Friday, April 13, 2012

Calatrava: Dallas's Bridge To...Nowhere?

Overlook Skyline

Dallas has a secret. And, like anyone with a secret, it causes an inferiority complex. But if you want to understand Dallas you need to understand Dallas wants to be a midwest New York City, a place where the jet-setters and Gliterrati come to wine and dine all the while dressed in cowboys boots and Stetson hats. And over the years this pretty much has become Dallas's identity, leaving her with an overpowering urge to live up to that image of a "world class city".

Hey, try liking yourself if you want to be a destination city! (And also try not being so corrupt by pushing shady real estate deals and influence peddling - but that's another story).

In order to become world class Dallas needs world class players. Enter Santiago Calatrava, world renowned bridge designer and architect. One need only check his work on the rebuilding of the world trade center complex at ground zero in New York (especially the transportation hub) to see his talent. Ah, but poor Dallas - so many dreams and so few dollars! (Perhaps this explains the Dallas phenomena of $30,000 millionaires).

A blurb from WFAA explains:

The world-famous architect behind Dallas’ new bridge says his work in Dallas is not yet done.

Santiago Calatrava has already finished designing a second bridge over the Trinity River to complement the soaring single white arch of his new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge spanning the Trinity River.

Now, he says he hopes to design a third bridge, as originally planned — back when dreams and budgets seemed to be bigger.

"It is necessary, I think, to do at least a third piece, who will, of course, compliment [the other bridges]," the Spanish architect told News 8 on Saturday. "They have to be like sisters speaking with each other!"

As thousands marvel this weekend at the new bridge linking downtown Dallas with West Dallas, few remember the original vision hatched nearly 15 years ago.

The Hunt Bridge extending Woodall Rodgers Freeway was supposed to be the first of five Calatrava-designed bridges spanning the Trinity River.

New bridge is second from the top

Rising costs and other delays kept shrinking the project. When city leaders broke ground on the Hunt Bridge in 2005, Calatrava's role had been reduced to three bridges.

Even then, city leaders boasted that Dallas would be the only city in the world with three signature Calatrava-designed bridges.

But in the years that followed, planners scaled back even further, admitting that taxpayers can only afford two of his creations.

"I feel like it was a very expensive bridge," complained Dallas resident Carolyn Buss, marveling at at the gleaming white cables while standing on its road deck and snapping photos during a three-day celebration to mark the span's completion. "I think it's pretty spectacular, but Dallas could certainly have used the money to put into the schools."

The $182 million Hunt bridge cost millions more than a typical design. Calatrava's fees were $6.3 million — nearly three times the standard design cost.

Opening Train 1930
Some of these bridges have been around a while

Will we see another bridge? Who knows. What is known that replacing the bridges with Calatrava designs is far and away more expensive than a conventional replacement. But what price vanity! Even private donors have contributed millions to make this happen. If only they felt so strongly about the school system south of the Trinity. But then, some of ancient Rome’s greatest feats of engineering were done during her decline - to prove she wasn't in decline!

But the bridge has been completed leaving taxpayers on the hook for better or for worse. But while this could turn out to be an unhappy marriage community leaders are desperate to paint this bridge as a necessary expense to lure new businesses to the south side of the city into the area of Dallas now known as La Bajada (the lower depths), also the site of the infamous West Dallas slums of the 20's and 30's (the stomping grounds of Bonnie and Clyde).

As I documented in my Bonnie and Clyde post, the social and economic disdain for this part of the city runs deep by Dallas proper where towering skyscrapers stand in the background of towering poverty. The divide of the Trinity River viaduct is not only physical but psychological. The soul-less Victory Park built by Ross Perot, Jr. with its flashy W Hotel and cold, calculated concrete is more the project Dallas leaders wish to show off.

House of Clyde Barrow's parents where Clyde would drive by and throw a bottle out with a message on where to meet. There's talk of tearing this down. WHY??? It should be refurbished and reused. I don't care what they might sell out of there, I would go in just for the sense of history, of "if only the walls could speak".

But this is where it gets delicious, when vanity meets reality. In order to prove her good intentions, the city of Dallas must now embrace La Bajada with its largest collection of shotgun houses in the country. Pretty funny, huh? The bridge connects to Singleton Avenue which houses a mishmash of empty warehouses, automotive businesses, industrial sites, mom and pop stores and the occasional 1930's house for rent. Yup, Big D needed a $180,000,000 bridge for that!

