Historic Preservation as a Sustainable Development Practice

Eagle Ford School Before After
The adaptive reuse of the Eagle Ford School in West Dallas was one of our favorite success stories for 2019

Historic homes and buildings enhance our communities, provide us with a sense of place, and are nice to look at, but they are more than just pretty faces. Did you know that they can also play a role in the future sustainability of our environment? As Donovan Rypkema, principal of the real estate and economic development-consulting firm PlaceEconomics, has stated many times – “historic preservation is the ultimate in recycling.”

The construction of a new building requires the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing of those materials, transportation of the materials to the construction site, and actual construction. Every one of those actions uses additional energy and resources, such as gasoline, and may also involve using toxic construction materials like formaldehyde, silica, and PVCs. Additionally, construction debris – including the demolition of existing structures – accounts for approximately 25% of the volume in city landfills.

4705 Worth_New Construction
New construction

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation,  the majority of newly constructed building types will take 20-30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction. This effect is not well mitigated even when the new construction is highly energy efficient, as it can take up to 80 years for an energy efficient new construction to overcome the environmental impact created by its construction (1). Many new buildings are not meant to last more than 50-65 years, and are made with materials that are inferior to the old growth, high quality wood found in most historic structures. Old growth wood is no longer widely available and, when found, is usually more expensive than typical building materials.

What about the windows??

Construction waste
Construction waste accounts for up to 25% of the volume in city landfills

Preservationists are often fighting an uphill battle when advocating for the preservation of original wood windows thanks to aggressive sales tactics and false information provided by window manufacturers. What many window salesmen will not tell their customers is that most homes only lose 10% of the energy through the windows (2). It will take decades to recoup the cost of replacing the windows via energy savings, and by then the windows normally require replacement again, restarting the cycle. Retrofitting historic wood windows instead of tossing them in the trash offers a higher return on investment and energy savings close to that of new, high performance windows (3) (4).

Synthetic siding

Fiber cement siding (such as Hardieboard or Hardieplank) is a very popular siding material that was introduced in the 1990s. It is made of a composite of cement and wood fibers. Other engineered siding materials (such as LP SmartSide), include composites of resin and wood strands. In some cases, these materials were placed on historic structures prior to the neighborhood obtaining Landmark status, or may have been allowed on the bottom two laps of a structure. Homeowners tend to ask for replacement of these materials at the same rate as our homeowners with traditional wood siding. Synthetic siding materials warp, degrade, and crack just like any other building material, particularly with improper installation which is a common problem with these products. In the majority of cases we see, only around 10-20% of wood siding requires replacement when the building has been painted and properly maintained. This is far less expensive than wholesale siding replacement with a synthetic product, and retention of salvageable wood siding keeps these materials from being disposed of unnecessarily.

It is clear that the reuse of historic structures and their materials saves waste from going into the landfill and reduces the demand for new materials while playing a significant role in our future sustainability. A growing body of research is demonstrating that an historic structure that is properly renovated and weatherized can rival the energy efficiency of new buildings (2) while creating 50% more jobs than new construction (1).

As Carl Elefante so succinctly stated – “the greenest building is the one that is already built!”

(1) The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse – National Trust for Historic Preservation
(2) Improving Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings – National Park Service Preservation Brief #3
(3) Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement – National Trust for Historic Preservation
(4) Don’t Buy Replacement Windows for Your Old House – Forbes

Further Reading:
Research and Policy Lab – National Trust for Historic Preservation
Smart Growth and Preservation of Existing and Historic Buildings – Environmental Protection Agency
Sustainability and Historic Preservation – Washington State Department of Archaeology and historic Preservation
Repair of Historic Wooden Windows – National Park Service Preservation Brief #9
Research & Analysis – PlaceEconomics


Born on this Day: George Kessler (1862-1923)

Trinity River Floodplain Cover

George Kessler was born on this day (July 16) in 1862. Kessler played a key role in introducing cities in the American heartland to landscape-oriented urban design, including Dallas. He is widely credited as one of the most important figures in shaping our city as we know it today.  Click here to find out what pushed city leaders to hire Kessler to develop “A City Plan for Dallas” (also known as The Kessler Plan) and what parts of his plan are still around today!

