Dallas has a plan to preserve cultural landmarks in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods

Historically, the city has not dedicated resources to protecting historical places in non-white areas.

By Sarah AschApril 12, 2024 11:57 am, ,

Walking around just about any city you might see plaques that note a building or square with historical significance. In Dallas, officials have recognized local landmarks like the Bama Pie Company, the City Hotel, and the Dallas Power and Light Building.

But the city is looking to add to its list. The Dallas City Council voted this week to expand its efforts to preserve historic and cultural spaces that are important to communities of color after decades of disinvestment. 

Leah Waters, who covers housing and government for the Dallas Morning News, said the city adopted a framework to assess sites that might be worthy of preservation.

“The strategy they adopted really is a vision map or a framework that they’re going to employ to survey the city for all sites that might be culturally significant to Black and Hispanic populations here,” she said. “But there’s still a lot of work that’s going to happen post-adoption that will lay out how that’s going to look in terms of the cost.”

Waters said the story of how the city ended up under-recognizing landmarks in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods starts with budget cuts. 

“After the 1973 adoption of the preservation strategy, the city staff went down to one person who was basically approving certificates of appropriateness, things like that, and there just wasn’t enough funding or staff to appropriately protect certain sites,” she said. “And so this plan basically would add three to four staff members within the city dedicated to this.”

Racial discrimination also played a role, Waters said. 

“The city did make a lot of effort to protect certain historical sites, but there are communities of color that really do lack the legal knowledge and education to be able to advocate for themselves,” she said.

“There’s a lot of costs involved in preserving historic places and the lowest income communities, which tend to be communities of color, they just don’t have those resources. And so the city recognizes that and wants to put the money where the mouth is.”

The city has allocated $500,000 to this project as a one-time investment.

“The price tag that’s ongoing is the staffing additional 3 to 4 people in that preservation office,” Waters said. “Dallas City Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn is very skeptical that the city will have that budget long term to be able to staff that. But we’ll see.”

Groups in the neighborhoods likely to be impacted by this new effort are excited to see their landmarks protected, Waters said. 

“The 10th Street District folks, who have been advocating to preserve their historic homes for decades, are really glad to see efforts like this to preserve their neighborhood,” Waters said. “There are areas of West Dallas that have been begging to have recognition.

The city lacks any historic district specifically for Hispanic history. So there are a lot of community groups that are excited to see equity be brought into historic planning.”

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