Free Blues Concert to celebrate Juneteenth and Robert Johnson's recordings at 508

Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth and the 78th anniversary of Robert Johnson recording at 508 Park with a free, public lunchtime concert featuring acoustic blues musicians Rev. KM Williams and Joel Foy. Williams is a modern version of Old School Texas Country Bluesmen like Lightnin’ Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Foy has shared the stage with a variety of blues artists including traditional artists like R&B piano legend Floyd Dixon, blues guitarist Lowell Fulsom, B.B. King’s organist Duke Jethro, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and more.  

For several years, Joel Foy oversaw the Robert Johnson Dallas Sessions Guitar Festival. 

Foy and Williams both performed for the 75th celebration of the recording sessions, the year after The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church purchased 508 Park. A part of our vision is to celebrate the music heritage of this remarkably important building. With the completion of the 508 Amphitheater, we are able to celebrate our past and enact our vision for a future in which caring and creativity intersect.

The concert is free, but let us know you are coming!


What happened on June 19, 1937 at 508 Park?

On June 19 and June 20, 1937, Robert Johnson recorded at 508 Park.

Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery who played with the Light Crust Doughboys, remembered running into a blues musician on June 20. In one memory, he said it was on the stairs. Now that we’ve been in 508 Park, the question that comes up is why weren’t they taking the elevator? 508 Park has a beautiful Art Deco elevator in the front of the building and a freight elevator in the back. Imagine all the records taken up and down that freight elevator during the years that Brunswick (which became the American Record Company) and then Decca were housed on the third floor. Some have speculated that Johnson was going up the back stairs because of Jim Crow laws. But, would record producers Don Law and Art Satherley − both from Britain − have held to the racist apartheid then prevailing in the South, and required Johnson to come up the stairs?

Well, however he got there, what happened on June 19th happened on the third floor. It was a Saturday. The hustle and bustle of the downstairs Warner Bros Film Exchange during the week was over, and perhaps Law and Satherley and their recording guys had the 24,000 square foot building to themselves. They had several musicians scheduled to record that weekend.

It must have been very hot. Some of us were in the building in early June (without air conditioning) and it was extremely uncomfortable inside. By the end of June, with the windows shut, probably, to keep the city noises from intruding, it must have been very hot.

On June 19, Johnson made three masters.


He returned the next day, Sunday, and made ten more.


We will let Peter Guralnick's book, Searching for Robert Johnson explain about these recordings: "The recordings that Robert Johnson made at his second session were, if anything, superior even to the first. Actually, those last dates included both his most inspired and his most derivative recordings. ... 'Stones in My Passway,' like many of his most effective songs, is played with a slide, with the guitar tuned in 'Spanish' (open G) and the strings echoing the words almost as a second voice. Also, like a good many of Johnson's most ambitious compositions, it suggests both in its imagery and its language almost Biblical overtones (readily available through popular gospel recordings and preaching) which raise again the whole conflicted nature of Johnson's life and work. And, of course, like the rest of his most emotional expressive blues, the song suggests levels of real and metaphorical experience that can be extended indefinitely by the imagination of the listener, as he declares: "I got stones in my passway, and my road seems dark as night/ I have pains in my heart, they have taken my appetite... / My enemies have betrayed me,/ have overtaken poor Bob at last/ And there's one thing certain,/ they have stones all in my path."

Guralnick explains that with "Me And the Devil Blues," "Johnson raises the very questions that have been lurking in the background all along: the connection between pleasure and pain, the conflict between the satisfaction of music and its essentially sinful nature, the debt that must be paid for art and the Faustian bargain that Johnson sees at its core.

"Early this morning,/ when you knocked upon my door/ And I said, 'Hello, Satan,'/ I believe it's time to go.' Seldom has a number of such directly emotional impact been recorded, but then this is what the blues is supposed to be about.... What is almost breathtaking here is not simply the feeling but the artistry, an artistry not surprising in the tortuous poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins but virtually unique in the annals of the blues."

Elijah Wald in Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, says that "Judging by his new lyrics, he had also become a good deal somber and introspective. The second sessions included very little upbeat material, no 'Sweet Home Chicago' and certainly nothing like 'They're Red Hot.' There were no seductive invitations, and some songs patterned on current hit formulas, but he often followed the model of 'Cross Road Blues,' limning the dark wanderings of a traveler in an unfriendly world."

On this video, Elijah explains how Robert Johnson's musicanship changed between recording in 1936 in San Antonio and recording in 1937 at 508 and in that change helped innovate blues and eventually usher in rock 'n roll:

And that’s why we are celebrating this June 19th what happened on that June 19th and June 20th as well as the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth with a free lunchtime concert at the 508 Amphitheater with two local blues artists, Rev KM Williams and Joel Foy.

It’s Spring; so of course, the Community Garden is growing!

The community garden is the backyard of historic 508 Park.

The community garden is the backyard of historic 508 Park.

On March 20, the first day of Spring, the Encore Park Community Garden recognized the work of the TREC Young Guns.  60-some people from TREC and supporting organizations were there in the cold and rain on Friday to make their first plantings.  

