Just west of the twin brick arches at Market and Elm Streets, which mark the gateway to the Historic West End of downtown Dallas, you can’t help but notice the faded, ghostly five-story advertisements drifting in and out of focus on the side of the Purse Building.
That ghost writing might be the only thing many Dallasites recall about the Purse. After all, it’s been vacant for 24 years, long enough to give us all collective amnesia. But the dormant edifice, with its two-tone exterior of beige brick facade and red brick sides, was never completely forgotten. Tanya Ragan, the fourth owner in a decade to try to bring it back to life, is well on her way to making this 113-year-old grand dame of a building a player in the West End’s revival.
“The other property owners had all planned to do residential, but we did not feel that was the best use. We went in the opposite direction — with office and retail.”
— Tanya Ragan, Wildcat Management
When it comes to historic preservation, the shepherds of downtown have their hits and misses. Ragan understands why some buildings don’t survive, and how old buildings endure upgrades that are often not flattering and can hide critical flaws. The cost of restoration begins like a riddle wrapped in a mystery — and then then there is the issue of scale, for how often can century-old low rises justify their urban footprint in a modern context?
The Purse, however, remained a special case. Considered a contributing building in a district on the National Register of Historic Places, its size is also in what you could call the Goldilocks Zone — just big enough, at 70,000 square feet, to attract a viable tenant base. Originally named the Parlin and Orendorff Building, the Purse name stuck because its main tenant for many years was Purse & Co. Wholesale Furniture.
The Purse, by Floor:
- 5500 SF: Basement – Retail
- 6000 SF: 1st Floor – Retail
- 1000 SF: 1st Floor – Retail (Deck)
- 34000 SF : 2nd – 6th Floors
- 3300 SF: Roof Deck
As president of real estate firm Wildcat Management, Ragan not only approached the Purse with experience in historic building restorations, but with a yearning to take on the whole district.
“I like going into areas that have some challenges,” Ragan said.
Although she’s been in Dallas since 2005, Ragan still sees herself as the entrepreneur that swooped into town from New York CIty and proclaimed herself the “mayor” of the Dallas Farmers Market. She bought land in the district when it was an aged assemblage of run-down heaps and began preaching the district’s revival — “and people looked at me like I was a four-headed Martian.”
Throughout its revival period, Ragan held leadership roles in the development of the Farmers Market district. And if it weren’t for the district’s comeback, the development would not likely have spread beyond to the Cedars.
She’s known for many things, but the city’s preservationists hold Ragan in their hearts for saving the two-story Liberty State Bank, built circa 1899. Destined for demolition to make way for a road expansion, the building dodged the wrecking ball when architect Craig Melde footed the bill for a six-block move, brick-by-brick — and Ragan, as president of the Farmers Market Stakeholders Association found it a new home.
Melde, a founding principal of ArchiTexas, is Ragan’s architect on the Purse, a site he knows only too well after his firm worked on previous designs for a 40-unit residential project at the building. Known as Purse & Co. Lofts, this version of the building’s remodel never came to pass.
Ragan had planned to send a demolition crew into the building in 2016, but the financing depended on state and federal tax credits. Word from Washington, D.C. that federal tax credits could be cut in the recent massive tax reform bill forced her to put the project on hold. The same occurred with KDC’s Epic project in Deep Ellum. After that cloud passed, the hard hats marched up the stairs — literally — in April.
“We started at the sixth floor and came down,” Ragan said.
Removing flooring materials to get to the original pine wood floors was a battle.
“The flooring was glued to the original wood. Not just that, but there were thousands of nails. It took almost a week per floor just to remove the nails,” she said.
Structurally, the building has no serious issues, and Ragan said she marvels at the beauty of the unvarnished features. She calls the pinewood floors pretty, points out that the sixth floor has the original molded tin ceiling, exposed beams, and brick — not to mention the upper floor views of Founder’s Plaza, JFK Memorial Plaza, Old Red, and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. She plans to provide a rooftop patio deck and notes how the views will be protected in perpetuity because of the district’s height restrictions. There are few roof decks downtown, and some have poor views.
“My favorite roof downtown is the Nylo Hotel — but I think our roof is just as good as the Nylo.”
— Tanya Ragan, Wildcat Management
Ragan anticipates that future office tenants and retail patrons will probably not be Dallas natives, but rather immigrants like her, who move to Texas from East and West Coast metropolises for the low cost of living, but still prefer urban fundamentals like good public transit, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and eclectic, wide-open, well-lit workplaces.
At street-level, the Purse has two personalities. Elm Street has strong pedestrian traffic and scenic views of Memorial Plaza, and Ragan sees its potential as the site of an upscale pub or high-end restaurant. To the rear, the structure faces Pacific Avenue, which carries a DART light rail track and the West End Station only two blocks east. Workers and students using the trains make this side an ideal location for a fast-casual eatery, she said. At Pacific Avenue, the building is endowed with a raised concrete and brick platform, ADA-compliant ramp, and freight elevator.
To date, Ragan has not preleased the building, because the interior was not yet in “open house” condition. As part of the demolition phase, her team has built a showroom, done some light refurbishing of the floors, and installed lighting and exterior facade work on the Elm Street side to reactivate the corner of Elm and Record Streets. She anticipates the first phase of construction will be done by early October, and that the remodeling will begin in January 2019.