Historic 508 Park Makes Debut After Decades Of Quiet | KERA News

Historic 508 Park Makes Debut After Decades Of Quiet

Oct 26, 2014

The building that sits at 508 Park Avenue in Dallas is quite the opposite of its glitzier counterpart in Manhattan. The landmark recording studio and film exchange has been vacant for decades. Over the weekend, crowds got their first glimpse of its revitalization.

A former hotspot for artists and filmmakers

Back in the late 1930s, it was common to hear the tunes of a hand-crank record player drifting down the halls at 508 Park Ave. Within these Art Deco-Zig Zag Moderne walls, blues legend Robert Johnson, singing cowboy Gene Autry, and countless others made their mark.

“It was a very interesting time in the history of Dallas,” said Alan Govenar, a music historian and the president of Documentary Arts, a Dallas non-profit.

In total, he said, more than 843 songs have rung through 508 Park's halls, like the blues, early country, western swing, hot-fiddle bands, and Mexican recordings.  

508 Park was built in 1929 as a Warner Brothers Exchange Building, where movies were screened and distributed. Brunswick Radio, a Warner Brothers subsidiary, operated on the third floor as a recording studio through the 1930s.

“Many buildings like this have been bulldozed away for other development,” Govenar said.

Last month, three century-old buildings were demolished on Elm Street, but 508 Park remarkably survived a tear-down effort five years ago.

A new future for 508

Today, the building is host to dozens of construction workers, who are outside laying new concrete where chipped sidewalks and mud pits once dominated the landscape. The city deemed 508 Park a historic landmark. Three years ago, a neighbor, First Presbyterian Church, bought it with a distinct vision:

“Restore this building, and turn it into an asset for our programming and also to the community at large, and safeguard this musical gem,” said Rev. Bruce Buchanan of First Presbyterian. The revitalization was largely his idea, after he saw over and over again threats of 508 Park’s demise. The church plans to spend $13 million to transform 508 Park to Encore Park. An outdoor concert amphitheater, a sculpture wall and a community garden recently opened.

Eventually, the new 508 Park will house an event space, film screenings, history exhibits, and an open art studio and gallery. Plus, there will also be a rooftop terrace with a view of downtown Dallas and Magnolia Hotel’s Pegasus.

“It’s gonna galvanize the community, and yeah, Encore Park’s just going to be a great part of Dallas,” said Brad Oldham, a member of First Presbyterian. He, along with his partner and wife, Christy Coltrin, designed the amphitheater sculpture wall.

The Park’s crew hopes the whole venue will open in 2016. Public programming and event rentals officially begin in April. But there are already plans for a bar mitzvah.

A grand debut

On Oct. 24-26, the Encore Park Dedication Weekend debuted the 508 amphitheater, sculpture wall and community garden. Learn more here. More information is available at encoreparkdallas.org.