In Context: 508 Park Ave.
Across the street from The Stewpot lies an unassuming icon of music history. The three-story, 23,000-square-foot building in the Harwood Historic District is one of Dallas’ finest examples of Zigzag Moderne, a form of Art Deco characterized by striking geometric ornamentation on the façade. It was designed by the New Orleans firm of Weiss, Dreyfous, and Seiferth in 1929 to serve as an office and film warehouse for Warner Brothers Pictures.
Many early 20th century movie stars passed through the doors of 508 Park Ave., heading to the studios’ VIP club on the first floor. But it was a small recording studio on the third floor that gave the building its lasting significance as an epicenter for Texas music in the 1930s. Brunswick Radio Corp. had a studio in the building, bringing musicians Bob Wills, Robert Johnson, and The Light Crust Doughboys to Dallas, among others. Wills recorded his first songs with the Texas Playboys at 508 Park Ave., and Johnson recorded the last 13 songs of his career there. Musical pilgrims still visit the building just to touch the place where Johnson made blues history. Eric Clapton recorded songs for a Johnson tribute album at 508 Park in 2004—the last time music was made in the historic building.
The Brunswick label as well as the Dallas building itself changed hands in later decades; 508 Park Ave. serving primarily as a distribution center and storage warehouse through the mid-20th century. It sat vacant and vandalized for more than 20 years before its owner sought permission to demolish the building in 2009, saying its homeless neighbors made it unsuitable for redevelopment. The city denied the request.
Where its previous owner saw hopelessness, First Presbyterian Church saw an opportunity. The church purchased the building and is currently developing the entire block as an expansion of The Stewpot’s outreach. The church intends to restore both the building and its purpose as the centerpiece of Encore Park, a campus ministry that already includes a community garden and amphitheater flanking 508 Park Ave. The cast-stone building is being carefully renovated and its interiors reconstructed to house the Museum of Street Culture, The Open Art Studio and Gallery, STREETZine newspaper, a roof deck and garden, and a re-created recording studio in the same place as the original. The studio is intended to be open to anyone—professional, student, or homeless—who wants to make music.
Cindy Smith, Assoc. AIA is with Gensler.