While Dallas has never been considered a hotbed of historic preservation (see the late, lamented Dr Pepper Building or our numerous scenic Downtown parking lots that once were office buildings), more people seem to be recognizing that preservation efforts are a good way to stabilize and preserve their neighborhoods.
East Dallas neighborhoods such as Swiss Avenue and Munger Place have long been recognized for their successful preservation efforts, which came about because the majority of property owners in each neighborhood elected to become part of a formally designated (and strictly regulated) Historic District.
Conservation District vs. Historic District
Another option to support neighborhood stabilization and preservation is to set up a Conservation District.
A Conservation District, while not quite as strictly regulated as a Historic District, still imposes detailed requirements on the degree to which the exterior appearance of houses can be changed in an effort to maintain a certain unity of architectural style.
The best example of a Conservation District in East Dallas is found in the Tudor-style cottages of Hollywood Heights. In asking for Historic District or Conservation District designation, there are always trade-offs, and this can lead to controversy.
Most real estate professionals, architects and urban planners will tell you that not only is historic preservation aesthetically pleasing and a worthy goal in itself, it has a dramatic impact on stabilizing a neighborhood and ultimately raising property values.
Many people, however, especially in free-wheeling, entrepreneurial Dallas, are resistant to the idea of the City, or their neighbors, limiting them as to what color they can paint their houses or what kind of roof or driveway they can have.
Neighborhoods thinking about asking for a Historic District or Conservation District need to do some education on the benefits of such designation to increase public awareness and support.
Preserving All Historic Structures
In my opinion, trying to preserve what’s left of the historic character of multi-family and commercial buildings in East Dallas is as important as preserving historic single-family homes.
This subject may be on the front burner again soon, as word is that the Greenland Hills neighborhood – prompted by some new construction that is seen as unfortunately incompatible with typical M-Street architecture – is considering asking for Conservation District status.
As the saying goes: “There’s no accounting for taste.”
Not Just An East Dallas Issue
Preservation is an issue present in other areas besides East Dallas, as a drive past the oversized “tract mansions” in the Park Cities or through long-neglected historic neighborhoods in Oak Cliff and South Dallas will attest.
Dallas finally seems to be waking up to the fact that other cities we think of as having a high quality of life are that way in part because they are serious about historic preservation.
If you want to know more about this subject or want to talk to someone about whether your neighborhood might be able to implement preservation efforts, Jim Anderson, historic preservation planner with the City’s Planning Department, and Catherine Horsey, executive director of Preservation Dallas, are excellent resources.
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