Robert Johnson's Grandson Has the Blues Over What to Do With 508 Park Avenue

Categories: Music, News
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Dogwood Folk Art
Steven Johnson, grandson of Robert Johnson, contacted Unfair Park today after reading this week's cover story concerning the fate of 508 Park Ave. downtown, where the Mississippi bluesman recorded in June 1937. Says Johnson -- vice president of the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation in Crystal Springs, Mississippi -- this was the first he'd heard of the owners' desire to demolish the building. And he vows to do what he can to preserve the former site of the Warner Brothers Film Exchange that also served, in the 1930s, as the Dallas branch office of Brunswick Records. Brunswick owned the label, Vocalion, that released Johnson's only known recordings.

"I have a lot of dreams I want to do in this building," Steven Johnson says. "I had no idea they wanted to tear this down. 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of my grandfather's birth, and my vision was to come down there in 2011 and do some recordings in the same building my granddad recorded in. If they're talking about knocking it down, that would be one big blow to the music world and the history and legacy of my grandfather."

Barring a visit from the late-night wrecking ball, 508 Park Ave. isn't coming down any time soon. The building sits inside the Harwood Street Historic District, and the city's Landmark Commission would have to sign off on the demolition should Glazer's Distributors, which has owned the building since 1958, make their case based on at least one of four criteria for demolition, which include lack of economic viability and threat to public health and safety. Sources inside City Hall say the Landmark Commission most likely wouldn't hear the owners' case till March.

But should it approve demolition, Steven Johnson says the foundation would be willing to rescue at least part of the building and move it to Mississippi. He says he intends to contact Realtor Candace Rubin about a purchase price as early as today.

"We would be honored to bring the remains of that building -- whatever we can salvage -- to Mississippi and do a replica of that building there," he says. "Please. In a heartbreat. It's my desire they leave it intact. We would even consider purchasing that building. We want to do a Robert Johnson record label, and that would be our recording studio."
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