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Can the Dr Pepper Building Be Saved?

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About the time Dr Pepper gave up on everyone else becoming a Pepper too, the Dallas-based company was bought out. It was almost bought out again by Coca-Cola, but that fell through. Then it really did get bought out in 1986, followed by a merger with 7-Up this May. During all that swapping around, the old Dr Pepper plant on Mockingbird was sold to a real estate developer, and the syrup-making facilities were moved to St. Louis. The Dr Pepper landmark, in other words, was fading into history.

But Andrew Stephenson, a Dallas wholesale coffee supplier, thinks the city needs the forty-year-old building. In fact, he is worried that it’s going to be torn down and replaced by a strip shopping center or office towers. He’s so worried that he called a meeting in June to save the Dr Pepper plant. Six people showed up.

“We’re just getting started.” Stephenson explains. After a week of phone calls in late June, Stephenson said he had picked up support from city council members Craig Holcomb and Diane Ragsdale, plus several members of local historical and neighborhood groups. And to the meeting came Sue Sterling, representing Collectors of Dr Pepper Memorabilia; Mary Rose, of Lovers of Landmarks; and Kent Millard, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Stephenson called the city and found that the owner of the property had refused to consider any historic designation for the building in the past, and that at one time he was considering tearing the old building down. Then Stephenson called Dr Pepper and found that the executive offices-about all that was left at the site-were moving out of the old plant building in July. He assumed the worst.

“We don’t know if the building can be saved,” says Sydney Steiner, CEO of Harbord Group of Companies Inc., which owns the old plant. He says his company is indeed thinking about building a shopping center on the corner of Mockingbird and Greenville, but he won’t say whether that will affect the plant building. “I’m not committed to doing anything with the Dr Pepper building,” he says.

Stephenson says he wants the city council to designate the building a historic landmark, even if the landowner objects. That unusual step would take a three-quarters vote of the council, which has never gone against an owner’s wishes in a landmark designation case. To get started. Stephenson and his cohorts say they’ll organize a ’’hug-a-building” demonstration. Then they’ll gather petition signatures showing community support for saving the old building, and take them to Steiner to see if he’ll spare the building-or even donate it to a historical group. “I’ll knock on every door in Dallas if that’s what it takes,” Stephenson says.

“I’m willing to meet with our neighbors and talk to them,” Sydney Steiner says. “But I’m not committed to anything. Dr Pepper didn’t think too much of the darn building. I don’t know why everybody else does.”

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