The five-story brick building at 711 Elm Street, with its rows of factory-style steel casement windows, fits right in with its scruffy neighbors in the historic West End, and Milton Anderson is hoping a redevelopment project with a six-story addition will fit in with the existing look of the area — at least enough to pass review.
The rendering illustrated above, however, failed to impress the City of Dallas’ Landmark Commission so much that Anderson, design director at Merriman Anderson Architects, was sent back to the drawing board after an August 6 hearing with a list of notes telling him all the things not to do.
Anderson’s client, Irving-based hotel developer Icon Lodging, wants to convert the building into a 120-foot-tall boutique hotel — but the height limit in the West End is 100 feet. Commissioners acknowledged that some buildings at the periphery of the district have slightly exceeded the height limit, but never in the heart of the West End.
“The design is simply so overbearing. This is no longer a historic structure with an addition to it. It’s now a tower with what once was a historic building as a base for it.”
— Landmark Commissioner John Allender
The building at 711 Elm Street has no name, because it’s a parking garage — but it was downtown’s first multi-level parking structure when it was erected in 1925 to serve customers of the Sanger Brothers Department Store, making it a historic parking garage. Being the first of its kind turned out to be a silver lining for the project design team, because the garage was built without later preconceptions of what a parking structure should look like.
For example, the windows were installed to vent out exhaust fumes and take advantage of wind currents to bring in fresh air. As a design exercise, Anderson said the fact that there are windows in the building makes it easier to tie the structure’s original five stories to the addition. The window size and pattern of the addition mimic the original design, but Merriman went with dark gray metal panels to differentiate new from old.
Commissioner Robert Swann appreciated the effort to restore the original windows and to use them for the rhythm and pattern above. Swann said he was sympathetic to the designers’ attempt to be faithful to the original design, and appreciated the challenge of working with “what is essentially an accessory structure waiting for a building.”
Like his peers on the panel, however, Swann insisted the addition was too tall. He added that the color choice was too dark and suggest the architects go in an opposite direction.
“Given the massing that is there, I think the darkness of color choice, it feels a little Darth Vader-ish to me,” he said.
Throughout the discussion, Anderson reassured the commissioners that his client was open to compromise and was approaching this project with the best of intentions.
“We have an owner that wants to do something in the West End that really is an additive process — [it] really adds another presence to the street level,” he said.
Going into the hearing for comments, Anderson said the upper two stories of the existing garage will be converted to guestrooms. The plan is currently to keep 65 parking spaces in what was originally a 137-space garage with 7,200 square feet of retail. Not coincidentally, there is a 7-Eleven convenience store at the corner of Elm and Austin Streets. Icon Lodging intends to keep the 7-Eleven as a tenant, and the hotel entrance and lobby will be on Austin Street.
Prior to Anderson’s appearance before the commission, he had been in talks with city staff on a design that had a four-story addition to the garage structure instead of the current six-floor approach. It conformed on height, but was rejected because the addition went out to the roof’s edges, rather than being slightly set back.
The redesign pushed the massing back one full bay, according to staff notes, but that change caused it to rise two stories to meet the number of rooms required to make the hotel economically viable. The concept presented calls for 85 guest rooms in a hotel with a gross area of 71,309 square feet.
Merriman Anderson may still be able to save the project, but it will most likely involve sacrificing more parking spaces. Commissioner Evelyn Montgomery chimed in, noting it was ironic for commissioners to lament the loss of a parking garage when they are usually opposed to them — but the 711 Elm Street garage is so unlike a garage that it would be sad, in the eyes of the city, to see it go.