After doing my Bonnie and Clyde research, I fell in love with the La Bajada area. I only wish I had the money to be a player in its development. In downtown Forth Worth sits Sundance Square playing off a very tangential connection to Butch Cassidy. La Bajada has real history to be preserved along with a character that would be tragically ruined by a string of Starbucks and Chilies and 7-11's. A very scary proposition for an image conscious city, i.e. one without self-confidence.

More on this later.

The bridge itself - even if a scaled down version that might end up being an incongruous anomaly among older style bridges - is stunning. A photographers' magnet, the internet is littered with countless pictures from all different angles. I myself was lured in late during the construction, allowing shots that would be unable to be taken after opening to traffic.

The arch can be seen for miles, this video taken far out on I-30

Art Con
Driving in through the streets I noticed this ironic juxtaposition

From behind the levees that separate Dallas from La Bajada.

Calatrava Skyline Zoom
The Continental Ave bridge obscures the base in this pic

Photographers1 Crop
The swooping, white arches made for a scenic background

Calatrava Arch2

Depending on your angle, the cables twist into different geometric formations

Calatrava Cables

Calatrava Arch Zoom

Calatrava Bridge2

Calatrava Side2

I was practically stumbling over other photographers the entire time

Calatrava Bridge South West
As the sun lowered, it seemed to paint the white coated structures a new color

Calatrava Bridge South Crop


Annoyed by the zooming traffic close by, crawling around the other photographers and the hectic feeling that entailed I decided to come back that night to a more serene time: 2 AM

The night light caused the bridge to resume its white color in glorious fashion.

Calatrava Night Crop

Calatrava Night CropTop

Calatrava Night Bent

Calatrava Night Girders

And, since no one was looking, I decided to take a little stroll!

Calatrava Night Arch Skyline
After just hopping over the concrete barrier

Calatrava Night Arch Crop

Calatrava Night Trespassing
Edging closer

Calatrava Night Trespassing Cable Base
Approaching the first cables

Take a ride across the bridge into the city...

As you may have noticed, most of these pics use downtown Dallas as the backdrop. That's because where the bridge comes from is much more glamorous than were it leads to. From the La Bajada perspective the bridge is more of a somewhat inexplicable looming presence.

Calatrava Night Beckley


I also made a trek down to the opening day festivities where day long celebrations took place including an appearance by designer Calatrava and singer Lyle Lovett. (Lyle was on the north end of the bridge, the south end got oversized puppets).

Opening Viaduct
The bridge was in magnificent form as I spied the trucks and booths set up for visitors

Opening Viaduct Skyline
A simple cloud can change its entire character

Opening Wiggle
Sign reminded us we were on a suspension bridge

Opening Crowd
Hay mucha gente aqui!

Was a gorgeous day. A blind man snapping his camera at random would find stunning shots.

Opening Cables Sky 3

Opening Arch Side Up

Opening Cables Sky Crop

A family friendly event, several thousand came out to see the new toy.

Opening Arch Drawing

A small taste of the celebration:

Opening Corn Dogs

Opening Crowd 2

Opening Photos
I was not the only one taking pics!

Opening Media
And of course the media was there in full force

The day was getting late...

Opening Crowd Sunset

...I exited towards Singleton Blvd - and that's where the story picks up again.

Opening Singleton Sign


So where exactly does this bridge lead to coming off the Woodall Rogers corridor, one of the busiest traffic spots in Dallas? Well, if you believe the sign, it leads to La Bajada freshly whitewashed as Trinity Groves!


Per their website:

Trinity Groves Vision:

Our vision is to bring together the local community and businesses in West Dallas by providing a unique one of a kind experience that will make Trinity Groves a primary entertainment destination in Dallas.

Our attractions will include a park, art museum, “off-broadway” theater, bowling alley, art studios, boutiques and a ‘Restaurant Incubator Concept” which will include some of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in Dallas.

They have some pretty visions laid out on the website but will they ever be reality? If so, the area has a long ways to go.
Sign 2
A Peek behind the sign reveals the hollowed out shell of a warehouse

Arch Singleton
Entering onto Singleton

Arch Warehouse
Bridge doesn't look as impressive from this angle

Perhaps my little video of coming off the bridge can show it best:

In June of last year, the Dallas Observer did a full feature article on the coming of the bridge and what it might mean to development in the area. The article highlighted the concerns of La Bajada resident Felix Losada. His take on being in one of the hottest spots in DFW:

Losada doesn't care much about bridges, and he hasn't been downtown in years. He cares even less about his property value unless its increase would mean moving. This is why for the past year and a half he has attended every planning meeting about the fate of his neighborhood and has become one of La Bajada's most outspoken advocates for a zoning restriction that would preserve the area for single-family homes.