A Short History of White Rock Lake

At the turn of the 20th century, Dallas citizens got most of their water from numerous city wells, the Trinity River, Turtle Creek, and the newly created Bachman Lake. Water had to be brought in to the city by wagon in the hottest summer months when these water sources ran low.

Core wall excavation at White Rock Res Jul 5 1910 Portal to Texas History
Core wall excavation at the future site of White Rock Lake in 1910 (Portal to Texas History)

Then, in 1909, a severe drought highlighted the need for more reliable water sources. White Rock Creek was dammed the following year, creating what we now know as White Rock Lake. The spillway was also built at this time.

By 1911, Dallas officials had hired City Planner George Kessler to develop a water management and long-range growth plan for the city. Kessler recommended that the area around the lake be retained for public space and parks since he assumed that much of the land around the reservoir would be developed.

White Rock Lake was not used as a water source for long. In the 1920s, the booming population of Dallas quickly outgrew the small reservoir. Other reservoirs were developed, and White Rock Lake was converted to recreational use only. White Rock Pumping Station was shut down in 1929. The Art Deco style Old Municipal Boathouse and the Bath House were both constructed in 1930, and 36 speedboats took people from shore to shore.

White Rock Bath House
White Rock Bath House

Recreational use was curtailed in the 1950s for various reasons. A severe drought hit North Texas in 1953, and swimming was banned so that the lake could be used as a temporary source of water. Although the lake was not used as a water supply for long, the swim ban remains in effect today. Motor boats were banned in 1958, although kayaking and rowboats are still allowed. The Bath House was closed the same year.

White Rock continues to serve as an important recreational spot for Dallasites who enjoy picnics, bike trails, kayaking, and more at this historic reservoir. The Bath House is now a cultural center that provides exhibit and performance space throughout the year.

A detailed timeline for the lake can be found on the White Rock Lake Conservancy website. 

Click here to view more photos of White Rock Lake.

A Short History of Dallas’ Oak Lawn / Cedar Springs Neighborhood

The area we now know as Oak Lawn/ Cedar Springs got its start in 1846 when William Grigsby, a veteran of the Texas Revolution, sold 320 acres of land to businessman John Cole who established a store and commercial area on the property. In the early 1870s people began moving into the rapidly developing residential developments outside of downtown Dallas in larger numbers. The Oak Lawn area was particularly attractive to settlers due to the abundance of majestic trees – mostly oak and cedar – and easy access to fresh water via natural springs. Development centered around the first Methodist church building, built in 1874.

The counterculture movement has been strong in Oak Lawn since around the mid-20th century. The neighborhood boasted the first gay bar in Texas when Club Reno opened in 1947, and hosted the first Gay Pride Parade in Texas in 1972. Since then, Oak Lawn has been considered the heart of the LGBTQ community. The intersection known as The Crossroads is particularly significant as an epicenter for political activism and social services. In October 2018, it was commemorated with a Texas State Historical Marker – becoming the first neighborhood in any Texas city to receive a marker for its LGBTQ history. The neighborhood still contains the oldest gay businesses in Dallas, and remains an important political and social gathering point for the LGBTQ community today.

The Oak Lawn/Cedar Springs neighborhood contains several official Dallas Landmark structures:

Oak Lawn 3014 -  Oak Lawn Methodist ChurchOak Lawn Methodist Church (1915)

The Oak Lawn United Methodist Church congregation got its start in 1874 in a small frame chapel. The first building established itself as the center of the Oak Lawn development very quickly since it also provided meeting space and a school. The population outgrew the space within 20 years, and a second larger frame building was constructed. The current building is the third on the site. It was designed by architect C.D. Hill in Late Gothic Revival Style and completed in 1915.

Cedar Springs Oak Lawn Fire StationCedar Springs Fire Station (1909)

The fire station, also known as Oak Lawn Fire Station, was designed by architect Herbert M. Greene and completed in 1909. The building is an excellent example of Dallas’ early public architecture and exhibits American Prairie School style with some Mission Style embellishments. This was the first “suburban” fire station in Dallas.