The community garden raised beds.

The community garden raised beds.

Located in the “back yard” of 508 Park and adjacent to Dallas Farmers Market, Encore Park Community Garden enhances the quality of urban life in downtown Dallas by providing resources and space for the creation and maintenance of a safe, well-equipped community garden.
•    Community – A place for diverse groups to gather, share meals, and to garden with one another
•    Environmental Stewardship – Full utilization and promotion of composting, recycling, solar panels, and rain water harvesting
•    Education – A learning laboratory for educational events, children’s programs, and a teaching kitchen 
•    Healthy living – A commitment to organic best practices and growing healthy food, as well as using gardening activities to improve physical, social, cognitive and/or mental health 

Therapeutic Horticulture Program 
An innovative therapy that uses gardening to help The Stewpot’s homeless clients achieve both mental and physical health. Gardening classes teach skills while caring for plots shifts clients’ focus outwardly. Clients gain emotional, social and vocational rehabilitative skills as well as build relationships with fellow gardeners.

The Young Guns planting

The Young Guns planting

Elias Bahar, Emily Hentry, Brian Smith, Justin Goertz, Anna Proctor, Yixiao Liu, Brad Barton, Jonathan Campbell of the TREC Young Guns.

Elias Bahar, Emily Hentry, Brian Smith, Justin Goertz, Anna Proctor, Yixiao Liu, Brad Barton, Jonathan Campbell of the TREC Young Guns.

Dedication plaque recognizing the TREC Young Guns

Dedication plaque recognizing the TREC Young Guns

“We chose the Encore Park Community Garden because it was a very clear and achievable need in the Downtown Urban Core. This garden stands to become a guide for future gardens in the area and we hope The Real Estate Council involvement leads to achieve this goal.  We believe in the diverse group this garden serves, from homeless Stewpot Clients to local residents. The garden is managed by a very strong committee and we are confident that it will be a great success,” said Young Guns Chair Brian Smith, Beck Group and Vice Chair Elias Bahar, Pritchard Associates.
“The garden gives the opportunity for multiple generations and demographics to spend quality time with each other and form a better understanding about others’ needs,” said Emily Henry, TBG Partners.
Here is some background information about TREC Young Guns’ involvement.
•    The Real Estate Council Young Guns are commercial real estate professionals 35 and under who are driven by a common vision to develop relationships while promoting awareness and involvement in social, political and community issues that affect the city of Dallas.
•    The Young Guns select a Foundation Project every year. Last year it was The Stewpot Community Garden in Encore Park.
•    Landscape architects, TBG Partners and Kimley-Horn and Associates, provided pro bono design services through their Young Guns members.
•    Through larger volunteer workdays, we saw the project come to life constructing garden boxes, installing soil and irrigation at all boxes, and building a tool storage structure.
•    The Real Estate Council Young Guns contributed more than 600 volunteer hours and raised a total of $53,890 to support this project.

In kind donors to the project include Bratton Steel, Lasco Acoustics & Drywall, Jamieson Fencing, Nestle Waters North America, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop and Emergency Ice

Photo's courtesy of The Real Estate Council

508 Park in the News:

As part of their series on the Blues in North Texas, the Fort Worth Star Telegram's Cary Darling provides insights and background into 508 Park, after his tour of the building in December.  Three of the recordings made at 508 in the 1930s can be heard as part of the article. We've got an ambitious vision for 508; but that is exactly what this historic and beautiful building deserves!

Meanwhile, Preservation Dallas executive director David Preziosi identified 508 Park when discussing the plans for five historic gems in downtown Dallas.

The Birth of the Dallas Street Choir

Encore Park’s motto is “Building Community at the Crossroads of Creativity and Caring.” It is inspired by the example of The Stewpot’s decades-long commitment to this very thing. While the Open Art Studio may be the most well-known example of The Stewpot’s work to nurture creativity for homeless and at-risk individuals, other examples of nurture include the annual Halloween Talent Show, and the Community Concerts.

 Last year, The Dallas Street Choir was born from the experience of creating an “All of Sudden Stewpot Choir” for the Community Concerts, directed by Jonathon Palant, it represents a collaboration between The Credo Choir and The Stewpot. The Dallas Street Choir strives to provide a musical outlet for those experiencing homelessness and disadvantage in a safe and affirming environment.  The culmination of their work was a moving performance of STREET REQUIEM, a new work by Australian composers, Jonathon Welch, Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, on January 25, 2015 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Before the premiere of STREET REQUIEM, the Dallas Street Choir performed several uplifting songs and at one point, world-renowned Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade –one of the soloists for the REQUIEM slipped onto the stage to sing with the Street Choir. 

During the performance, a list of the names of Dallas homeless individuals who had died in 2014 and 2015 was shown behind the performers. The Stewpot maintains a list of those who have died and has a yearly memorial service to commemorate their lives.    photo credit: Carol J. Adams

During the performance, a list of the names of Dallas homeless individuals who had died in 2014 and 2015 was shown behind the performers. The Stewpot maintains a list of those who have died and has a yearly memorial service to commemorate their lives.  photo credit: Carol J. Adams

Frederica von Stade joins the Dallas Street Choir during the January 25 performance.  photo credit Carol J. Adams

Frederica von Stade joins the Dallas Street Choir during the January 25 performance.  photo credit Carol J. Adams

A standing ovation greeted all the performers at the end of the concern, as many of the audience also wiped away tears.