"If they come here, the value of the land is going to skyrocket," he says, "they" being developers with plans for high-rise apartments. "I've seen too many changes, too much water going under the bridge."

So this time, he's doing his best to shore up his property against the threat of a rapid tax increase, which could reshape his flood-prone neighborhood even more than the many deluges it's seen throughout the years.

La Bajada dwellings

Some of the Powers That Be are talking the talk:

City Manager Mary Suhm sees the Trinity riverfront area becoming the city's "front door instead of the alley." Hope for the neighborhood's future comes from a new approach to development led by community-minded urban planners whose goal is to meld neighborhood preservation and development.

They're busy sketching a future in which people like Losada aren't priced out of their homes but are instead part of a livable, walkable neighborhood that stitches people of all incomes into a community. Of course, how that all works out will depend partly on how developers implement the West Dallas plan.

Dog House
Some colorful, funky businesses already exist

The bridge to nowhere is also a tale of two developers.

Much of the outcome rests on developers. The developer whose name is most commonly heard in La Bajada is Larry "Butch" McGregor. He and his partners in West Dallas Investments own more than 60 acres of land, including several buildings along Singleton Avenue painted in bold and neon colors.

McGregor, like many West Dallas residents, wants to attract grocery stores, dry cleaners, coffee shops, restaurants and all the makings of an active, busy neighborhood full of pedestrians. His company's profits depend on it.

In his purchases of West Dallas land, he has stayed away from La Bajada. Mostly. Several properties came along with other land acquisitions as a package deal. Then, there were a few instances in which he asked whether the property owners adjacent to what he owned would be interested in selling. Once, he even offered to build a woman a nicer home right across the street.

She turned him down. "She grew up there. Her kids grew up there, and her grandkids," McGregor says. He lowers his voice to a whisper. "The house needs to be torn down. It's pitiful."

"I keep hearing that they want to save the La Bajada neighborhood in its entirety. You know, sometimes you ask for things that you may or may not really want," McGregor says. "Do you want to keep the drug houses? Do you want to keep it the way it is with no grocery stores, no neighborhood services? So, when you say you want to keep it in its entirety, you have to be very careful."

Is there a place for Rays in the grand design?

McGregor claims that rising property values are a good thing. One thing many people don't realize when they brag about Texas having no income tax is that the government still gets funded somehow! They do this through property taxes, meaning they can take a good chunk out of your income and having one's taxes double can cause serious problems. The area wants a Neighborhood Stabilization overlay to prevent this from happening. That is anathema to developers like McGregor.

Another player is Monte Anderson:

Monte Anderson, another area developer who is also a real estate broker and the owner of the Belmont Hotel and Smoke restaurant in Oak Cliff, also takes a long-term approach. "My mission is to build better communities...for seven generations," Anderson says. "What I build is for my great-granddaughter's grandkids."

The Belmont Hotel (just down the road from Clyde Barrow's grave) was an awesome salvation project and the adjoining Smoke restaurant is one hopping joint. Anderson also owns The Texas Theater - where Oswald was captured - and that too is wonderfully preserved.

His preferred method of development is to consider the culture of an existing neighborhood and fill in the voids with new businesses and improved neighborhood spaces or "figure out what the missing parts are." His ideal neighborhood is a mix of cultures and incomes. "Any time you build a neighborhood with cul-de-sacs and all the same income level lives there, you've failed," Anderson says. This is why he favors slowing gentrification in La Bajada.

Repair Shops
Many automotive places line the street

Both developers pay lip service to keeping character and not creating a trendy, plasticized neighborhood for overpaid hipsters. When I read the article I wrote a long, impassioned email to developer Anderson, stressing the history and heritage of the area, especially Bonnie and Clyde. One house supposedly still contains a bullet shot from Clyde's gun when a deputy was killed. You can't buy stuff like that!

Not unexpectedly I did not hear back. I am a history buff and I do believe in the preservation of such. But I could see how someone - a blind man - could see that as an obstacle. But to me it is an opportunity, a golden gift on which to capitalize. There's a story to be told here, one of human endurance and human tragedy. What could be more engaging than that? Would you want to hear the story of plasticine Plano??