Oak Lawn 3015 Melrose Hotel. 2Melrose Hotel (1924)

The Melrose Hotel was designed by C.D. Hill in the Chicago School style and completed in 1924. It sits on land that was owned by Civil War veteran Colonel George Mellersh, who named his homestead “Oak Lawn” in honor of the beautiful trees in the area. With time, the entire neighborhood adopted the name.

Herschel 3801 - Stephen J Hay Elementary SchoolStephen J. Hay Elementary School (1926)

The Stephen J. Hay Elementary School was designed by Thomas J. Gailbraith, best known for his later work on the construction of the Hall of State in Fair Park and other buildings connected to the Texas Centennial Exposition of 1936. Hay Elementary combines elements from both Tudor and Classical Revival styles.

10 Tips for Navigating the Certificate of Appropriateness Process in City of Dallas Landmark Districts

Certificate of Appropriateness Application
Certificate of Appropriateness (CA)

If you live in or own property in a Dallas Landmark District (a local designation) there are preservation guidelines that control changes made to properties within the district. These guidelines were created  to protect the architecture that makes the historic district so special, and to protect the investment of the owners and residents of the district.

A Certificate of Appropriateness (CA) is required before exterior work can begin on all properties within Dallas Landmark Districts to ensure that the changes proposed will follow the preservation guidelines. For some, the CA application process can seem like daunting process. Below are ten tips that will help your CA application process go as smoothly as possible. 

Click here if you are unsure if you live in a Dallas Landmark historic district.

Tip #1: Read the Frequently Asked Questions and Steps

All renovation projects are different, so it is best for you to read through our materials as soon as you know you will need a CA to get an understanding of what the process looks like and what materials may be expected for your application. Read our Frequently Asked Questions for an overview of the process and answers to the questions most people have when they are just starting out. Our website also has a step-by-step description of the CA process on our website.

Tip #2: Read the preservation guidelines for your district

Each district has an ordinance that governs exterior work within it, and the guidelines found in the ordinance were created and voted on by residents of the district.  Check the ordinance for your district first to make sure that the work you are proposing is allowed for your historic district. You can find them by clicking on your historic district on our website and opening the link for the ordinance.

Tip #3: Assume that a Certificate of Appropriateness (CA) is required for all exterior work and site improvements

Previous approval in the form of a CA or CD must be obtained for work on all structures or sites in a Landmark district – including non-contributing structures, work that occurs on any façade of a structure (including the rear), foundation repair, and major landscaping changes. There are very few exceptions. If you are unsure, contact the Staff member for your district to verify if the work you are doing will require a CA. They will also verify if the application can be handled as Routine Maintenance or require full Landmark Commission review. Please note that Historic Preservation staff makes the final determination on if work qualifies as Routine Maintenance.

Tip #4: Download the Certificate of Appropriateness Application from our website for the most up-to-date version

The Certificate of Appropriateness application is available for download directly from our website. Instructions for completing the application and a checklist of items that you are required to submit are included in the packet. There are several outdated versions of our application still circulated by outside groups, so getting it from the source ensures that you are working with our latest and greatest version.

Tip #5: Listing your proposed work

There is a space for proposed work on the front of the application. List all the work you are doing as concisely as possible. The front of the application is not the place for lengthy explanations – you can include that on an attached page if necessary. If your project is a major renovation, even a concise list may be long. Use an extra sheet if necessary to continue your list, but never leave the proposed work section blank or write “see attached.”

Example 1:  If you are replacing your roof shingles and doing some siding repairs, you could write “replace shingles with [brand and color name]; replace 20% of siding on house and garage with [siding type] to match existing.”

Tip #6: Completing Your Application with Required Submittal Items

Almost every type of work a homeowner may propose has a corresponding checklist on the application. This includes all types of renovation, siding and roof repairs, foundation repair, fences and landscaping, painting, new construction, and more. All proposed work, including Routine Maintenance, requires submittal items so do not skip it or submit your application cover with no documentation. Incomplete applications are not accepted. If you are unsure of which checklist category to follow, contact the appropriate staff member for clarification.

