If Landmark Allows Amphitheater, First Presby Expects to Close on 508 Park Ave. Next Month

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Click to embiggen for a better look at First Presby's plans to freshen up 508 Park Avenue, should it get Landmark's OK to tear down 1900 Young next door.
The timing, if nothing else, is remarkable. May 8 marks the 100th birthday of Robert Johnson, the Mississippi bluesman who cut half his influential body of work -- perhaps the most influential in all of popular music -- at 508 Park Avenue downtown in June 1937. The building, once the Warner Bros. Film Exchange and Brunswick Records Building, was feted earlier this week with the release of the Centennial Collection boxed set filled with all of Johnson's music, including the tune-ups and between-takes chitchat captured by producer Don Law on those historic days in Dallas. Columbia Records has even included in the dee-luxe version songs cut by other artists in the same building at the same time -- among them the Chuck Wagon Gang, Andres Berlanga y Francisco Montalvo, Crystal Springs Ramblers and the Light Crust Doughboys. As if one needed further reminders of the once-beautiful building's rich heritage.

And only six days before Johnson's 100th, the Landmark Commission will once again meet to discuss the building. But this meeting will be different. This will be the one during which the commission, long after its courtesy reviews and task-force look-sees, will decide whether to allow First Presbyterian Church of Dallas to raze the adjacent 1900 Young and put in its place an amphitheater in which the church hopes to hold "church performances, gatherings and social activities," according to documents turned into the city April 7.

Landmark just posted its meeting agenda for Monday, and contained within (beginning on Page 162) are not only the renderings and plans for 508 Park and 1900 Young, but also an agreement between current owners Colby Properties and First Presby dated April 18. It says if Landmark signs off on the certificate of demolition for Young, and the certificate of appropriateness for Park Ave., then church expects to close on the property by May 17. The church also says it will have the amphitheater done by January 31, 2013; City Attorney Tom Perkins has already signed off on the deal.

But it could be a nail-biter: While the task force has signed off on the demolition of 1900 Young, because it's not "contributing" to the historic district downtown, city staff is recommending Landmark deny the certificate of demolition. Why the no? Two reasons, per the agenda:
The proposed demolition does not meet the standards in City Code Section 51A-4.501(h)(4)(A) because the owner has not shown that the new structure is more appropriate and compatible with the historic overlay district than the structure to be demolished or removed. [And] The proposed demolition does not meet the standards in City Code Section 51A-4.501(h)(4)(A) because although the structure is considered non-contributing to the Harwood Historic District, it is considered contributing to the Dallas Downtown National Register District.

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8 comments
Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

Robert you are correct. Turn on your radio or computer to any channel or station, there you will find the results of what Robert Johnson began. There is a great deal of hard work that the churches have to do, helping us all understand what this world is all about. In this case they could just explain "this is what happened". Robert you have a great eye and a good ear, Dallas could use a couple of historic places for people to visit. A couple of places that tell the story of this raucous place.

EastDallas4Life
EastDallas4Life

Why do churches always want to knock historical buildings down? Shouldn't they have some sort of appreciation for history, considering christianity is (arguably) based on history?

I think the Vatican is looking a little run down these days, lets go knock the bastard down and build a church that looks like an office building.

Guest
Guest

So the official position of the city staff is that it's better to let the whole complex collapse from neglect than to let the non-historic, later add-on be torn down for something else?

warden62
warden62

Cool.

Robert, any updates on the Masonic Temple? I know last we heard someone bought it and wanted to make it a fancy movie theater... how's it progressing?

I ask as a former member of Tannehill Lodge #52, the Masonic organization that owned the building. It needed TONS of work on the inside.

Ellum08
Ellum08

1900 Young isn't an add-on, it is a separate building that could probably be used just as easily for First Presbyterian's objectives for the area.

I guess an amphitheater with homeless milling around in front of it is nicer than a mid-century modern building with homeless milling around in front of, right?

Guest
Guest

I've always thought the two buildings were physically connected, but I suppose they became that was in my mind because they've frequently been mentioned in the same breath in the various articles about 508.

I've looked at 508 Park from the street once or twice, but I didn't pay that close of attention. And usually when I go downtown, I don't venture east of whatever that street is behind the Statler Hilton (Jackson, I think).

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