Gay Dallas historian Mark Doty explores the city’s fascination with an ever-changing skyline in his book ‘Lost Dallas’
If those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, then Mark Doty should be safe. An architect by training, Doty is the historic preservation officer for the city of Dallas. For the last two years, he has turned his lectures about Dallas’ often-fickle relationship with preservation and development into the photographic history book Lost Dallas.
Broken into six geographic areas (West End, Central Business District, East Dallas, Fair Park/South Dallas, Oak Cliff and Uptown/North Dallas) and containing more than 200 photos of buildings past, Lost is a tribute to where we’ve been. Doty examines why so much change has happened in the various neighborhoods, including the tremendous growth in the West End and
CBD from the railroad boom in the late 1800s through the oil-rich expansion of the 1960s and ‘70s.
“If you look back at aerial photos from the ‘30s and ‘40s, Dallas was dense all the way from the [Trinity River] to Deep Ellum,” he says. “It was filled with two- and three-story buildings that were lost in the ‘70s and ‘80s to skyscrapers. What we have now are different districts — West End, Arts District, Main Street Corridor. If we had a quarter of those smaller commercial buildings left to knit together Downtown, it would be totally different.”
Doty says the biggest surprise in his research was finding the short life-spans of some major properties. “Some older buildings just didn’t last that long — after 30 years, they were bulldozed for something else,” he says.
He offers as an example Ivy Hall, a Moorish-style mansion on Maple Avenue and Wolf Street, created in 1890 and leveled in 1924 to make room for the Maple Terrace apartments. But while the narrative of Lost may seem to be about Dallas’ obsession with all things shiny and new, it’s not all doom and gloom.
“I want people to gain a sense of not just what we have lost, but to also take the book out and see what is still here,” says Doty. “As a historic office, we oversee 4,000 buildings in North Texas.
There is still something here and it’s spectacular — like Winnetka Heights in Oak Cliff or Fair Park. My hope is that people will [use this book as an opportunity] to look around and see what is still valuable within our neighborhoods and cities.”
Doty uncovered a few gems related to Dallas’ LGBT past. He points to a building on Caddo Street that served as the humble beginnings of what is now the Cathedral of Hope. An Art Deco masterpiece, The Esquire Theater, stood in the Oak Lawn “gayborhood” from the 1930s until its sad demise in 1985.
When it comes to keeping history from repeating itself, Doty says there are many ways to prevent that from happening. “Join your neighborhood association, Preservation Dallas, the Dallas Historical Society or the Dallas Museum of Art — any organization that contributes to the culture and identity of Dallas,” he says. “It will ensure we all help to keep the city alive and vibrant. I love Dallas, and I want everyone to love Dallas as much as I do. We need to appreciate its history and to see what we have lost, but also see how wonderful it is now and can be in the future.”
— Jef Tingley
Proceeds from the sale of Lost Dallas benefit the Dallas Municipal Archives. Available at Amazon.com and at Dallas City Hall (Room 5BN). The book will be featured in an exhibition at the Dallas Center for Architecture beginning on May 16, with a lecture and book signing on May 31 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit DallasCFA.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 11, 2012.