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.
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.