Deep Ellum historically has not been characterized by stability. Whether a resident of the neighborhood, or someone who recollects their traditional Saturday night haunts, each person asked seems to remember a distinct point at which Deep Ellum paused and regrouped. Following each of these periods of transition, the most recent in 2009, Deep Ellum has witnessed a resurgence. Today, in the middle of one of these upticks, the neighborhood is facing some of its most prosperous years in memory — at all levels and scales. Some iconic venues are now home to a growing food and fashion culture. Other changes have been more drastic, introducing a density unfamiliar to a neighborhood once ruled by industry and nightlife. A significant portion of the 2800 block of Elm and Main has recently been transformed by Droese Raney Architecture. Neither small in scale nor dense and vertical, the project reinterprets what a typical block in Deep Ellum could become if it took proper stock of assets and connections.
With six existing buildings to address, most of them vacant when the project began in 2015, Droese Raney’s approach to 2800DE used existing, bisecting alleyways to inform an intervention. “The strategy was to stitch these properties together with a network of public corridors to encourage improved cross-block pedestrian connections through the neighborhood,” designer Reid Mulligan says. Simplifying and widening the connecting alleys created a clear cross-connection through the block, allowing the outdoor network to, as Mulligan puts it, “double as a creative solution to common logistical problems we saw throughout Deep Ellum, such as a secondary means of egress and a pathway for back-of-house deliveries and trash.”
Preserved storefronts were sandblasted down to their original finish. Murals, a signature trait of Deep Ellum, were restored where they existed and commissioned for places where art would help address scale and comfort. A geometric mural painted by Booker T. Washington student Huy Nguyen at the intersection of Elm and Crowdus addressed 1900 sf of open surface with color and pattern. Within the preserved storefronts of the block, Droese Raney divided space for a series of tenants, each with a connection between street and passageway.
Restaurant/cocktail bar combo Harlowe and Trick Pony, designed by the architects, showcases the full potential of Droese Raney’s original concept. The two-story Harlowe volume is cradled within an existing facade at street level. An opening along the eastern facade creates a small outdoor seating area. An expansive roof deck captures views of Deep Ellum and the downtown skyline beyond. A canopy over the entire volume grounds the massing with finishes and glazing, providing a depth perception that respects the historic character of the block.
A visit to New York with clients Jim and Cindy Hughes inspired the design and menu of the restaurant. “The team gravitated toward the classic idea of an American restaurant, wanting to incorporate a contemporary spin on classic details like the mosaic tile floor, walnut millwork, brass details, and custom light fixtures tailored to the space,” Mulligan says.
Where Harlowe is light and open, Trick Pony, nicknamed by the owners after discovering that the original tenant had made horse clocks, is an intimate experience. A horseshoe-shaped bar plays off the establishment’s namesake, fabricated out of board-formed concrete with a plate steel bar top. Acrylic rods above add rhythm to the space and hide the contents of the bar behind. A vintage “Warner Trailers Parts & Service” painted sign revealed during construction remains as a subtle reminder of Deep Ellum’s heritage.
Walking by 2800DE on a Friday night, with others milling past as though the building had been there for some time, I realized the true nature of the project. It is new but not overbearing; comfortable, not imposing — trendy would be the last adjective to come to mind. The block feels like a microcosm of the neighborhood as a whole. Harlowe and Trick Pony feels like the neighborhood bar that has always been there. It doesn’t get more Deep Ellum than that.
Michael Friebele, Assoc. AIA, is a project designer at Perkins+Will Dallas.