Forgotten Dallas

"If these Victorian residences still stood, Dallas would be as distinctive a city as San Francisco."

pulence rising from the blackland prairie, symbols of the will of Dallas settlers to dominate the barren land. Victorian fantasies, assembled from borrowed and sometimes charmingly incompatible styles: Moorish and Gothic, Tudor and Romanesque and Neo-Classical elements, put together as the owner wished. William Faulkner called it a “heavily lightsome style.” Prosperous Dallasites imported the style from eastern cities, and it flourished through the Eighties.

And barely thirty years later, most of these grand architectural flourishes, the personal statements of the self-made men and rugged individualists who willed a city into being, were gone – victims of progress, the sprawling growth of the city, indifference and neglect and changing tastes.

The historic preservation movement came too late for the houses shown on these pages, a collection of Victorian residences which, if they still stood, would make Dallas as distinctive a city as San Francisco or New Orleans. We have only the camera’s record of what we have lost. Fortunately, we also have Bill McDonald, whose fascination with the lost city led him to compile a new book, Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion, 1870-1925, published by the Dallas Historical Society. The old photographs on the following pages are taken from this book; McDonald wrote the captions.

McDonald’s book is a sober and scrupulously factual approach to the obliterated past. But its effect is haunting. And provocative: Few of the buildings that replaced these fallen structures were better than their predecessors. The Sullivanesque skyscraper razed for a parking lot and the Romanesque synagogue leveled for a freeway are gouged out of a city’s spirit.

It’s pointless to weep over fallen monuments, of course. The preservation movement in Dallas, sensitive to the charge that it’s a bunch of no-growth nostalgia freaks, has become sophisticated in its responses to the threatened demolition of what little bits of old Dallas remain. Its successes are obvious along Swiss Avenue, in Munger Place and Winnetka Heights. It is beginning to demonstrate the potential of “adaptive re-use” along McKinney Avenue and in the Warehouse District. But it still has a lot of educating to do. Maybe one of the nicest things about Dallas Rediscovered is that it’s the perfect Christmas gift for your favorite raze-’em-and-rebuild plan commissioner or city councilman.


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