Sometime this morning, maybe even as I write this, the “Leaning Tower of Dallas” will finally come down.
(UPDATE: Obviously, the timeline is much longer now…again, reinforcing the point of this essay…EF)
I’ve been captivated by our fascination with this wreck of a wreck ever since it happened a week ago.
I always love metaphor, and tend to believe everything can be a metaphor if you let it.
So, I asked my Facebook friend the other day:
“What is the metaphor of the ‘Leaning Tower.’”
The answers were predictably brilliant. (Because I have smart friends…)
“Your inner core is stronger than everyone realizes it is”
“Measure twice, cut once.”
“Even when we blow it up we don’t let go of the past”
“How long are you going to leave that problem up and established in your life before you decide to deal with it?”
“Who’s the cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about?”
“You only had one job.”
All week, as I passed by the site, I’d see dozens of folks taking selfies and wandering around the open field North of the wreck. Our city was CAPTIVATED by this. It’s likely that over the past week, THOUSANDS of people have gravitated to that site, to take pictures, walk around, and just smile at the ridiculousness of it all.
As you can see from these pictures, I did that same thing Saturday. (And, you can see the field and the dozens of folks there while I was there)
Let’s be clear: this was not an “historic building.” It was a fairly nondescript office space.
But the “Leaning Tower” manifested itself in a Dallas that is undergoing a HUGE reshaping of our central core.
North Oak Cliff, where our church is, is exploding with growth. As a pastor, trying to listen to the people of North Oak Cliff, I’m hearing a great deal of debate as to whether it’s good, bad, or both. And the answer seems clear….it’s all of the above.
Meanwhile, on East Side, where we live, there is *also* an explosion of TONS of new high density apartments.
Some seem well built and appropriate.
Others look thrown together with masking tape and Elmer’s Glue.
It’s all dizzying and hard to keep up with.
Therefore, MY favorite metaphor for the “Leaning Tower” is this….
“One lone building —surrounded by all this “change” and “progress”— looks around and said,
“Stop! Wait! Think about this…”
The “Leaning Tower” captivates us because, at times, we all feel the same way.
Please understand me, I’m not a nostalgia buff, and absolutely not an historic preservation nut. Our neighborhood is an historic preservation district. (Largest in the nation…) I generally like that, given the ridiculous number of apartment buildings going up all over the East Side. I like the idea that our neighborhood’s 100-year-old homes will likely survive and be revitalized. I’m now *very* glad the neighborhood took that vote some fifteen years ago now.
However, I live with a very personal conundrum. IF the historical preservation rules had been in effect when *our* house was dreamed up, it never would have been built. In other words: All these issues are always complicated.
So while I like the idea of preservation, while I think we should honor the past, I’m not a zealot. I get that development is somewhat inevitable if our city is going to continue to grow and thrive.
It’s foolish to pretend all growth is bad, and equally foolish to pretend that “no growth” is possible either. But there are things for us to consider…
Maybe the “Leaning Tower” just wanted us to stop for a moment, meditate on the ridiculousness of its own existence; and also perhaps on the ridiculousness of our own existence too.
I tend to see “both sides” when it comes to historical preservation.
Again, take our neighborhood as an example.
We’re seeing is that home prices are continuing to rise as younger families move in. Yes, they’re preserving these historic homes. And that’s good. But let’s all be clear: historic preservation doesn’t STOP gentrification.
It’s just “gentrification with rules.” It’s just gentrification by another name, that tends to favor people with more money and a lot more time than many of our long-term neighbors around here have.
Historic preservationists who are more hardcore than me would say that Dallas *never* really honors its past. And that is definitely true. We bulldoze our past. We widen our freeways, right into Freedman’s cemetery. (And only move the graves when the public pressure gets too much…)
Little Mexico is completely gone, for example.
We don’t even call it “Little Mexico” any more.
We call it “Uptown.”
The house where my Father-in-Law, Richard Garcia, was born was on Payne Street in Little Mexico. And it was probably the third-to-last house left standing there. No joke. True story, the house was probably bulldozed within WEEKS of his death a few years back. (There’s a metaphor…)
For years –decades, really– that little house on Payne Street was dwarfed by all the high rises of “Uptown” around it. We use to drive friends by it just to marvel at the changes in the area.
But a few weeks back we drove our friend, Joe Jencks, around there; and we realized that it’s now impossible to even describe what the area once looked like to a visitor.
I mean, except for El Fenix, Santos Rodriguez Park, and the restaurant that’s now St. Anne’s, there is nothing in “Uptown” to remind you that Little Mexico ever existed.
One part of why Little Mexico went away is that families moved away. Dennise’s family moved to West Dallas, and then South Irving. Based on what I know, some did that by choice, hoping with each move for a little bit better opportunity for their family. We still have lots of family in West Dallas to this day.
So, yes, gentrification drove folks out, but so did the hope of other opportunity too.
But, this dynamic of knocking down our past seems epidemic all over the city. Take my OWN childhood home, on Prestonshire Lane, in the heart of Preston Hollow.
It was ALSO knocked down within six months of my own Father’s death. Our family left in the late 1970s. when I was preteen. But my Mom and I went back and walked thorough the house one last time –during an estate sale– before it was bulldozed.
Two decades ago (a decade after *we* left) all of my remaining childhood friend’s parents started moving out too. They all got ridiculous sums of money for their homes. In many cases, it was enough to guarantee their own future security for the rest of their lives.
Many of them moved into smaller homes, and lived comfortably the rest of their days. (And then, watched their homes scraped for a “McMansion.”)
