A Centurion American downtown multifamily project was given a second look Monday at the city’s Landmark Commission, but the panel remained underwhelmed with designs for the proposed seven-story building in the Harwood Historic District.
As reported in June, Centurion is the developer behind the restoration of The Statler Dallas and the adjoining Old Dallas Central Library in the 1900 block of Commerce Street. Centurion also bought up most of the city block next door; this is a surface parking lot addressed to 210 South Harwood Street.
With the recent completion of The Statler, Centurion planned to proceed with a six-level underground parking garage at the Harwood Street site. The subsurface garage is the first phase of what’s in store for that block.
In October, Centurion’s project architect, Yen Ong of 5G Studio Collaborative LLC met with the Landmark Commission Task Force to present conceptual renderings for the Jackson Apartments and fill in some details on the proposed residential complex.
The ground floor was to include a leasing office, fitness room, a few residential units, and indoor parking. The second level would be a car park. Residences would occupy floors three to seven, with a pool deck on the north side of the third floor. Centurion is still tinkering with the exact number of apartment units, but the working documents indicate there will be 142 parking spaces and at least 134 residences.
Ong presented an exterior comprised of a combination of yellow and dark brown brick with gold fiber cement panels. There were also concerns about the styling of the windows and the lack of a prominent main entrance, a common feature in the district.
Both Task Force members and city staff criticized the materials and color palette as inconsistent with the historic structures in the district.
This site is smack in the middle of the Harwood Historic District, a subdistrict of the city’s Main Street District that overlaps into the Farmers Market District and is home to some of downtown’s oldest buildings. These include the Old City Hall and the Lone Star Gas Co. Building — now Lone Star Gas Lofts — both stately edifices with stone or molded concrete exteriors.
When Ong appeared before the commission Monday, he had made few concessions. He offered a color palette he felt more closely matched neighboring buildings, but the other changes did not address the commissioners’ materials preference for stone and brick exteriors.
The district has an eclectic collection of buildings dating from the 1920s to the 1950s, and they represent several styles.
“As you can see, there is no cohesive architectural district. What we have now is an opportunity to define what this building will really be, in order to contribute to the larger district. What we would like to see is a building that undertakes a more modern tone.”
— Yen Ong, 5G Studio Collaborative
Ong brought up the library’s architecture, now the home of the Dallas Morning News. It was built in 1954-1955 and designed by George Dahl, who was known for his art deco and modernist work. Ong said he would use the modernist library as a template, “and combine what we see along Jackson Street and try to improve upon that street.”
Commission Chair Katherine Seale, after first emphasizing she had a real problem with stucco and fiber cement, opined that the Harwood Historic District’s ordinance was a confusing guide because it tries to include all the architectural styles.
“You’re trying to meet the ordinance, but also responding to the building immediately across, the former Dallas Public Library,” Seale said. “I would just say pick which one your going to go with. There’s nothing wrong with abstract expressions of earlier 20th century buildings … but if you’re going to go modern, go modern. Be consistent with whatever route you’re trying to go.”
Ong made more progress in meeting the commission halfway in other areas. On the ground floor, he removed the only four apartment units on that level and reconfigured the floor plan to provide more office space and a lounge for residents.
“Our hope is that we want to enhance the pedestrian experience there in anticipation of a future park that is being planned across Jackson from us,” Ong said.
Addressing the streetscape, Ong said 5G would try to make it more pedestrian-friendly with more greenery and possibly artwork. This would include a green wall to obscure the first two floors of the east half of the building where the parking garage is located.
Commissioner Mattia Fabiano dinged Ong on the modest appearance of the main entrance.
“There’s really not a super strong entry portal like you see on some of the other buildings,” Fabiano said.
The lack of an imposing entrance was repeatedly mentioned as each commissioner took a turn at critiquing. In general, they found the concept less than compelling, but as a work in progress the commissioners told Ong he was going in the right direction.
Seale said the buildings in the neighborhood are some of the best in downtown.
“They’re special. You’ve got such a great opportunity to rise to the occasion. I think this site demands it,” she said.