DALLAS — In a city where history lasts as long as it takes to crank up the bulldozer, this truly is big and breaking news: One of the oldest houses in The Cedars has been granted a stay of execution.
The Dallas Morning News reports Time Warner Cable, which only weeks ago was preparing to raze the circa-1885 Victorian home overlooking R.L. Thornton Freeway, now says it will pay to move the structure to a nearby location.
“Time Warner Cable has committed to working with preservation leaders to relocate the home,” says a statement company spokesperson Melissa Sorola sent to The Dallas Morning News last week. “This plan serves everyone’s interests: The home will be preserved in a new location, and Time Warner Cable can move forward with construction on a new hub that will add capacity and reliability for our downtown customers.”
Just weeks ago the home’s destruction appeared imminent: It had been stripped and gutted, and an excavator was parked on the front lawn at 1438 Griffin Street West ready to smash it out of existence. Time Warner said it needed to demolish the house to expand its tiny hub site that sits next door.
City officials only learned of the scheduled demolition from Melissa Prycer, president and executive director of nearby Dallas Heritage Village, and Michael Przekwas, former president of the Cedars Neighborhood Association. But they couldn’t stop it, as the house — which once had a Browder Street address, and appears to have been built for Max J. Rosenfield in 1885 — wasn’t on official historic registers.
The most the city could do was delay the demolition 10 days after a permit had been pulled. But it never got that far.
Katherine Seale, the former Preservation Dallas executive director who now chairs Dallas’ Landmark Commission, told Time Warner the commission was going to consider initiating historic designation status at its Feb. 1 meeting. If the commission voted to initiate and then designate, the cable and Internet provider would have been stuck with a historic house it didn’t want.
A couple of weeks ago, Time Warner began talking with Seale and other preservationists about moving and saving the house.
“And I’m pretty sure they would characterize those talks as cooperative, productive and very positive,” said Sorola in an interview.
“Definitely,” said Seale. “This is a new way forward for historic preservation in Dallas. This is a solutions-based approach where we recognize the importance of business and preservation and don’t have to choose one over the other. Preservation doesn’t have to be strictly enforcement, and progress doesn’t mean taking out a historic building.”
Seale said the house will be moved to a nearby lot where it will be a “perfect fit.”
In anticipation of Monday’s Landmark Commission meeting, architectural historian and conservator Nicky DeFreece Emery prepared a lengthy history of the home.
Emery wrote that the house “has come to symbolize steadfast determination in the face of change as it has survived through the decline of the Cedars neighborhood, I-30 cutting through the area, and now the current efforts to revitalize the Cedars.” And she, like other local historians, believes the house was originally built by the father of John Rosenfield, The Dallas Morning News’ first-ever amusements editor, before it wound up in the hands of other owners, including Paul Erb, the longtime head of the Dallas Mercantile Co. and the man who, according to the 1922 Encyclopedia of Texas, “built the first apartments in Dallas.”
Said Emery, the house serves as “a reminder of what began as one of Dallas’s first ‘Streetcar Suburbs,’ and continued as one of the city’s first neighborhoods that middle- and upper-class Jewish families called home.
“The house holds a visually prominent perch over I-30 and has captured the attention and wonder of not only neighbors, but daily commuters. The location is the ‘gateway’ into the Cedars neighborhood; its loss would be a step backward not only for the revitalization of the Cedars, but for the preservation of historic buildings in Dallas — something the last year of struggle and success has made citizens of Dallas keenly aware.”
Now, it won’t be lost, merely moved.
Its relocation won’t take place immediately. As Seale noted, they’re dealing with more than half a dozen entities who will have to clear a path for the move, chief among then utilities companies whose poles and wires stand between the house’s current location and its future resting spot. “We’re working through the details now,” said Sorola. But Time Warner would like to get going on its new hub station sooner than later.
The late breaking development means the house won’t become a historic landmark because then it couldn’t be moved. Said Seale, the existing city code simply “never envisioned moving something out of a historic district.”
But it’s been spared. And that, she said, is all that matters.
“The best news of all is Time Warner is committed to paying for the move itself in a reasonable time frame,” Seale said. “They have a very quick time line but have given us some breathing room. And they’re happy to have played a major role in seeing this house saved. That’s really good news.”