So, in some ways, that was a good thing… for THEM.
(Hold that thought…)
So, as I mentioned, until just about a year or so ago, our old house was *the* last house remaining on its block in Preson Hollow….just like the home where Richard Garcia was born in Little Mexico.
It makes you stop….wait…and think about it…
I must say —and I’m more unchained to say this now that I’m no longer pastoring a church in Preston Hollow— I find all that growth there RIDICULOUS. I’ve said it quietly for years. I’ll say it loudly now.
The homes of Preston Hollow were always nicely sized ranch style homes on HUGE lots. They were spacious for their day.
But “big” is not “big enough” any more, I guess?
So now, we as a society even knock down “the big” to make way for “the huge.”
Even worse –and you’re not gonna believe this next part— just next to that childhood home of mine, some family bought TWO lots. They knocked down the McMansions that had been built in these past 20 years, and they put up a gargantuan estate…sprawling out over two lots. (Which, keep in mind, are HUGE lots to begin with…)
Where does it end?
“Large” becomes “Huge” becomes “Gynormous.”
The spritiual question I have for those folks is: “When is enough, enough?”
If you need McMansion size (and I’m pretty sure you don’t) why not just add on? Why knock down?
This is a pointless, and now mostly rhetorical question, of course. Like Little Mexico before it, most of the old Preston Hollow is gone too….or going.
Point being this…NOWHERE in town do we seem to respect our past at all.
Back here in East Dallas, just about every month of two, I see a friend post that their childhood home was knocked down. Several friends have posted eloquently and painfully about it.
And, just this week, perhaps the most chilling story yet. A 100-year-old home was knocked down…by MISTAKE.
(It was a banner week for Dallas demolition…)
They had the wrong house number and wrong street. News reports say that neighbors watched helplessly while the bulldozer made quick work of the old building.
See? That’s what the “Leaning Tower” knows about Dallas.
The Leaning Tower knows us.
The Leaning Tower has been watching us.
And that’s why it said, “Stop! Wait! Think about this…”
Maybe in ways that are subconscious, the “Leaning Tower” isn’t *only* a funny metaphor about how our best plans go awry, or how science doesn’t always know how much explosives actually blow up a building.
Maybe we’re attracted to this story, not only because its funny, but also because it’s a metaphorical and architectural protest of the myth of progress, as lived out in our city.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years…
And these next sentences are both literal and metaphorical:
Destruction is always quick and easy. Building things, that is hard.
When we built the new Northaven Church I went out with my video camera to film the progress of the old-building demolition. (That was 2004…and, yes, our congregation *also* tore down something old in Preston Hollow…)
My plan was to film every 15-20 minutes or so, come back later and film some more, and create a kind of “time-lapse” film of the demolition throughout the day.
I never went back inside.
It took the one bulldozer about half an hour to smash through all the bricks, walls, and roof trusses of building that was tens of thousands of square feet.
Old weathered wood —that had stood the test of time for 50 years— was crumbled and crushed to dust in 30 minutes.
It was horrific and awe inspiring.
Destruction is always quick and easy. Building things, that is hard.
Here’s what I worry about.
Many of the houses being bulldozed these days are rent houses. Not all, obviously, but many. But especially on the East Side and North Oak Cliff.
They’re being replaced by HIGHER rent apartments and condos, pushing out working class families that have lived in our city’s core for years.
Meanwhile, those with the generational wealth of home ownership —the parents of my childhood friends in Preston Hollow— are able to sell out, move on, and be stable for the rest of their lives. (Remember: I told you to remember that point…)
Those older folks lived comfortably the rest of their lives. Some are now gone. But the gentrification, it worked for them.
But what about renters in East Dallas, and North Oak Cliff, and West Dallas today?
What about those working class?
Or what about young families of all economic status?
Our family is HYPER-aware that we could not afford to buy a house in our own neighborhood today.
So, what about other young families just starting out?
How will THEY possibly find a place to live in Dallas’ core?
(We need them…)
Say what you will about Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston….
But together with the rest of Dallas’ last council, they gave Dallas a very PROGRESSIVE housing policy that was intended to help mitigate this dynamic.
Scott Griggs was the architect of that plan, and it’s still on the books today.
I’ve asked many smart friends lately: Are we actually FOLLOWING that plan?
Or are we just making exception after exception?
I honestly don’t know.
The folks I’ve asked don’t seem to really know either. So I end this long essay by honestly asking.
Feel free to comment if you’re a smart friend who knows.
(Maybe we are. But, I gotta say: Eight story apartments off of Lower Greenville, anyone? Hmmnnn….)
I’m asking because I LIKE the idea of economically, racially, and culturally diverse neighborhoods.
That’s *why* we live where live, and why we bought here in the first place. We *like* economically and racially diverse neighborhoods. Many who buy houses in the city’s core –especially the aforementioned North Oak Cliff, East Dallas, and West Dallas– CHOOSE to live where they live BECAUSE it’s diverse.
In fact, a neighbor one street over told me about year ago… “The neighborhood’s changing….sigh….not enough poor people any more….sigh…I think I’m gonna have to move…”
(He wasn’t joking…)
So, thanks be to God, I get to live where I lived and work where I work.
(How lucky am I?)
Study after study shows that everybody does better when we all live mixed up together.
So, back to that question: what’s happening in our city now?
Are we honoring our housing policy?
Or are just just making exception after exception?
I sincerely don’t know.
Somebody enlighten me.
Until I get some answers, I’m with the “Leaning Tower.”
“Stop! Wait! Think about this…”