Wimpys 1
I'll gladly pay you Tuesday...

Nothing can replace the feeling of driving through living history. Developers worry about money, they have to. But this I can tell you, anything done with integrity is a place where people naturally flock. You don't need fucking marketing groups or polls taken, the organic excitement will do the work for you.

Take a drive down Singelton to see it for yourself

I was thinking of this when I saw this signage out front of a warehouse. I thought, "No new building would create something so funky, they'd be wanting to 'maximixe efficiency of the acreage' - or at least what passes for that in their own mind."

500 Singleton

Then I saw this banner being putting up by a man and a woman and I just had to investigate. Is this part of the hoped for funkiness?

Flesh Warehouse Sign

Flesh World? Dead White Zombies? Curiosity got the best of me. I went inside to find UTD professer Thomas Riccio and collaborator Lori creating what is to become "the world’s most dangerous play". They gave me a tour of the place explaining it was once a custom iron workshop and then a sign shop covering 36,000 square feet. I love old industrial sites and it's the kind of place I love to explore.

Flesh Warehouse Stage
The hanging white backdrops were already there as the pair implemented one of my favorite practices: incorporating what's on hand.

Flesh Warehouse Inside
Hard at work preparing for the show

Flesh Warehouse Sink
The toiletries around this sink were left by a homeless man who was living onsite
(Yeah, I kind of had mixed feelings about running him off)

Doing an impromptu interview of the couple, the name Phil Romano came up more than once, who they told me gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to their project and any like it. Across the road in a purple colored warehouse a concert was being prepped for that night. Romano is a partner of developer McGregor, he of the Trinity Grove fame.

When I asked for a scoop on what the plans were they insisted no chains would be allowed, only "one off" places. One idea behind the performance art show is to draw in visitors who might not usually come to west Dallas, to plant seeds of positive inspiration and for everyone to see the vast potential.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of beholder - and there's the rub.

Don Julio

I would contend some mighty fine "one offs" like this already exist on Singleton. How soul sapping it would be were Don Julio's to be replaced by an Applebees! Implementing high density housing will take some ingenuity if not to attract those who feel hamstrung when further than a hundred yards from a Starbucks. Although there is a grand design on the table for West Dallas no one knows exactly how reality will dictate the end result.

Last February, the Observer gave an update on the "Trinity Groves restaurant-incubator concept".

It's a complicated business model, the way they explain it: investors paired with chefs (Stephan Pyles, Kent Rathbun, Nick Badovinus, Dean Fearing ... for starters) to create sellable, spreadable concepts. Some will be temporary eateries; others, permanent. "If I were younger, I'd do this all myself," says Romano, the man behind eatZi's, Fuddruckers, Nick & Sam's, Macaroni Grill and on and on. "I'd get the investor group and put people in each space. But we're gonna get real owners, a guy who's gonna be here bustin' his ass, not some absentee owner. ... We'll have Chinese, Italian, soul food, Indian, barbecue. And what comes with that are the people who do it, a diversity in cultures."

Diversity is a good thing in my book, but I can still imagine the unease of the present residents. Next come apartments and then must come grocery stores and shops to cater to them. And I also understand the feelings of one resident who said that by building the bridge the city was "putting the cart before the horse." As a photographer I love the new bridge but I do not fully enjoy it because everytime I see it I also see this:


Pinkston Back

This is L.G. Pinkston High School, not far down the road near Fish Trap cemetery (since renamed) where Bonnie Parker was originally buried. According to Wiki the school opened in 1914. Believe it or not, it's actually in somewhat better condition than when I first saw it in 2010 (Guess every hundred years they try to fix it up). You want your kid going to this place??

It's easy to spot the hypocrites. They're the ones always talking about "sending messages" to kids (as opposed to just treating them right in the first place and thinking about the message that sends). So I ask you: what kind of message does it send when this is your high school and twenty miles up the road someone else attends a nice, shiny school with the latest and greatest toys and technology?

A $182,000,000 bridge? How about a $182,000,000 school first? Build from the ground up, then add your fancy restaurants and what have you on top later. After all, as any good developer can tell you, a building is only as good as the foundation upon which it rests.

From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
is known as the Great Divide.
Where the women are kin;
and the men are men,
and they won't "stool" on Bonnie and Clyde.
- Bonnie Parker, 1934

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