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Notes on the Geography of The Western United States: Downtown Dallas I

This and the following two folders review the development of downtown Dallas by dividing its story into three parts. The first, sketched here, is the transition from a small town to the emergence about 1900 of a downtown, which is to say to the emergence of the diversified central business district of a city.

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The Western United States: Downtown Dallas I picture 1

Herman Brosius drew this bird's-eye view of Dallas in 1872. The key to the city's growth is not the Trinity River, already crossed by two bridges--one for a railway and the other by a toll bridge for wagons. Instead, the key is the railway intersection that is just off to the upper right. There, the Houston and Texas Central, running north-south, crosses the Texas and Pacific, running east-west. The Central came first, and it was the genius of the city's merchants to cajole the state legislature into ordering the T&P to cross the Central right here.

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Thirty years earlier, in the 1840s, this dog-trot house had been built on what is now the site of DFW airport. Hard to believe. The second floor was added in the 1850s, when Richard Montgomery Gano bought the house. He had been a physician, a legislator, and a Baptist preacher. He would go on to become a Confederate general and a real-estate millionaire. The house is now part of the Dallas Heritage Village, a fine museum occupying the Old City Park, south of downtown.

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An even simpler house in the museum. It's the Miller log cabin, built in 1847 in what is now Oak Cliff, on the west side of the Trinity.

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Also in the museum: an Oak Cliff doctor's office from 1890. There'd been a lot of change in the space of two generations: now, for example, you could buy milled shingles and siding.

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Another Heritage Village home, the Sullivan House from 1885. It originally stood close to the City Park, which is to say close to where it stands now.

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From 1907, this is the second house built in Highland Park, an enclave in Dallas and the wealthiest part of the metro. The house stands just outside the Heritage Village, to which it was given in 1986.

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Outside the Heritage Village, perhaps the best lineup of historic houses in Dallas is the Wilson Block, a line of houses built about 1900 by Jacob Nussbaumer. The whole block was acquired in the 1970s by Fox and Jacobs, a major developer. Amazingly, the block was turned over to the Historic Preservation League, now Preservation Dallas. With help from the Meadows Foundation, the houses were revovated and developed for use by non-profit organizations including Preservation Dallas.

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Many houses of this vintage are scattered around the city. Many and perhaps most are not in Dallas proper but in the small towns that once surrounded Dallas and which have now been more or less engulfed in the metroplex. Here, for example, is a house from Carrollton. It's very much a home.

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The Belo House was built for the owner of The Dallas Morning News. No longer a residence, it's the only former residence surviving on Ross Avenue, once the premier address in Dallas. Now it's squarely within the Arts District.

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The startlingly monumental Greenwood Cemetery was established in 1896 and is now wrapped in the new apartment blocks that fringe Uptown.

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No downtown Dallas street looks the way it did in 1900, but you don't have to go far to find a street that does. This is Elm a mile to the east, in the neighborhood called Deep Ellum, or Deep Elm.

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The only survivor from that era on downtown Elm is Milliners Supply, which opened in 1911 and closed in 2005. A sign in the window suggests in 2007 that the building would make a fine restaurant. Maybe. Customers could come from the hotel on the right, as well as from the city's tallest building (the Bank of America Building), which is just across the street.

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Another view of the building, cursed by a footprint that measures 25 feet by 150.

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Detail at the entrance.

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Another nearby survivor of the era.

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And another, this one having survived conversion to a restaurant.

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More conversions in progress.

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By 1910 two major grids and a minor one had been laid out. The two major ones were separated by Pacific Avenue, which takes it name from the Texas & Pacific tracks, which caused major traffic jams until the railway was relocated about 1930. Roughly, the city was residential to the north of the tracks and commercial to the south--except for the diagonally offset grid there, which marks the residential neighborhood called The Cedars. Downtown still occupies the central grid. The area to the north is now primarily the Arts District. The Cedars has been in trouble for many decades, although things are turning around, not least because a light-rail system now runs north to downtown and lots of other places.

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The Cumberland Hill School, from 1888, is the oldest school building standing in Dallas. Offices now, it was one of the first big buildings downtown and probably the oldest to survive.

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It was followed two years later, in 1890, by a new county courthouse, now a fine museum of Dallas history.

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Interior staircase.

