Monday, February 6, 2023 Feb 6, 2023
56° F Dallas, TX


The Crescent, ARCO and Underground Dallas
By Lee Cullum |

THOSE WHO VENTURE outside to view the coming of spring and its exhilarating deliverance from winter this year will find much to celebrate.

The Crescent, for example, which threatened to bring too much of New Orleans to Oak Lawn with its mansard roofs overlooking McKinney, Maple and Cedar Springs, is shaping up to be a satisfying, urbane community. These clustered buildings with their reasonable height (from three to 19 stories) and proximity to each other are a civilized lesson in designing “midtown” districts. As I understand it, the current plan includes offices and a hotel. It’s a pity that luxury apartment buildings aren’t a part of the picture. With Jean-Claude, Chow to Go and other fine restaurants across the street, it could be the most pleasurable address in Dallas.

Not every new project is a cause to applaud, however. Even our successes sometimes fall short. Take I.M. Pei’s ARCO Tower, for example. Sleek and splendid on the outside with its cool gray granite and elegant angles, it continues to excite inside the lobby with its wonderful red wall sculptures by Herbert Bayer.

But try gazing down the escalator well to the cavern far below ground level. What you see looks like a swarm of locusts. Actually, it’s a mass of dark green plants that might work better if they were taller. But they couldn’t possibly be tall enough to reach even close to where you are, standing in the lobby, staring down into one of the least appealing spaces in any good building in Dallas. And ARCO is a very well-designed building. Pei only went wrong when he tried to tune in to the Underground Dallas idea.

The notion that underground tunnels would draw stores, restaurants and people back to downtown from suburban shopping malls can be traced to Vincent Ponte, who came up with the concept during the late Sixties. (Actually, he says he got the notion from Leonardo da Vinci, who was probably better as a painter than an urban planner.)

The problem with the tunnels is that they drain life from the streets, where a city is supposed to be its most vibrant. Another consideration is finding your way around them. Whenever I’ve tried to negotiate Underground Dallas, I’ve always found the signs uncertain and the absence of landmarks extremely disorienting. What a relief to get back to the street and know once again where I’m going.

Of course, Ponte had no way of realizing that downtown would become a hub of urban activity extending in all directions. He couldn’t foresee that the rise of a new city culture would make it unnecessary-indeed, deleterious-to try to imitate suburban shopping malls in underground tunnels. Nor do we need any more elevated pedestrian bridges. Although they do offer protection from bad weather, there are other efforts we should request first from developers, such as shops on the street, appropriate scale and clustered buildings of similar height.

Of course, TUrtle Creek is different from downtown and needs buildings not of uniform height, but stair-stepped upward from the creek to Oak Lawn. Developer Jim Coker points out the mistake we’re making in permitting variance after variance to obliterate all light on Turtle Creek and destroy the city’s most beautiful showplace.

One architect has suggested that what we need to prevent an urban debacle is a degree plan, perhaps on the graduate level, for developers. This makes a lot of sense. A business school would be the logical place to house such a program, but possibly in collaboration with the architectural branch of an art history department. The basics of contemporary design and engineering would be needed, along with the expected staples of finance, management and marketing. Developers have an enormous impact on our lives. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be trained to see the implications of what they’re doing.

Last fall, the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture held a luncheon meeting at the Carpenter-Hochman gallery in Deep Ellum. Molly Ivins and Bill Marvel of the Dallas Times Herald, Lyn Dunsavage of The Dallas Downtown News and David Dillon of The Dallas Morning News talked about how to civilize-not simply manage-the growth of Dallas. Dillon called for “small solutions to block-by-block problems.” Marvel wanted more rapport between artists and the community. Dunsavage pleaded for legal protection (perhaps rent control) for emerging mini-arts districts such as Deep Ellum, and Ivins recommended a mayor’s task force for generation of humor in a city that seems to her too earnest.

That same day, the Dallas Citizens Council was hosting its annual meeting at the Loews Anatole. Speakers were John Johnson, chairman of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce; DISD superintendent Linus Wright; and John Scovell, leader of the DISD’s Positive Parents. This was the community of business activists convening, while not far away, the city’s most prominent critics were talking about some of the same things from a different perspective.

it’s naturalthat each group woula eye the other with skepticism and reserve. But it’s important for the health of Dallas that they bear the tension of varying viewpoints and permit the give-and-take of city life to resolve itself at a higher level of complexity. Growth and respect for neighborhoods; downtown, mid town and suburbs; aesthetic and economic values-all positions must be taken and vigorously advocated. All voices must be heard. Out of the chaos will come not order, but vitality. That’s what the eternal promise of spring means.

I’m pleased to announce that Bob Schwal-ler has joined our staff as executive editor.In this role, he will oversee the writing of allstories for D with an eye toward offering ourreaders the best possible editorial product.Bob comes to D from Financial Trend,where he has been managing editor. Prior tothat, he was with Texas Business in Houston.Bob will contribute business reporting aswell as editing. In addition, Ruth Miller Fitz-gibbons has won the Headliners’ Club’sCharles E. Green award for best story in aTexas magazine last year. Her winning entry was on DWI and Mothers Against DrunkDriving (MADD).