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What Happened to Dallas’ Hard Rock Cafe?

A familiar storyline casts Brett Landes in the role of “evil developer.”

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Brett Landes
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

As soon as pols and the local media heard that bulldozers were knocking down the former Hard Rock Cafe on Dallas’ McKinney Avenue, the script was written in advance. Cast in the role of the evil villain, per usual, was the developer—in this case, Brett Landes, president of The Landes Group. Landes was labeled a liar, a heartless absentee-landlord, and a philistine with no respect for Dallas history.

The predictable storyline: Landes didn’t even try to preserve the former McKinney Avenue Baptist Church that served as the Hard Rock’s home until it was shuttered a year ago. The Dallas Observer was outraged. Councilmember Angela Hunt was apoplectic.

The problem with all this criticism? None of it was true. In fact, Landes bought the nearly 100-year-old property in 2007 only after the Dallas Landmark Commission declined to designate it a historical landmark. Like Landes, the commissioners realized about the only thing left from the original structure were its four walls. The Hard Rock’s famous, stained-glass depiction of “St. Elvis” was not part of the original Baptist motif, of course; the entire inside likewise had been gutted and replaced over the past five decades.

Landes spent nearly $250,000 rehabbing, upgrading, and marketing the property nationwide. But there were no takers. “It was my intent from the beginning to keep the property intact if I could,” he says. “It was a difficult decision, but that building was functionally obsolete.”

So, what about claims that Landes at least “promised” not to demolish the property? Not true, either. In none of the spring 2007 Landmark Commission meetings did he make any such statement. He’s not directly quoted in any print media making that pledge, and the only reference to such a claim came from an Observer editor—without direct quotes.

But these days, Landes, who offices in Uptown (not exactly “absentee”), is too busy looking forward to worry much about the bad rap. “We want to build an Uptown icon” where the Hard Rock once stood, he says—hopefully by 2009. “It’s going to be a very unique, high-end residential development with a Greenwich Village feel. People are going to love it.”

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