The Barrow Service Station was demolished seemingly suddenly last month, throwing its preservation-minded West Dallas neighbors into an uproar.
But how the building, which was once home to both the family of the infamous Clyde Barrow and where they supported themselves with their Star Service Station, ended up a pile of rubble is a more complicated case than “evil developer tears down a historic building.”
And the same thing that ultimately allowed the owner of the property, Brent Jackson of Oaxaca Interests, to tear it down may also open up the potential demolition of another structure tied to Clyde Barrow—the Lillie McBride home on North Winnetka Avenue, where Clyde Barrow shot Tarrant County sheriff’s deputy Malcolm Davis point-blank in the chest while Bonnie Parker waited nearby in the car.
Here’s why: The Landmark Commission began work to designate both properties (the Lillie McBride House is owned by the neighboring Wesley-Rankin Community Center) as landmarks in March 2020. Once that process is initiated, a two-year moratorium is placed on demolition while the landmark commission works to convince the property owner to save the structure in some way.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
In this case, it really, really didn’t work, because the process was initiated on March 2, 2020. On March 10, Dallas County had its first COVID-19 case. By the next week, city council meetings went virtual and Mayor Eric Johnson temporarily halted any committee meetings that didn’t address COVID-19.
The landmark commission didn’t meet in April that year, but by May, it was once again meeting each month.
However, an exchange during this week’s Landmark Commission meeting seemingly indicates that the commission’s Designation Committee was not meeting at all during the pandemic.
Murray Miller, director of the city’s Office of Historic Preservation, explained to the commissioners that the moratorium had expired when Jackson opted to demolish the building. Miller said the whole matter had basically been unattended to since the process began in 2020. With the Designation Committee not meeting, the two-year moratorium expired without any action. That freed the developer to knock down the property. The moratorium expired on March 2; the filling station was demolished 45 days later.
“The fact that the designation committee—their efforts and duties were suspended—that did not apply to the moratorium?” one commissioner asked. “So the clock kept running even though the activities of the designation committee were halted?”
Miller asked assistant city attorney Bert Vandenberg to explain.
“The designation committee’s activities were not suspended by the city,” he informed them, explaining that the amended emergency regulation addressed board and commission meetings.
“The designation committee is not actually a board or commission,” he said. “But within a month after the first emergency regulation went through, boards and commissions were allowed to meet virtually.”
“I think there was a lot of chaos…it was just a flurry of strangeness at that time that probably led to the illusion of a suspension,” Vandenberg said.
Miller told the committee that the designation process for the Barrow family home and filling station didn’t move beyond the initiation phase because, basically, there was nobody moving the ball forward, and because the owner didn’t consent to the designation.
That didn’t mean that the commission didn’t have some choice words for Jackson during the meeting.
“Apparently, the developer got—from what was told to us allegedly—a buddy to pull a demolition permit under the guise that it was a vacant duplex,” said Rosemary Hinojosa, the District 6 commissioner where the Barrow service station and the Lillie McBride House sit.
“We want to know if there are consequences to what the developer did,” she said, adding that she felt Jackson behaved in an “underhanded manner.”
According to city records, the demolition permit was pulled by a representative of F. Hall Mowing on the behalf of a man named Robert Hurham, who is listed as the owner/tenant. The address for Hurham is the same one listed for Oaxaca Interests and Brett Jackson’s limited liability company, WillieJaxon VIB.
The permit lists the structure as a single-family dwelling or duplex. The structure is zoned for community retail use, and a 1982 permit said the land use was an office, showroom, or warehouse. However, by 1999, when the city issued a master permit for work on the property, it was listed as a single-family dwelling.
We have reached out to the city to determine how the structure became listed as a single-family home and have yet to hear back. That distinction is important for a big reason: residential structures can get same-day demolition permits while commercial demolitions have a few more hoops to jump through.
According to the city’s how-to brochure, permits for commercial demolition require (in addition to specific insurance limits) “approval from Environmental and Health Services if the building is not historic and/or in the central business district.”
Historic buildings (which, as we all know now, the service station was not) depend on the timeline of the Landmark Commission.
Because the Barrow Service Station has been listed as a single-family dwelling, it was likely easier to get that permit.
Back in 2020, Jackson told the commission he had no interest in saving the structure at all.
“My plans are not to keep this building,” the West Dallas developer told the Landmark Commission, saying that he couldn’t agree to the landmark when he reflected on the fact that the Barrow gang “murdered multiple people.”
The commission could’ve moved ahead with the landmarking without Jackson’s participation, providing they could get two-thirds support from both the Landmark Commission and the city council.
But Thursday, Miller said that based on history, the council would be unlikely to vote as a supermajority against the owner’s wishes.
“Without owner consent, it is very difficult to protect historic properties,” he said.
Commission members pointed out that it’s not impossible, though—the landmarking of the Lakewood Theater, the Knights of Pythias Temple, and St. Ann’s School were examples of that, they said.
Prior to Jackson purchasing the property, Sonia and Alexander Canales owned the property for at least 20 years, using it as overflow parking for the pharmacy they owned nearby.
Now that the Barrow station is sitting in a landfill, the community is racing to protect the Lillie McBride House, which is also no longer protected by a pre-pandemic moratorium.
“The community wants to save the Lillie McBride House,” Hinojosa said. “We would like the city to do its due diligence in this to ensure proper communication between the building inspection department and the office of historic preservation, so that site doesn’t become demolished.”
The McBride House still sits next door to the Wesley-Rankin Community Center, which said in 2020 that it would be open to having the structure moved off the property.
Hinojosa said West Dallas residents have already identified three more properties they’d like to protect. She’d also like the area protected by a demolition-delay overlay that would slow down demolition permit approvals.
In the meantime, the commission is going to begin double-checking the status of any other properties that it initiated landmarking on, to make sure that they don’t need to re-initiate that process.
“It’s very important that our work move forward now,” said Evelyn Montgomery, the commission’s vice-chair.