Tip #7: Submitting Your Application

You can submit your application to the appropriate staff member via email (preferred) or in person (Dallas City Hall at 1500 Marilla Street in room 5BN). Applications via US Mail are frequently delivered to us late, so it is not recommended. We do not accept applications via fax. If you would like to speak with the district’s staff member when you drop off your application, please make an appointment in advance with that staff member to make sure they are available. NOTE: All applicants proposing a major renovation project or new construction must meet with the preservation staff member for that district in advance of their application submission.

Tip #8: Attend Your Meetings

If your application does not qualify for Routine Maintenance and requires Landmark review, there will be two meetings held for your application. The first is the Task Force meeting where a panel of neighborhood residents and professionals will make a recommendation for your proposal(s). The second meeting is the Landmark Commission hearing where a final decision on your application will be made. You are not required to attend either meeting, but it is strongly recommended that you do so. Your application will be discussed, and it is your responsibility to defend the proposals you are requesting and answer any questions that may arise. Deadlines and meeting dates are known up to a year in advance.

Tip #9: CA Issuance

If your application was processed as Routine Maintenance, your CA will take approximately 7-10 business days to complete. If your application required Landmark review and you receive an approval, your CA will be sent to you via email within 10 days of the Landmark Commission hearing. Once you have received your CA approval(s), visit Building Inspection to obtain a master permit if one is required. Before you start work, post your CA in a visible location on the front of your house.

Tip #10: In the event of a Denial or Denial without Prejudice

Applicants do sometimes receive a Denial or Denial without Prejudice from Landmark Commission. Staff makes every effort to warn applicants if their proposals are likely to generate discussion or be controversial; however, we do not always know beforehand what questions or concerns Landmark Commissioners may bring up during the public hearing. Therefore, it is very important for you to attend the public hearing. If you receive a Denial or Denial without Prejudice, staff will issue the results to you and let you know your next steps within 10 days after the public hearing.

We hope these tips assist you in your application process for a Certificate of Appropriateness and, as always, please contact us with any questions you may have.

Designation of The Crossroads in Dallas’ Oak Lawn Neighborhood

The Crossroads Designation in Oak Lawn - Texas State Historical MarkerIn October 2018, Oak Lawn became the first neighborhood in any Texas city to receive a state historical marker to commemorate the area as the center for the local LGBTQ community. The Texas Historical Commission subject marker was placed in front of JR’s Bar and Grill at the corner of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Road. This corner, also known as “The Crossroads,” has been considered the heart of the LGBTQ community since the 1970s. Despite its reputation as a conservative city in a conservative state, Dallas was home to the first gay bar in Texas (Club Reno in 1947) and the first Gay Pride Parade in Texas (1972). During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, The Crossroads became a significant center for political activism, social services, and medical testing for the LGBTQ community. The neighborhood still contains the oldest gay businesses in the city, and remains an important political and social gathering point for the community today.

Thank you to Robert Emery for the photographs!

View the listing via the Texas Historical Commission Atlas here.

Dallas City Photographer Prints from the Mid-20th Century

Historic Preservation recently ran across a collection of City Photographer prints in our storage and have made them available on our Flickr site. According to John Slate with the Dallas Municipal Archives, the City of Dallas had a staff photographer beginning in the early 1940s through the early 1980s. The position was eliminated due to severe job cuts associated with the statewide economic downturn and never refilled, but the images left behind give invaluable insight to the growth and change around Dallas during the 20th century.

Very few of the prints we found were dated. Many appear to be from the 1960s-1970s, with a few that are possibly older. They represent a dynamic time in Dallas history before the rapid growth of suburbs drew people away from the urban core. During these decades, many Dallasites still shopped at the downtown department stores and frequented various entertainment venues.

Structures that exist today served as landmarks that helped us identify many of the locations depicted in the images. Nevertheless, a few are still mysteries to us. In addition to this unique opportunity to look back at both existing and long-gone Dallas landmarks, we were fascinated by the number of business signs visible in the photographs. Some are well known establishments that were photographed extensively; others were not as well documented and may have existed for only a short time.

