Geographically located at the north central apex of Deep Ellum, the Continental Gin Building, for all its great expanse, sits hidden behind unkempt alley trees and the two- and three-story Elm Street Lofts that were also once part of the Continental Gin Company complex. Starting in 1888, it took Continental Gin 26 years to complete construction of the plant, which was once the largest manufacturer of cotton-processing equipment in the nation.
Located next to the railroad tracks, with its only vehicular access being the unpaved and alley-narrow North Trunk Avenue, the Continental Gin Building was spared the gentrification that came to its sibling buildings facing Elm Street. For decades, it’s been home to CreativeSpace, one of the largest low-rent artists’ colonies in North Texas. In Dallas, it represents what Blue Star Arts Complex has meant to San Antonio — and what Marfa has meant to Texas.
The 55 art studios on site, however, are being forced out, as Deep Ellum gentrifies around them. The August Family Partnership bought the Continental Gin Building in March, and shortly after gave notice that the tenants should be out before the end of the year.
In its new incarnation, the Continental Gin Building will be a mixed-use, three-story building with about 40,000 square feet of office space within the upper two floors. The ground floor is to have almost 14,000 square feet of retail space, and a 5,451-square-foot restaurant space on the west end nearest the street. The building’s distinctive long concrete loading dock will remain, and enjoy new life as a promenade overlooking a landscaped plaza. The loading dock will get several upgrades, including new stairs and metal railings.
“The plaza will include walkways, lawn spaces, an herb garden, seating and a vertical sculpture,” the project architects told the Landmark Commission, one of a few city committees that received presentations over the summer.
There will also be a wrap-around wooden deck added on the west and north sides, providing outdoor seating next to the restaurant and a pedestrian walkway to the retailers.
The architects for developer Evan August — TKTR Architects and Complete Landsculpture — will begin by stabilizing the structure’s crumbling brick exterior, along with improving pedestrian connectivity within the complex. There’s also the issue of access between the building, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Baylor University Medical Center DART Station, which is terrible today.
August acquired the one-block section of Trunk Avenue adjacent to the building and will close it to through traffic on the north end. It will be rebuilt as a parking lot, thus allowing the development to substantially reduce parking in the original lot in front of the building, converting much of that area to green space.
For historic building restoration purists, the plans for the building itself should be welcome. There will be no major additions, demolitions or modifications to the exterior. The building was made with load-bearing masonry and timber, a method that preceded the ubiquitous use of reinforced cast-in-place concrete. The shell is intact, but suffers from extensive cracking.
“Overall, however, (the) building is in relatively good condition structurally,” TKTR stated in its assessment and restoration plan. “Over 60 percent of the original and old replacement windows need repair or replacement … the metal roof decks covering the loading dock are corroded and need replacement.”
The building’s historic painted sign will be repainted, but first the brick parapet upon which it is affixed must be repointed, and in places reconstructed. The structure’s industrial elevator will be retired and converted to a conference room on the second floor. A skylight roof will replace the elevator penthouse roof to draw natural light into the building.
This project wouldn’t be complete unless it addressed the iconic sky bridge that connects the east end of the Continental Gin Building at its second story to the 3331 Elm Street building of the Elm Street Lofts. It will be restored, and a large storefront window added to match the proposed new storefront windows of the main building.