508 Park Avenue: Robert Johnson Sang Here

Robert Johnson When I got back to Dallas from my day in Corsicana Monday, I was trapped in rush-hour traffic and missed my exit. I had to backtrack through downtown. As I passed the downtown library I remembered I’d never been back to see the boarded-up and all-but-condemned historic building known as 508 Park Avenue. I think Park Avenue is only one (seedy) block long, and I can’t imagine why anyone would ever go down it. There was a group of homeless men sitting on the corner, probably surprised a car had turned onto the street.

508 Park Avenue has been vacant and boarded-up for years. It’s been vandalized, and there’s little prospect of it being spiffed up enough to be officially recognized as a historic building. And why is it historic? 508 Park Avenue is where Robert Johnson recorded many of his songs, including Hellhound on My Trail. Eric Clapton was filmed inside the building a few years ago, performing some of Johnson’s songs.

The building started life as a film storage warehouse for Warner Brothers Pictures and later became the Brunswick Records Building. Johnson recorded there in June of 1937, probably in a sweltering makeshift studio. Others said to have recorded there were Charlie Parker and Bob Wills. So … kind of important. But Dallas has never really appreciated its musical heritage. I would guess that less than a hundred people who live in this city know about Robert Johnson recording here (he recorded only two sessions — one in Dallas and one in San Antonio — that’s IT!). As is lamented in this story from the Dallas Observer, Dallas will bulldoze historic places at the drop of a hat. What a shame.

So, anyway, here’s the building. This first picture is what the place looked like in its heyday.

508 Park Avenue - historic photo

 

These last pictures show what it looks like today. Even though it still retains a certain elegance (if you squint really hard…), it’s also completely at home down the block from a group of half a dozen homeless guys sprawled out on the sidewalk drinking from paper bags.

 

508 Park Avenue - door

 

508 Park Avenue - side view

 

508 Park Avenue - medallion

 


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6 responses to “508 Park Avenue: Robert Johnson Sang Here

  1. Hey, thank you for this post! I didn’t know that at all and I am profoundly interested in blues history, though I’m just starting to learn about it. I also love architecture, and your photos are beautiful!

  2. Thanks! The building is about two blocks from City Hall, and most people would probably never even notice it. It was originally supposed to be a warehouse for highly flammable nitrate film, so the building was made with lots and lots and lots of marble in case any of the film stock spontaneously combusted.

  3. i really do hope that it is saved. the reason dallas doesn’t care about it’s musical heritage is because it’s a southern city still rooted in backward priorities. texas has never been known to appreciate the arts. in their minds, if it didn’t have anything to do with a battle, an assassination, a football game, or a television show about filthy rich cowboys… then why save it? huh? you tellin’ me you wanna save some recording studio where some black-guy sang a coupla songs aint noboody heard of? boy, are you high?!?

    • I think that Texas does have an appreciation of the arts, but Dallas is notorious for having no appreciation whatsoever of anything that isn’t NEW. I don’t really think this has anything to do with race. I think it just has to do with this being a deteriorating building that the powers-that-be consider an eyesore and that the owner of the building considers to be too costly to bring up to code — a money-pit threatened with overwhelming zoning violations. I can’t imagine it will be around much longer unless someone with lots of cash (say Eric Clapton) buys the building and restores it and, perhaps, turns it into a recording studio that every blues musician in the world would want to record in.

      Maybe 508 was part of a package-deal Robert Johnson made with the devil — not just his soul, but the building, too.

  4. 508 Park is on it’s way back, http://www.508park.org

    • I know! This is so great — I can’t wait until I can walk around inside. Thanks to the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas for saving a city landmark! Alan Govenar will do a great job.

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