One of the nation's premier state fairs begins today in one of the nation's most beautiful and historic settings! Fried everything. What's not to like? Welcome back, Big Tex!
The Federal Historic Tax Credit has proven to be a powerful incentive to keep and restore our important historic buildings, especially in Texas as documented in this report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued last year. It has been so effective, in fact, that many states, including Texas, have implemented their own state tax credit programs. In the inevitable chaos and maneuvering associated with great change in Washington, our friends at PlaceEconomics have published the following long list of reasons to keep the tax credits:
Reading about recent threats to withhold conventions and sporting events from Texas sites in retaliation against bills currently moving through the Texas legislature, I was reminded of concerns that I had heard surrounding the economics of the Dallas Convention Center. Just how much money are those conventions really worth to our city, and how much does the City make off of them? A quick search turned up an article in D Magazine, written 2 years ago by Wylie H Dallas, that addressed this issue specifically: The Convention Center That Ate Dallas. Other concerns notwithstanding, that doesn't appear, at least on the surface, to be much of a threat. The convention center is a pretty substantial drag on the city budget, a drag that is tolerated in the name of a positive economic impact for support businesses in Dallas.
Is that good enough? If the DCC is a loss-leader for a city strapped to pay for basic maintenance, what if we look at it differently? What would the economic impact be if we got out of the big convention business and allowed all that downtown acreage to be redeveloped as for-profit, property tax paying residential, office, commercial and retail use? A pretty blank slate for modern concepts for walkable, sustainable urban streets. After all, it's right next to the proposed high-speed rail station and very close to the hoped-for Trinity River Park. What if we used that, and maybe another highway deck, to stitch the Cedars back into the downtown urban fabric? Ala the I-345 idea.
What if we took some of the current DCC subsidy and used it to fix Fair Park where it could serve as our convention center? That is, after all, essentially what it was built to do and continues to do to this day. The size and types of conventions we would see would be different, but think of how much better their experience might be. (We may have to move fast on that idea, before someone fills up Fair Park with vertical farming or artist lofts or corporate call centers or something.)
I'll be sitting in my office, goofing off, looking out the window and daydreaming differently about the Convention Center from now on.
Thanks to Place Economics for finding this one. This headline from a story at the Washington Examiner illustrates how tabloid-style "journalism" can creep into seemingly legitimate news feeds and thus utterly distort the reality of working with historic buildings. The story goes on to explain, with little or no detail, how the VA is having difficulty monetizing excess building inventory because of "historic preservation". Given the lack of detail about what is happening, one can only guess about what this refers to. This would only be true if the VA's sole desire is to demolish each and every historic building and market only the land. If that's the case, then God bless historic preservation. What a calloused, lazy approach to real estate that would be. But as for the VA being prohibited from selling or remodeling the buildings - that is utter nonsense. There is a well-established process for transferring public buildings into the private realm. It's known as Section 106.
Been there. Done that. The photograph above is a project where we led the owner and design team through the Section 106 process of selling this 1931 Federal Post Office and Courthouse Building into private ownership (or most of it anyway). It is now a premier, award-winning, multi-family development in downtown Dallas. It even continues to retain the post office. There were challenges for this project, but the Section 106 process wasn't in the top tier. It was more about what you have to do to a Federal building that has been able to ignore local building codes for about 80 years. That's where the brain damage happens.
Scape goats are very convenient and blaming historic preservation for money woes is a tired but still popular approach to finding a back door to getting at something else that building owners actually want.
According to Robert Wilonsky's report, someone may be about to drop a house on the Wicked Ditch of the East (the Trinity Tollway), leaving only the Good Ditch (an urban park).
Michael Graves' Portland Public Service Building broke new design ground when it was rolled out in 1982. It rebelled against years of poorly executed Miesian Minimalism by attempting to achieve a new humanist approach to architecture. It was the poster-child of Post Modern Architecture.
My, how time flies. The building and its designer were so clearly revolutionary that it achieved individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places only 29 years after it's completion (50 years is the norm). Now is is embroiled in another revolution, an effort to update it in the name of historic preservation, but using an approach and techniques that bear little or no resemblance to modern preservation practice. The building owners, the City of Portland, and their local design team are gung ho for the new approach. Everyone else, especially representatives of the best known historic preservation organizations, er, not so much. The latest salvo in this battle comes from DOCOMOMO. You can read about it at this link
Have a great day and let's be careful out there!
Fought this date, 1836.
With one very notable exception, the model energy codes used by the State of Texas included a provision that exempted historic buildings from compliance with that code. No longer. The State of Texas has adopted the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code as the state-wide energy code and it includes an important new provision for historic buildings.
