renovation of Fair Park, replacing lackluster structures with distinctive Art Deco structures.
And what, he asked, will be the landmarks of the future? The Winspear Opera House, the American Airlines Center? “In forty or fifty years, will we chain ourselves to the door to keep them from being torn down?”
In addition to pictures from the Dallas Municipal Archives, Doty’s book includes images from several private collections. With separate sections for different districts of the city, the images are arranged chronologically, making it a must-see reference for anyone trying to reconstruct the historic appearance of Dallas. Available at
For more about Dallas’ Historic Preservation Section, see
(Next Monday, Wordcraft looks at YA author Mark Zusak’s appearance at the Highland Park Literary Festival. For information, see www.hplitfest.org/.)