Renovating a fabled old Dallas recording studio where blues master Robert Johnson cut some of his greatest songs was one thing. Turning that studio into a Museum of Street Culture linked with the Stewpot, the downtown nonprofit serving the homeless, was another. Now, the entire project – called Encore Park – has new ambitions and a new layout.
Encore Park is upgrading its plans because its downtown neighborhood is upgrading – fast. The area around Harwood and Young Streets is already a target for major gentrification. The Statler Hilton Hotel – two blocks away – is undergoing a $225 million redevelopment. Additional money and planning is going into gentrifying both sides of Harwood from the Statler down to Farmer’s Market. And there’s even a new Trump Hotel — with a $50 million mixed-use development around it — planned right across the street from the Stewpot and the future Museum of Street Culture. The street people are about to get some very up-market neighbors.
So when Alan Govenar, the music historian and documentary filmmaker behind the museum (above, right), met Adrien Gardere (left), it made sense to invite the French museum designer and his studio to contribute ideas to Encore Park. After all, the museographer has worked on halls, displays and exhibition spaces for the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Louvre Museum annex in Lens, France.
Encore Park was already an idealistic mix of historic restoration, art, live music, education, community gardens and social services. It now includes 515 Park Avenue, a former Dallas Power & Light Distribution Center. And Gardere, Govenar, Encore Park chair Buddy Jordan, architect Graham Greene and Stewpot executive director Bruce Buchanan see Encore Park as a unique opportunity. Creating an urban intersection of cafes, an amphitheater, film screenings, museum exhibitions and food trucks – with the Stewpot – could lead to a different kind of employment center and community development for downtown. It would be a dash of European urban design-thinking in a corner of the city that, outside of First Presbyterian Church, has been mostly overlooked — until all the big money started heading its way.
Adrien Gardere says, “It seemed more and more that rather than limiting the museum within the walls of a given building. It was more of the cultures of the street that needed to spread out so that people would embrace it.”
The entire complex lining Park Avenue would no longer face Young Street. The spine of the campus would remain Park Avenue, but the entrance to the Stewpot would be flipped to what is now the back of the building — along Hall Street, away from Park. Meanwhile, 508 Park — the former recording studio and Warner Brothers regional center and now the Museum of Street Culture — would not try to squeeze people through its narrow, Art Deco entrance. Rather, it and 515 Park would pivot and open up toward Matilda and Canton Streets, leading people through a court of food trucks and cafes and past the community gardens. The 515 Park entrance would also include box cars marking the old Houston and Texas Central Railroad line — one of many tracks that used to converge through what is now City Hall, the Dallas Convention Center and the Mixmaster.
Ten million dollars have been raised so far; Jordan says a target figure for the whole project will be readied later this year. And Tuesday, Govenar announced that while that money is being raised, the Museum of Street Culture would open gradually — in effect, the entire project will open in stages. This fall, the museum will offer an exhibition of works by socially engaged photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark. Future events include collaborations with the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Dallas Museum of Art.