In a nutshell, historic buildings shall now comply. The critical qualification to that compliance, one that I think makes these new requirements fair and workable, is found in Section 1201.2. In it, a provision is made for a design professional or a historic preservation official having jurisdiction (SHPO, or local preservation officer) to prepare a report detailing how compliance with any provisions of the code would damage the historic integrity of the building. In such instances of damage, the building would be exempted from compliance with that requirement. I find this to be a very reasonable requirement, one that requires that renovations and restorations make what improvements they can while protecting historic fabric.
The actual text of the code reads as follows. Always check for local changes/amendments.
Buildings that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, or designated as historic under an appropriate state or local law.
N1107.6 (R501.6) Historic buildings: No provision of this chapter relating to the construction, repair, alteration, restoration and movement of structures, and change of occupancy shall be mandatory for historic buildings provided a report has been submitted to the code official and signed by the owner, a registered design professional, or a representative of the State Historic Preservation Office or the historic preservation authority having jurisdiction, demonstrating that compliance with that provision would threaten, degrade or destroy the historic form, fabric or function of the building.
At Tuesday's Urban Affairs Committee meeting, the Texas Legislature will consider a new bill that would fundamentally change the way local historic designations are created and administered across the state. In keeping with this session's theme of restricting local control, this bill would require language to be added to every new historic designation in the state and do much to make new historic districts harder to create and and administer. Under the bill:
Historic designations associated with an historic event, that event "must be widely recognized" as an historic event. No suggestion about how you define "widely recognized".
Historic designation based on association with a person, that person must have lived there. So apparently no commercial or institutional buildings primarily associated with famous business men, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. can be designated.
Votes for designation by plan commissions and city councils must be approved with 3/4 affirmative vote. It was much easier to get a Supreme Court Justice approved BEFORE last week's rules change.
Applications for revisions to or removal of designated historic properties must be acted on by the municipality within 30 days.
Many preservation-centric organizations are aligning to campaign against this bill. Hopefully, it is enough.
Billed as "The Big Reveal", the Alamo Master Planning Team will take the wraps off of their work in two upcoming public meetings:
Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 6:00 pm
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm
Both meetings will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. More conveniently, the meeting will be live streamed on the ReImagine the Alamo Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ReimagineTheAlamo/
Over Spring Break we had the opportunity to visit The Mission Inn in Riverside, California. The earliest parts were built about 1900 and it has been added to and renovated multiple times over the decades. An unusual historic building with an interesting story.
I wanted to post this article from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in honor of the Crossman Block, a row of early 1900's commercial buildings in downtown Garland that have defined the east side of the city square since their construction. On March 21, the Garland City Council voted 7-1 to demolish the buildings in favor of more downtown open space. With that decision goes the $428,500 paid to purchase the building 3 years ago, the $88,000 cost for demolition and disposal, and about $517,000 in possible historic tax credits. All into the landfill. About $1 million total value with more than half in taxpayer cash.
Over the past 5 years it has been a joy to office in the historic US Post Office and Courthouse Building in Downtown Dallas. One of our most important restoration projects, it was wonderful to experienced those historic details and spaces on a daily basis. For a variety of really good reasons, however, a change was clearly in order. We are pleased to announce that we have occupied new offices on the 49th floor of the venerable Renaissance Tower, two blocks west of the US Post Office and Courthouse Building. What the building lacks in historic detail is at least partially offset by 49th floor views of this beautiful city. Used as the home of Ewing Oil in the old Dallas television series, we are keeping our eyes open for the ghost of JR.
Our address has changed and a change in the phone system has also brought us a new fax number.
Norman Alston Architects
1201 Elm Street, Suite 4920, Dallas, Texas 75270
214 826-5466 voice
972 584-9013 fax
Good historic preservation continues to struggle against the headwind of modern construction practice. Nowhere has this struggle been more evident than in the issue of historic windows in historic buildings.
Dallas' historic Gulf Cone Building now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationist who helped save the Lakewood Theater honored with architecture award
Authenticity is the "why" of modern historic preservation practice.
I recently came across this site which documents the travels of architect Leonard Lane as he has criss-crossed Texas to visit and photograph the courthouses of all 254 Texas counties. Begun in May 2006, he has recently completed the circuit and has established this exquisite website that contains information on each and every one. I haven't been all the way through it yet, but the photographs are great and he often includes images of adjacent architecture. In my office, this website could cause a greater loss of efficiency than Facebook; easy to get lost in it. I encourage you to have a look.
You can see it at www.254texascourthouses.net
Our contribution, the Erath County Courthouse, is shown here.