Dallas’ historic downtown ‘ton of potential’

Joy Sears, with the State Historic Preservation Office, talks about restoring facades during a tour of downtown.

DALLAS — Downtown Dallas has gems hidden underneath layers of paint and attempts at modernization of the old buildings that make up the city’s core.

Joy Sears, a preservation specialist with the State Historical Preservation Office, toured downtown Thursday morning, looking for buildings that could qualify for the department’s Diamonds in the Rough (facades) and Main Street (interior) grants.

“With Diamonds in the Rough, we’re undoing bad things that have been done to buildings,” Sears said.

Members of the Dallas Downtown Association, Dallas Urban Renewal District Advisory Committee and the city of Dallas accompanied Sears on her stroll. She stopped at the former Polka Dots building, now home to Harvest Crossfit, the former Ray’s Hardware building, the former Health & Wellness Center, the string of buildings on the 800 block of Main Street, and the Carnegie Building.

Surveying most from the outside, she pointed out significant architectural elements of the buildings that are worth preserving and what should be restored.

She noted exterior additions to buildings — plaster, brick, mismatched awnings, and old signs — that could be removed through restoration. Sears gave the group several tips about the possibilities for grants, but said that her office is “looking for that big wow,” when is comes to approving a project.

Sears spoke at a recent DDA meeting and was invited back for Thursday’s tour.

Her office provided funding through Diamonds in the Rough for facade restoration of the Blue Garden Building on Main Street. She called that program the “sexy” grants because the results are visible. The results of the Main Street grant program aren’t as noticeable — elevators, seismic upgrades — but are critical for preservation.

She suggested the Carnegie Building could be a candidate for a Main Street grant, plus several other grant programs offered through foundations, depending on use. The tour group was taken inside the vacant building, which has a main floor, daylight basement, and a small room on the second floor. Shelving and woodwork from its original use as a library are evident in the basement and main floor.

“This is a sleeping beauty,” said Eddie Nelson, with the DDA.

There’s also evidence of remodeling in the olive- and avocado-colored carpet and wood paneling in the basement.

A former Carnegie library in The Dalles has been turned into an art center, a concept also suggested for Dallas. The two buildings have the same footprint, so Mayor Brian Dalton showed the group photos of The Dalles restoration in each room to illustrate the possibilities.

The city owns the building and has issued a request for proposals for a new use for the historically significant, but aging structure.

The Dallas City Council initiated the process of including historic preservation regulations for certain properties — or potentially districts — in town. That process could open up more resources through SHPO if Dallas were to become a “certified local government” through the program, Sears said.

“You’ve got a ton of potential,” she said.

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