While on a trip to Deep Ellum (Dallas Texas), I decided to take a closer look at the Union Bankers Building at 2551 Elm Street. On closer inspection this old building may be abandoned but its not forgotten. It has an historical marker. I remember seeing this building in its last days of operation. Until recently it didn’t occur to me this old building was abandoned but its been this way since the 1990s.
History of The Old Union Bankers Building
The Union Bankers Trust Building was designed by William Sydney Pittman, Texas first African American architect and the son-in-law of Booker T. Washington in 1969. The building was built as the Knights of the Pythias Temple. Although the building was the state headquarters for the Knights of Pythias, it was also the first commercial building for African Americans, by African Americans, by African American Money. It’s the only building downtown to hold that honor. In addition to housing the headquarters of the knights, it also had some the earliest offices for African American doctors/surgeon, dentists, and lawyers. The building also served as a cultural center.
Then in the 1940s the Pythian Temple was sued by woman who claimed that the Fraternal lodge’s insurance company because they had failed to paid the benefits after her husband had passed away. After legal and financial issues, the temple was placed in receivership. The Pythians tried to stop the sell, but then on November 15th, 1944, the temple was purchased by Ben Ackerman for $6,500.
Over the years the building was owned by different owners until 1959 when the building was purchased by the Union Bankers Insurance Co. They painted over its red brick exterior to a boring white color, they turned the inside into offices, and walls were added so that the its grand ballroom was reduced to a boring office environment with a great view.
In 1984, locals were calling for the building being marked as a historical marker. But Union Bankers and its parent company I.C.H based in Louisville, Kentucky fought this. A corporate spokesman said “”We believe that a major Dallas employer deserves better treatment,” wrote its corporate spokesman to the head of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. I.C.H. said designation would reduce the building’s value by $1 million.””- Source
Then in 1989, the Landmark Commission voted unanimously to designate the Knights of Pythias Temple an historical site and it was the first time the commission had made this decision even though the owners objected. Once the building was designated, ICH. Corp. could no longer alter the building without permission from the Landmark Commission and the city council’s approval.
At some point, the insurance company left Dallas after loosing a five year battle with the preservation commissions. I am not sure as to when the building was sold and how many owners it had owned up until the late 1990s.
In 1998, Westdale Asset Management purchased the building for between 4 million and 5 million dollars.
Then sometime in the 2000s the historical society toured the property for the first time in years and were shocked with the amount of decay and damage to the building had occurred.They found that holes in the roof had caused a lot of water damage to the floors, rotting wood, and interior bricks were damp from no ventilation. The two-story building that use to be part of the temple complex next door had easy access from its roof into the temple.
The Dallas Officials put the owners on noticed and requested that the issues that were found need to be fixed.
Current State of the Union Banker Building
After checking out the building, I found the building secured with no entry points at ground level and most of the windows were boarded up with only a few windows knocked out or damaged. But this limited protection is no match for those that one inside.
From a distance the building doesn’t look to bad. Up close it really doesn’t look all that bad. In some places you can see where the white paint is peeling through to so the original red brick work. But when you look inside or see images from other photographer’s you can see how neglected the historical building is. Graffiti is everywhere, trash, rotting wood work, and wildlife lives inside the building. At some point, the building will be considered a total lose and it will have a date with the wrecking ball if someone doesn’t do something soon.
If you are interested seeing what the inside looks like, check out these images.
All images were shot in the late afternoon about two hours before sunset. So most of the images are in shadows and without a tripod so they weren’t easiest to process. All images, were processed with Adobe Light room 3. In the future, I do plan to re-shoot the building, you can see future images here.