Forty Years Ago, A Man Had a Plan for Downtown Dallas ...

Categories: News

Whilst cleaning out my office the other day, I came across a copy of Esquire that, just so happens, hit newsstands exactly 40 years ago this month. The cover, conceived by the legendary George Lois, was a publishing first, insisted the legendary Arnold Gingrich in the publisher's note: "the first time any one issue of any magazine has ever had as many as [six] different front covers" -- in this instance, for Washington, Omaha, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Chicago and, of course, Dallas. The intention of the June 1968 issue was to analyze a those cities' "problems as presented in a two-page spread," and then offer solutions.

In Dallas' case, the problem was simple: "Dallas shares with Washington and Buffalo the horrible distinction of being a town where a President of the United States was shot to death. But only Dallas seems to have emerged with the killing as part of its permanent image. ... The following is offered as a plan to brighten its reputation somewhat."

And for the plan, Esquire turned to Vincent Ponte -- who Time called in 1970 "a little-known planner" from Montreal who studied at Harvard and worked for I.M. Pei (who designed, of course, Dallas City Hall and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center). Three years earlier, in The New York Times, Ponte suggested that the quickest way to save dying downtowns was to build underground malls -- and that's precisely what he pitched for Dallas: "covered, air-conditioned walkways over traffic; arcades lined with stores tunneled under the streets; and moving belts-under-glass for long, uninterrupted walks between building set apart." Of course, Dallas would indeed get an underground mall -- which, in The New York Times in 2005, then-Dallas Mayor Laura Miller called "the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made. They thought it was hip and groovy to create an underground community, but it was a death knell.''

But Ponte had other suggestions that sound, even today, terribly familiar: "Make it a Sports City." (Among the suggestions: "a major-league baseball team cooperatively owned by Dallas and Fort Worth.") Turn Dallas into "A City of the Arts." (As in, "Its Civic Opera, which has done superb things, has been hampered by lack of local interest into a season so short you can miss it by blinking.") And turn downtown into "A Center of Entertainment." (To wit, "After five p.m., the downtown is dead.") How far we've ... come?

Below, Ponte's suggestions for downtown. Which should make excellent lunchtime reading. Ponte, incidentally, died in March 2006. --Robert Wilonsky

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