East Dallas preservation architect Norman Alston

Norman Alston loves history, and is particular about protecting it. The architect has a unique specialty in finding preservation solutions for historic — albeit sometimes-decrepit — buildings and houses.

Take the Lakewood Theater. Before Alston came along, owners Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham weren’t too keen on the idea of protecting the iconic theater they bought in 2007. They were fearful preservation status would prevent them from changing the structure to make it more attractive to potential tenants. Alston saw another option, one that would allow the owners to make significant changes to the building’s layout while protecting all of its historic elements, such as the murals painted by famed “Dallas Nine” artists and Woodrow Wilson graduate Perry Nichols. Alston was hired on to help the owners through the preservation process, and in September of this year, the Lakewood Theater became a protected landmark.

It’s one of many historic projects the East Dallas architect has overseen. But it all began with Fair Park.

“What happened was that in 1998, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) was working on one of the two remaining 1936 ‘Homes of the Future’ at Fair Park. And I volunteered, innocently enough, to help. That’s what did it for me – sucked me in,” Alston told the Advocate in 2002. “I found that I loved it… I found myself at work waiting for lunch time and after hours when I could work on that project and others like it. Looking back, I guess it had always been in me. I just like to play with other people’s old buildings.”

This month, the AIA Dallas presented Alston with its President’s Medal, given for “outstanding service to the chapter and the profession.” The organization credited Alston for reviving the Historic Resources Committee, which works on preservation projects all over the city.

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