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Although downtown began to be depopulated many decades ago, the First Baptist Church remains a Dallas phenomenon. It began broadcasting in 1921 and added television in 1951. By 1991 it had a membership of 28,000 and a campus of a dozen buildings clustered in what is now the Arts District, residential when the church began.

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Cornerstone.

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The sanctuary seats 2,000, but there's too much gray hair for complacency.

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On the south side of downtown, on Harwood at Wood, the First Presbyterian of 1913 boasts monolithic limestone columns from Indiana.

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So, too, does the contemporaneous Scottish Rite Temple a block away.

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Stripped down a bit--it's lost its cornice--this was downtown's first big department store. It was Sanger's, built in 1900 by the brothers who had engineered the arrival of the Texas and Pacific 30 years earlier. They had outgrown the cluster of much smaller brick buildings in which they operated until commissioning this Chicago-sized store.

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Here the same building is seen from the narrow side facing Elm. A smaller but similar store in Fort Worth is now lofts; the Dallas store houses a community college.

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A five-minute walk to the east, this is the former Titche-Goettinger department store. Now apartments, it opened in 1929. Atavistically, its windows are smaller than those of the much earlier Sanger's.

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Between those two stores stands the original Neiman-Marcus store, still in business since 1914. The founders' marketing genius has a lot to do with the city's national (and even international) glamor. The building just behind it housed Titche-Goettinger until that store moved in 1929. Like so many older buildings downtown, it, too, is now apartments.

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Downtown soon acquired a grand hotel, the Adolphus. It was named for the man who paid for it, Adolphus Busch, the brewer. He had a long history in Dallas, which he had supplied with St. Louis beer shipped first in ice but later pasteurized.

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The hotel is still in business, though with far fewer rooms than in its heyday. The architectural trimming is in keeping with the overloaded style so popular in the Germany of Busch's day.

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Just for comparison, here's a hotel that opened a decade earlier in Carrollton, about 15 miles to the north. By 1908, the Cottonbelt, Katy, and Frisco lines all came through the town and met near the present corner of I-35 East and Beltline Road. People needed a place to stay. The hotel is now in the Dallas Heritage Village.

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Busch put up an office building, too. It was the Busch Building until the 1920s, when it became the Kirby. Offices for decades, it's now--but you don't have to be told--apartments. The building to its right is the Magnolia, now a hotel but originally the home of the Magnolia Oil Company. Two years after the building's completion, the company was taken over by Socony Mobil, which promptly put its trademark Pegasus up there.

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Another view of the Magnolia, next to the Adolphus--recognizable from the beer stein in place up top.

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The Majestic Theater, the only one of the line of theaters that used to be on Elm.

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The Majestic in 1937, the year that "Souls at Sea," with Gary Cooper, was released. Next door was the Melba and beyond were the Tower, Palace, Rialto, Capital, Dallas, and Strand.

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Downtown had lots of other kinds of businesses. Here's one of the stalwarts: Woolworth's, from about 1910. It's been handsomely redone as a restaurant.

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Entrance, with the old double swinging doors.

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There were supermarkets, too, including Piggly Wiggly. The chain began in Memphis and arrived in Dallas about 1920 with its pioneering self-service. The downtown Piggly Wiggly stores are gone but the hulk of this one survives in The Cedars, just to the south.

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Downtown had lots of other government buildings besides the courthouse. This is the ill-fated Texas Schoolbook Depository.

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It's been renamed.

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There were factories, too, including this Ford assembly plant, which opened in Deep Ellum in 1914. It became a hat factory in 1955. That closed in 1986, and the place sat empty until its conversion into... but you know the answer.

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A similar transformation occurred with this enormous warehouse for the Sear's catalog business. The building has lost the decorative tower it once had but is otherwise intact, with apartments above some lower levels devoted to office and studio space. The small building in the foreground was once the Sears cafeteria.

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Downtown in the 1920s. In the distance is the world's first hotel to carry the name Hilton. The building still stands but has had a whole series of names since Hilton moved out about 1950. Most recently, it's been The Indigo.

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A view about the same time of Lamar Street, with Sanger's prominently signed.

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What Pacific Avenue was supposed to look like after the removal of the Texas and Pacific tracks. It never got to be either so broad or so lined with neoclassical buildings.

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An aerial view in the 1930s, showing U.S. 80 coming east from Fort Worth and splitting at Dealy Plaza into Elm, Main, and Commerce. The schoolbook depository is on the left. The old courthouse is on the right side of Main.


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