Monday, December 3, 2012
5 landmarks you probably didn’t know about in Downtown Dallas
There's a cemetery in the middle of downtown. Have you been?
DALLAS When it comes to talking about the spirit of downtown Dallas, residents and visitors tend to focus on the shiny or new. The OMNI hotel, Winspear Opera House, the glowing Pegasus, Museum Tower, Reunion Tower — all these are iconic monuments representative of the city. But nestled between the glass skyscrapers and twinkling lights are other pieces of Dallas that go exceedingly unnoticed.
Next time you’re traipsing around downtown, make a detour to one of these five places. And don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path; you never know what you might discover.
Commissioned in 1985 by Belo Corporation, Lubben Plaza is a lush, modestly sized park at Young and Market streets. It was built in commemoration of 100 years existence of The Dallas Morning News. The plaza, named after John F. Lubben and his son Joseph who served a combined 101 years at DMN, features three massive sculptures, each by a Texas artist. Linnea Glatt’s “Harrow” (1992) sits in the westernmost part of the garden. The motorized metal cone gradually makes its way around a track, digging concentric circles in the encased sand. A full rotation occurs every 24 hours. “Gateway Stele” (1994) by Jesus Bautista Moroles is a granite archway with sharp corners that greets visitors on the north side of the garden. It is functional, both as a passageway into the tree-laden space and as a natural bench. The last installation, “Journey to Sirius” (1992) by George Smith, draws inspiration from African architecture and mythology.
Lubben Plaza is a serene place to read a book, have a conversation, or watch the autumn leaves fall. Visitors are welcome to sit in any of the wooden chairs surrounding “Harrow.”
Pioneer Plaza Cemetery
A short walk down Young Street from Lubben Plaza is Pioneer Plaza, which pays tribute to founding of Dallas. The herd of cattle that marks the beginning of the Shawnee Trail, a former cattle trail that led from Dallas to Waco and Austin, is indeed iconic. But what lays behind it is one of the oldest slices of Dallas history, which remains little known to the populous of Dallas mostly because it is virtually invisible from the street. The Pioneer Plaza Cemetery dates back to the mid-1800s, when Dallas was first being established. According to historians, the lot was officially dubbed a cemetery in 1857, though there is evidence of burials there several years before.
Visiting the site now is both rewarding and odd. The cemetery is located on a hill, allegedly to avoid flooding from the Trinity River, so it is sheltered from the traffic that zooms by. Many headstones have been destroyed so as to have only a base fitted in the ground, and most are weathered to the point that they are illegible. One of the edges of the cemetery backs up to the sidewalk to the Dallas Convention Center, an uncomfortable juxtaposition of modern-day architectural intrusion.
But the ambiance in the cemetery is also invigorating, especially in the fall sunlight. You might find familiar names, like John M. Stemmons, after whom Stemmons Avenue in Oak Cliff is named, and John M. Crockett, cousin of Davy Crockett and three-time mayor of Dallas in the 1800s.
Deep Ellum Art Park
Dallas’ most eccentric neighborhood, Deep Ellum, makes unique use of its surroundings, even if they are not beautiful in the traditional sense. We saw this years ago with the murals that lined the Good Latimer Tunnel (before it was filled) and we now see it manifested in the Deep Ellum Art Park. Situated in the gateway between downtown and Deep Ellum on Commerce Street and Canton, the Art Park is a permanent series of murals by local artists that dress up the concrete pillars supporting Interstate 30. Come January 1, the project will be a year old. It serves as a nice complement to the Deep Ellum Bark Park and the Deep Ellum Urban Gardens, both of which sit adjacent to the colorful plaza. When you walk through the Art Park, you'll experience the ambient sounds of Dallas along with the visuals.
Dallas Pedestrian Network
In the 1960s, urban planning was viewed much differently than it is today. From this era spawned a network of underground tunnels and above ground skyways — the brainchild of Vincent Pointe — that has been one of the most controversial developments in Dallas history, albeit not until the most recent decade. The Dallas Pedestrian Network connects nearly 50 buildings in downtown through a hidden maze of retail shops. While the system was intended to help corporate employees travel to work and gain access to daily amenities such as fast food, dry cleaning, and produce stands, many city officials argue that the Pedestrian Network discourages business on the ground level.
“The tunnel system was developed during a time when there really was no street life downtown,” said Kourtny Garrett, senior vice president of marketing at Downtown Dallas, Inc., which conducted a recent evaluation of the system. “The residential population downtown really didn’t exist until 10 years ago.”
The conflict here teeters on the notion that, in the 21st century, keeping pedestrians below or above ground hurts the budding street-level economy of the urban center. However, the stores and restaurants in the tunnels are only open during prime business hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.). They are not a destination location, according to Garrett, which is why they remain functional -- at least for now.
The clean and quaint Dallas Pedestrian Network can be penetrated from several points in the city. A complete map can be found here. Note: Some of the portions of the network are currently shut down, as indicated on the map.
Shortcut to I-35 HOV Lane
Here's a tip for anxious drivers more so than a history lesson: The I-35E HOV lane has a hidden shortcut if you happen to be traveling southbound with others.
If you're headed downtown trying to get to Oak Cliff to hop on I-35E and avoid the I-30/I-35E mixmaster, take Ross Avenue from East Dallas through downtown to Houston Street. Take a left on Houston and continue on the viaduct, and you'll find a sequestered ramp on the bridge that dumps directly onto the southbound I-35E HOV lane. While this hidden shortcut does nothing to help solo commuters, it's helpful for groups traveling south during rush hour.
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