Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Future of 508 Park Avenue: Second Chances for a Historic Building

On June 28th, 2011, The Stewpot/Community Ministries of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas completed the purchase of 508 Park Avenue, Dallas, and the adjoining properties on either side of it, 1900 Young and 1905 Canton. 508 Park has received national and international attention because of its unique history as one of only two locations where the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson recorded. As an example of a Zig Zag Moderne building, 508 Park also has great architectural significance; it was designed by the New Orleans firm that designed the Louisiana State Capitol.

What does the purchase of the property mean and what do we plan to do with it?

We are pleased that we can help protect and, in time, return to use as an occupied and functional building, this precious property—precious to all lovers of blues, and important as the city of Dallas’s specimen of Zig Zag Moderne.
A detail view of the top of the entry tower showing 
the stepped and layered facade, with cast stone bas-relief panels 
suggesting the Garden of Eden. Curtains in the stair-stepped
panel above the narrow window reveal a mother and baby bird. 

Abstract natural and vegetable motifs are common in Art Deco 

We wish to preserve and maintain both parts of this building’s unique legacy, and we see this as part of our ministry to this community. In 1963, the time of the last renovation of 508 Park, the building was practically gutted of all its interior original walls. It has been empty now for twenty years and has been vandalized repeatedly. The distinctive exterior light sconces disappeared years ago. While many complaints were raised about the homeless, most incidents were the work of others. Court records show that the people apprehended for vandalizing the property were not homeless. 
Many ideas for upgrading the adjoining properties and specific plans for the safeguarding and restoring the 508 Park property have been developed. We envision a place of vitality, open to all.

Detail at the entry surround, illustrating multiple
layers of the facade in brick, cast stone relief and
three colors of natural stone. The repeated stair-step
profiles, complex layering and scalloped detail above
the building address are characteristic of Zig Zag Moderne.
Specific programs will benefit the congregation of First Presbyterian Church and Stewpot clientele. The long-standing year-round educational outreach to at-risk inner-city children and youth are some of the intended beneficiaries of these efforts. But, this historic building is being preserved for the entire community and reflects the belief in the ongoing vitality in our city’s southeast downtown community.
While it is well known that Robert Johnson was born 100 years last month, and that he recorded 13 songs at 508 Park, it is less well known that construction began exactly one hundred years ago on the sanctuary for First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. At that time its front door faced Harwood and Wood. Two doors were built, under the engraved words
“God is Light” and “God is Love.”

First Presbyterian Church is now completing a new Welcome Center that faces the crossroads of Young and Park, and so our front door rotates 180 degrees. This new front door looks down Park Avenue. The garden of light and love at the intersection of Wood and Harwood now is widened to embrace the crossroads of Park and Young. 

The property redevelopment will begin with the demolition of 1900 Young Street, the empty building that stands at the southeast corner of the crossroads of Young and Park. In its place, an outdoor performance amphitheatre will be constructed.  The two-story stacked stone corner of the current building will be preserved as a corner tower and a perimeter wall will help replicate the previous building’s footprint. Trees and grass will grace this new cityscape. The amphitheater will host concerts, performances, and outdoor worship.

1905 Canton Street (the south side of 508) now a vacant lot and enclosed by chain link fence, will receive a new perimeter of trees and an iron fence to complement the existing fence adjacent to the Masonic Temple.

The Rev. Dr. Bruce A. Buchanan, Executive Director of The Stewpot and Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church said, “508 Park has long been a place of pilgrimage for Blues lovers. We understand the great desire to step into the building where Johnson recorded, and we have every goal of not just bringing it up to code, but preserving and restoring historically-significant areas of the building. We hope to create a state-of-the-art recording studio in the area where Robert Johnson was known to have recorded his legendary music those hot June days in 1937.  Additionally, plans are under consideration for the first floor of this 3 1/2 floor, 23,000 square foot building to be used for music education, an art gallery, and a Spirit of the Blues empowerment coffee bar.” 

The Rev. Buchanan continued, “The Stewpot has been devoted to recognizing and supporting the talents of homeless individuals and enriching the lives of inner city children and youth. Acquiring these properties, construction of the amphitheatre, and creation of related creative arts programs will advance our current employment and educational goals while providing a performance venue for all genres of music for the community.  For ten years The Stewpot’s semiannual concerts have been wonderful gatherings for all. For twenty years, the Annual Talent Show has highlighted original music composition and performances. These and other events will be featured at the amphitheatre.”

In closing, Rev. Buchanan said, “The Stewpot ministry is a ministry of second chances; now we are able to give a second chance to 508 Park, and in doing so, we are creating a new intersection of love and light.”

Graphics copyright (c) 2011, Good Fulton & Farrell. Used by permission.

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