88-Year-Old Building in Bishop Arts Demolished Because, Well, Dallas

A building built in 1927 in the Bishop Arts District will come down to make way for parking.

I’m going to try to restrain my anger in this post as best as I can, but my blood is boiling. This morning on Facebook rumors started to spread that a 1927 brick building on Davis. St. in the Bishop Arts was set to be demolished today. I was a bit baffled and reached out to a few people in the know. There hadn’t been any coverage of a proposed demolition and none of Oak Cliff’s characteristically combative neighborhood advocates had sounded the alarm that a historic building in the community was about to be bulldozed. I put a call into the owner of the building in question, but hadn’t heard back before Rachel Stone broke the news over on the Oak Cliff Advocate. Yes, it’s true. A building in the Bishop Arts is being demolished.

Why?

Why do you think? This is Dallas. The answer is always the same: mother ducking parking.

First the facts. Lupe Garcia, who has owned the Calvario Funeral Home at the corner of Davis and Madison since 1981, has leased a warehouse space adjacent to the funeral parlor to various tenants over the years, but it has been vacant for about 8 years. Garcia recently struck an agreement with  Frankie Carbetta, who owns two bars across the street (303 Bar and Grill and Pier 247). From both owners’ perspective, the deal makes sense. The warehouse will be torn down to make way for a parking lot. Garcia also owns the existing parking lot adjacent to the property, which he leases to Carbetta. Carbetta plans to build a new restaurant on the existing site and use the brand spanking new lot that will take the place of the built-in-1927 building for additional parking.

The permit for demolition was pulled on October 23, and since the council only passed the new demolition delay ordinance on Tuesday, it doesn’t apply for this building. In other words, if the permit was filed yesterday or today, there would have been a 55-day hold because the building was 50 years or older. Instead, the 88-year-old building in Bishop Arts will have the honor of being the last building demolished before new ordinance took effect.

In an email to Councilman Scott Griggs, city staff explained that even though P.D. 830 classifies Bishop Arts as a “conservation district,” that conservation district categorization doesn’t actually enforce conservation of individual properties.

“It did go through conservation district review,” explains David Cossum​​​, a director in the Sustainable Development and Construction department. “But that CD has no demolition restriction so it was granted.”

Figure that, a conservation district that doesn’t prohibit tearing down the district it is supposed to conserve. All the district requires is that if you replace the building, you have to make it look like the rest of the district — dress it up in historical drag, so to speak.

And so demolition began, but has temporally stopped as of right now because the city issued a stop work order. The property owner had not posted the demolition permit.

Those are the facts. For now, I’ll just add one thought by way of opinion, and it echoes some of the conversation earlier in the week about downtown Dallas’ plan to hire a consultant to study it’s parking “problem.” In the Advocate article, Lupe Garcia echoes a concern familiar to those living and working in and around Bishop Arts.

“Oak Cliff has got to change. We need parking,” Garcia says. “Sometimes you have to do what’s necessary.”

The problem with these calls for more parking is that they ignore the root causes and effects of parking. Yes, Bishop Arts is mighty crowded these days, particularly on the weekends. Yes, it has become increasingly difficult to find a spot. I would argue there is actually ample street parking within walking distance of Bishop Arts. I have never had to walk more than three blocks to find street parking on Bishop. Madison’s curbs are completely chewed up and impossible to park on, and so fixing that street could add another dozen spaces on its own. But the parking problem in Bishop Arts is as much one of culture and mentality as it is of actual space and land use. Most people in Dallas are flat-out spoiled when it comes to parking. As the city evolves and more neighborhoods are carefully developed into “walkable” areas, guess what, you are going to have to learn to walk a little more.

But the real problem with the argument that we need to add more parking spaces to fix Bishop Arts parking problems is that its a fool’s errand. Parking, like traffic capacity, operates according to that counter-intuitive (but really not that difficult to understand) principle of induced demand. In short, adding parking will generate more demand for parking. New spaces will make parking in Bishop Arts easier for a time, until that ease contributes to attracting more cars. As the new spaces fill up, there will be another call for additional parking capacity. Rinse and repeat, and guess what you get? Dallas. You get what Dallas largely looks like today: a dull, sprawling, ugly, concrete wasteland. 

So congratulations, Dallas. Today you took the little corner of the city that is our poster child of a smarter, more humane, sustainable, and successful neighborhood and tore it down for a parking lot. It was all made possible by idiotic zoning laws that don’t actually protect buildings they are intended to conserve and a backwards mentality when it comes to prioritizing cars over people.

If there’s a silver lining, it is that this is hopefully the last time this might happen.

“This underlies why we need this demo ordinance,” Scott Griggs said.

When Griggs first saw the photos of the demolition today, he thought it was taking place illegally. When he found out that the property owners had pulled the permit in seeming anticipation of the council’s vote on the demolition delay ordinance, he asked city staff to compile a list of all the property owners who pulled the demolition permits ahead of the council’s vote.

It will be interesting to see who and what properties are on that list. When I obtain a copy of it, I’ll share. For now, like at any funeral, I need a drink.

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