Check out our TOP FIVE favorite photos below, or view all of our scanned City Photographer prints here!

Historic Preservation Staff’s Top 5:

1300 Block of Commerce Street (Downtown Dallas)
This image shows the 1300 block of Commerce Street. The photographer is standing between the Magnolia Building and the Adolphus Hotel (1321 Commerce St) looking southwest. The buildings on the left side of the photograph were demolished for the Southwestern Bell (AT&T) complex. View the street today in Google Streetview.

1300 Block Commerce Street Colony Club Adolphus Hotel Sigels Hertz
1300 Block of Commerce Street (date unknown)

Zoomed in:

01 Zoom  1300 Block Commerce Street Colony Club Adolphus Hotel Sigels Hertz
Zoomed image of the 1300 Block of Commerce Street

We especially love the image of the Colony Club sign, a storied burlesque venue open from 1939 to 1973 and operated by Abe Weinstein. Jack Ruby apparently envied the success of the Colony Club and opened his own competing bar next door in 1960.

Other business signs visible in the photo include:

Adolphus Garage
Adolphus Hotel
Colony Club
Hertz Rent a Car
Horse Shoe Bar
Sigel’s Liquors

1500 Block of Commerce Street (Downtown Dallas)
This photo was taken a few blocks east from the previous photo. Several city of Dallas Landmark buildings are visible, including the Santa Fe Building No. 1 (constructed in 1924) and the Dallas Power and Light Building (portion shown was constructed in 1931), both on the left. The Southland Life Building and the Baker Hotel next door was demolished to make way for the Southwestern Bell (now AT&T) complex. The Magnolia Building is visible on the right. See the block today in Google Streetview.

1500 Block Commerce Street Southland Life Dallas Power and Light Picadillys Copper Cow Steak House
1500 block of Commerce Street (date unknown)

Zoomed images:

02 Zoom Collage
Zoomed images of the 1500 block of Commerce Street

Visible business signs include:

Adolphus Garage
Copper Cow
Dallas Power and Light Co.
Piccadilly Cafeteria
Sigel’s Liquors
Southland Life
Steak House
S[illegible] Turf Bar

1800 Block Main Street (Downtown Dallas)
This photo shows the 1800-1900 blocks of Main Street and was taken in front of the Main Street side of the Titche-Geottinger building (now UNT). The buildings on the right side of the street between the Titche-Goettinger Building and the Wilson Building (barely visible) were demolished to make way for the Comerica Bank Tower. The photograph was taken in 1960, and was one of the few dated photographs in the set. View the block today in Google Streetview.

1800 Block Main Street 1960
1800 block of Main Street (1960)

Zoomed images:

03 Zoom Collage 1800 Block Main Street 1960
Zoomed images of the 1800 block of Main Street

A remarkable number of business signs appear in the photo, including:

Busch & Sons Jewelers
Danny’s Shoe Repairing
Doc’s News Stand
Dreyfuss & Sons
Empire State Bank
Harper & Co Photography (aka Harper Studio)
Presbyterian Book Store
St Francis
Texas State Grill
Zinke’s Shoe Repair
Zip One Hour Cleaners
[Illegible] Health Food Center

350 N. Ervay (Downtown Dallas)
This photograph was taken at the intersection of North Ervay Street and Pacific Avenue. The Spanish Revival style building on the left was demolished to make way for Thanksgiving Square. View the block today in Google Streetview.

350 N Ervay Street Republic Bank Tower
350 N. Ervay Street (date unknown)

Visible business signs include:

W.H. White Loans
[Illegible] Bar-B-Q

The Idle Rich Lounge (Downtown Dallas)
The Idle Rich Lounge was originally constructed by Desco Tile and is an eclectic expression of Spanish Revival architecture. Architexas is now located in this building. According to Architexas Senior Historic Preservation Specialist Jay Firsching, the first and second floors have beautiful tile, columns, fireplaces and other samples of the tile sold by Desco. After Desco closed, the Idle Rich Lounge operated out of the building until the 1980s. View the building today in Google Streetview.


