In June 1937, Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson turned up at 508 Park Ave. in downtown Dallas, and that simple act helped put the region on the musical map. For that day and the next, this address — built for Warner Bros. Pictures in 1929 but later used by Brunswick and Decca Records — was where he recorded some of his most iconic tracks, including "Love in Vain" and the haunting "Hellhound on My Trail." Flash forward 67 years and Eric Clapton recorded tracks for his 2004 Robert Johnson tribute project, Sessions for Robert J, here.
In between, 508 Park — an eye-catching, 23,000-square-foot example of early-20th-century art deco Zigzag Moderne architecture — was the place where more than 800 recordings took place of such performers as Gene Autry, Bob Wills, Western swing’s Light Crust Doughboys and conjunto pioneer Lolo Cavazos. Over the years, the 508 Park building and grounds gradually fell into disuse and disrepair.
... In 2011 the nearby First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, which also operates the homeless-resource center The Stewpot across the street from 508 Park, purchased the building and grounds. And beginning this year and culminating in either 2016 or 2017, 508 Park will be reopened as a blues and street culture museum, art gallery/studio, screening room, community garden, and performance amphitheater. The entire facility will be known as Encore Park.
...A recent visit to Encore Park reveals Christy Coltrin and Brad Oldham’s completed The Birth of a City sculpture wall of famous local performers, a nearly finished amphitheater and a gutted interior that has a long way to go. The pull of history is palpable here. It’s in what used to be the film vaults on the first floor, on the upper floors where Johnson and Clapton recorded, and in the scribbles on the walls that remain as mementos from the 1940-60 Decca era.
Read more at the Star-Telegram.
Photo by Brandon Wade