Mark Doty Wants to Save Dallas’ History, One Old, Forgotten Building at a Time

Posted by    |    April 14th, 2012 at 5:15 am

Mark Doty is a treasure trove of information. He seems to know the history of Dallas’ architecture backwards and forwards, no small feat from a man who grew up in Abilene.

Doty, who works as a senior planner and historic preservation officer for the city of Dallas, has compiled an impressive collection of photos and facts surrounding some of the Dallas architecture that became casualties of progress. “Lost Dallas” is an excellent resource for amateur historians or people who love learning about Dallas’ past.

Of course, we wanted to find out more about Doty, a member of Preservation Dallas, and what made him want to write “Lost Dallas.”

Why is preservation important to you? I grew up in Abilene, Texas, and during my childhood, the City made a concerted effort to restore and revitalize the downtown area. An historic theater, old abandoned hotel and train depot were all restored and repurposed for new uses. This effort in turn spurned additional development and now downtown Abilene is known as a model for historic preservation. So, I witnessed firsthand the effects of historic preservation and how it can be an economic tool and source of pride for the city.

Sanger Library Branch (“Lost Dallas”)

What made you decide to make preservation a career? Although I do have a degree in architecture, I realized at an early age that my mind simply is not mechanically inclined to be as detail oriented for such a career. However, I have always enjoyed seeing  a building or neighborhood that has been abandoned or neglected restored or repurposed back to its original glory. The old adage ‘They don’t build them the way they used to’ is certainly true.

Elizabeth Chapel (“Lost Dallas”)

What new things did you learn about Dallas when doing the research for this book? Anything shocking or unusual? I think people forget that Dallas is older and has a more layered history than it gets credit for. As the book mentions, Dallas is an antebellum city, but it really didn’t grow until the railroads came to town.  You have frontier elements, Civil War history, influences from the railroad and other eastern cities, religious and political viewpoints, a large and active minority community and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned Texas ego that created the city we know today. People like to say Dallas is plain-jane, vanilla, but that is simply not the case if one takes the time to dig a little deeper. Another thing that shocked me was the time period that some of these amazing buildings lasted. Some structures, in particular in the burgeoning downtown area, lasted a scant twenty or twenty-five years.

What do you think are some of the best-preserved structures in Dallas? The Dealey Plaza area is remarkably well-preserved, especially the Old Red Courthouse. Shawn Todd and his team has done a fantastic job on the adaptive use of the old U.S. Post Office building on Ervay Street. Union Station is a remarkable building, especially with Ferris Plaza in front. Of course, Fair Park is a true wonder and our historic residential neighborhoods are also fantastic.

Conversely, what historic at-risk buildings need to be preserved? There is a conversation going on in the preservation community about what should be the next focus area in Dallas. With the Statler Hilton, Old Dallas High School and other major structures that were the focus of intense past conversations assured of plans for rescue


Lastly, what was the best part of writing this book?
The best part of writing this book was learning so much more about the city where I chose to live. While it is bittersweet to see and document what has been destroyed here, it has heightened my awareness of what is still here. Which is quite a bit. My hope is that readers will come to the same conclusion and become involved in whatever way to make Dallas a better place to live. and rehabilitation, there needs to be a focus on those ‘everyday’ buildings that people pass by on a regular basis, but don’t appreciate until they are no longer there. The old church in East Dallas, the brick apartment building in Oak Cliff, the streetcar commercial buildings in South Dallas, even the ranch style house in North Dallas; all of these buildings add to the tapestry and provide interest and texture to our built environment.

Reserve your copy of “Lost Dallas” (Arcadia Publishing) via their website.

— Daily Local Real Estate Dish By Dallas Real Estate Insider — Candy Evans at CandysDirt.com