1908 Canton Street Idle Rich Lounge
Idle Rich Lounge (date unknown)


View the entire set of our scanned City Photographer prints here!

Don’t miss our related post: Rediscovered Slides of 1970s and 80s Dallas


NOTE: The Dallas Municipal Archives maintains the largest collection of City Photographer files. You can view a list of their collection here. Some files/photographs may be available online via the Portal to Texas History. Contact the Dallas Municipal Archives for more information.

Home Repairs in Dallas Historic Districts After Severe Weather Hits

After this weekend’s storm, City of Dallas Historic Preservation Staff expects to receive numerous Certificate of Appropriateness (CA) applications for tree removal, roof repair, and even some larger scale repairs to some homes. Your City of Dallas Historic Preservation Staff is here to assist property owners with any storm related questions. If a condition on your property or home is an immediate threat to your safety, please secure your property and take necessary steps to ensure you and your loved ones safety and well-being. Once a Certificate of Appropriateness application is ready for submission, much of the work can be processed at the staff level as Routine Maintenance as long as you are planning to return your home to its previous condition without major changes to what was already there. During the next couple of weeks, Historic Preservation Staff will make every effort to process storm-related requests within a couple of days so that repairs on your home can begin. Please contact the appropriate Staff member immediately to determine your next steps and how we can assist through this stressful time.

Also be aware that it can be a stressful and tricky experience to hire a contractor to repair your home after severe weather hits. You need the repairs done quickly, and new contractors seem to appear out of the woodwork with promises to do the job. Beware. While there are certainly reputable companies out there who can do the work, there are also horror stories of fly-by-night contractors who take advantage of homeowners in these situations.  They may disappear after they receive your deposit, work outside the scope of your original agreement without your consent, or fail to obtain the proper permits to do the job. This excellent article by U.S. News gives 18 helpful tips for choosing a reputable contractor.

Visit our website to download a CA application, read an FAQ, and for a full description of the CA process.

Not sure if you are in a Dallas Landmark District? Click here or call (214) 670-4209.

Visit the Building Inspection website for questions about general building permits (separate from CAs).


508 Park Avenue’s Connection to U.S. Music History

508 Park Avenue 6-5-2019The Art Deco style building at 508 Park Avenue in the Harwood Historic District is steeped in entertainment history. It opened in the 1930s as the Warner Brothers Exchange Building and was a distribution point for the company’s films and records. Brunswick Records was located on the 3rd floor, and legendary blues artist Robert Johnson recorded here in 1937. In 2004, Eric Clapton recorded “Me and Mr. Johnson” here as a tribute to Johnson whom he cites as having a significant impact on his career and “the most important blues musician who ever lived.”

Dallas’ Ambassador Hotel Lost to Fire on May 28, 2019

Ambassador Hotel Header
Ambassador Hotel in 2017 and today
Ambassador Hotel (then Park Hotel)post card 1907
The Ambassador Hotel, originally known as Park Hotel (1907 post card)

The City of Dallas is mourning the loss of the landmarked Ambassador Hotel in the Cedars neighborhood due to a disastrous fire overnight.

Originally called the Majestic Hotel and later the Park Hotel, the building was constructed in 1904, and was the oldest of the large hotels remaining in Dallas. Built originally as a red brick Sullivanesque Style structure, the hotel was renovated and renamed in 1932 into the beloved white stucco Spanish Revival Style hotel that was a familiar landmark to downtown residents and those traveling along I-30. As an integral part of the burgeoning renaissance of the Cedars neighborhood, The Ambassador had just begun renovation after years of sitting vacant, an undertaking which was also a state and federal historic tax credit project.

Ambassador Hotel post card circa 1932
The Ambassador Hotel (1932 post card)

The hotel was designated as a Recorded Texas Historical Landmark in 1965, a City of Dallas Landmark in 1982, and had been recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2019.

Once the fire is out and the site stabilized, Historic Preservation staff will work closely with the Dallas Fire Department and property owner to determine appropriate next steps.