Sometimes recessions bring out interesting entrepreneurial efforts (see architects selling ice-cream in my post below). Sue and Jimmy Johnson have purchased the former Hunter Furniture building on 18th Street North and plan to open a “doggie day care” facility, the first of its kind downtown. The owners intend to create a loft upstairs for their residence. While primarily known recently for its electric turquoise coloring, this building has a special place in local urban history: when almost the entire block was razed for a promised but never-to-materialize development, Hunter Furniture refused to bend to pressure. Today it stands alone amidst a sea of surface parking, a (rare) testament to grassroots resilience to the destruction of urban fabric.
People who live downtown tend to have dogs; walking dogs in the mornings and evenings helps foster community, creates pedestrian (and canine) foot traffic, and makes streets feel safer. While most residents are happy to finally have a dog park at George Ward Park, as yet there is no dog park downtown to which people can walk their furry friends. I’m hoping that the local Bark for a Park group will find a great place soon to start downtown’s first dog park. It doesn’t have to be big. And there are plenty of physical places where, in theory, you could locate one. Take a look at the Deep Ellum Dog Park in downtown Dallas for an example of what we could do here.
I also hope the Johnsons will figure out a way to preserve the old Hunter neon sign on the building; in my opinion signs like this should be landmarked and a special fund set up to help owners preserve them (the cost of restoration and operation can be daunting). A future post will discuss the importance of projecting signs and graphic imagery in dense, urban areas. But I could not resist posting this wonderful shot of Hunter Furniture and 18th Street from the mid-1970’s, before the wholesale demolition all around it.
Here you see the old WBRC-TV studio next door, the old Pasquale’s pizza downtown location, and a series of other businesses marching up 18th Street. Almost all these businesses are now defunct or demolished; Hunter wasjust about the lone survivor from this era (it finally closed in November, 2009).
It’s a shame that after all these years, the parking lots surrounding Hunter are still…parking lots. If this site could be redeveloped with new businesses, living units, restaurants, a shared parking deck, and maybe a small (dog-friendly) park, I’m convinced that fantastic older buildings nearby would see renewed interest in redevelopment (i.e. the Thomas Jefferson Hotel).
And the Johnsons could get some more 4-legged customers.