The Downtown Site Where Robert Johnson, Bob Wills Recorded Takes Its First Significant Step Down Path to Destruction
Unfair Park has learned that this week, Glazer's Distributors and Colby Properties, the owners of 508 Park Avenue downtown, filed with the city a certificate of demolition that would allow for the razing of the former Warner Bros. Pictures storage facility in which Robert Johnson, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and, possibly, Charlie Parker once recorded. When contacted this morning, Jack Westenborg, Glazer's vice president of operations, confirmed the filing with the city's Landmark Commission after "our architects and engineers prepared a study of the property," which is required for the demolition of buildings in historic districts. 508 Park Avenue is located within the Harwood Historic District.
The filing was not unexpected: As we reported on July 1, the city filed a complaint against Glazer's in Dallas County District Court demanding the owners fix myriad Dallas City Code and Dallas Fire Code violations or pay $1,000 per day per violation. Sources familiar with the building say the owners have spent $50,000 to bring the building up to code. To which Westernborg says: Enough already.
"The building has a lot of structural issues," he says. "This is not only about bringing it into compliance. It's a vacant building, and to make it habitable, it would take hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to make it structurally sound. And, on top of that, if you spend $2, $3 million, you couldn't lease it because of the homeless."
According to the Landmark Commission's Central Business District Task Force's agenda for Wednesday's meeting, the owners are claiming the building needs to be demolished "due to imminent threat to public health and safety." They're also seeking demolition for adjacent 1900 Young Street, a "noncontributing structure ... newer than period of significance."
In January, Preservation Dallas launched a campaign to save the building for myriad reasons, all of which are enumerated here.
But Westernborg scoffs at the notion that the building, constructed in the 1920s and vacant for two decades, is at all "historic." After all, he says, "there's no architectural significance to it," and it hardly resembles the makeshift studio in which some of the most significant music of the 20th century was recorded.
"If you ever got in the building, it doesn't look like it did when they recorded in there," he says. "Does this mean they shouldn't tear down Yankee Stadium just because Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig played there? It's just a deteriorated old building, and nothing's the same as when those guys were in there. People make a lot out of our building, but there's nothing there."
Some would disagree -- like Michael Taft, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, to whom I spoke in January for the cover story about the building, one of several vacant downtown structures to which the City Attorney's Office turned its attention per Mayor Tom Leppert's instructions to clean up downtown.
Said Taft, "The significance of any building is what we put into it . A building is just bricks and mortar. But 508 Park Avenue is one of two buildings that has a connection with and is part of the story of two of the most important recording sessions in American history. I think the significance is in the event that took place there, every bit as much as the site at Gettysburg is as important as the battle that took place there."