On January 25, 2015 at the Dallas City Performance Hall, CREDO Choir was joined by the Dallas Street Choir, the Richland College Chamber Singers, and soloists, Frederica von Stade and Jonathon Welch in a performance of STREET REQUIEM (Kathleen McGuire, Andy Payne, Jonathon Welch). This video (filmed and edited by Jonathan Palant) opened the concert. 

How We Restored the Warner Bros Sign on the Side of 508

On January 9, 1930, the Dallas Times-Herald announced that Warner Brothers was building a $125,000 film exchange. 

On January 9, 1930, the Dallas Times-Herald announced that Warner Brothers was building a $125,000 film exchange. 

On January 9, 1930, the Dallas Times-Herald announced that Warner Brothers was building a $125,000 film exchange. Along with a drawing of the soon-to-completed building, was a description of its function and contents: “The first floor will be devoted entirely to shipping, the second floor to offices of First National Pictures, Inc., a subsidiary of Warner Bros., and the third floor to the general offices of Warner Bros., the Vitaphone Distributing corporation and M. Witmark & Son Music Publishing Company.” (Vitaphone was a sound film system; Warner Bros created the Vitaphone Corporation in 1926.) 

In 2011, The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church purchased 508 Park. We committed to restoring 508 to its 1930s grandeur, but we had to assemble clues and information from archives and old newspapers on microfilm. When we stood on the roof of 508 and looked at what had once been the Warner Bros screening room, we could see still see the words “Warner Bros.” But the words underneath were hard to make out.

Photo from the Jack L. Warner archives at the University of Southern California.

Photo from the Jack L. Warner archives at the University of Southern California.

In December 2011, from the Jack L. Warner archives at the University of Southern California, we received this photo.

This provided some aid in helping to identify some of the wording.  But in order to restore it, we would need to gather more information. The Project Committee for 508 Park, working with Phoenix Restoration, brought in art conservator Michael van Enter, of van Enter Studio Ltd, to help us. Brick is porous. The sign had been sandblasted at some point in the past. In addition, when the fourth floor room was no longer needed as a screening room, windows had been added that cut through the sign. During the restoration of the exterior, we had the windows removed and bricks restored. Phoenix Restoration very carefully used bricks that had also had northern exposure, so that similarly weathered bricks from the building would be installed. The new “old” bricks looked clean next to the original bricks, and it became obvious that there was a darker background paint that had been used.

To provide answers that the photograph could not, van Enter went to the wall and forensically examined it using a portable field microscope. With the microscope, he could examine the layers of paint and see directly into the pores of the bricks. “We were working with forensic ghosting that had been left on the brick itself.” He determined that the original colors were white and Paynes Grey. Paynes Grey is a very popular blue-grey paint in the United States often referred to in sign painting as midnight blue. van Enter said, “Paynes Grey was an obvious choice, because historically black paint doesn’t read right; somehow, when put against white, it makes too severe a contrast, and makes it difficult to read. Paynes Grey looks black from a distance.” van Enter also determined that the white paint had been painted directly on to the brick, and then the Paynes Grey had been applied.

They matched the pigment, and used historical sign writing paint, using the same material that was used 85 years.

David Carapetyan, a skilled sign painter, carefully traced any original still visible line.

David Carapetyan, a skilled sign painter, carefully traced any original still visible line.

van Enter brought in David Carapetyan, a skilled sign painter, to carefully trace any original still visible line that he could see that would match up with the artwork. Much of it was gone, but there was enough to get the exact lettering. The curving upper words, “Warner Bros” were the most visible. And, the lower curved words, “First National Pictures” could be seen. Carapetyan explains, “When we first looked at the job, we thought, ‘yeah, this is not too hard...,’ and it was pretty much as we had thought on the Warner Brothers Pictures and First National Pictures. We used the existent top and bottom lines of the opposing arcs that formed each line, and extrapolated the missing letters using the same stroke width and letter form as what we could make out from the old sign. Pretty simple stuff, really, with opportunity to apply theory and check that against what was authentically -if barely visible- before our very eyes.” 

But the “Vitaphone” wording in the center provided more of a challenge.

Carapetyan says,  

Renovating/bringing new life to the old Warner Bros/Vitaphone sign was both interesting and challenging.  There were some good bones there already, as far as the sign goes; but it was like working with an old fossil remnant in paleontology, as there was barely a remnant there to pull any lines from on Vitaphone. Looking and looking, trying different times of the day to catch varying light, wetting the wall to see if that brought any clarity to the old sign, we were able to decipher a good portion of the "A" and "P", with a smattering of the "T", top of the "V", maybe some of the "I" and "H". But there was almost nothing to be found of the "O", "N" or "E".

After historical research on the variations of Vitaphone lettering style, they realized it was not the same font as the upper and lower curving words but a vibrating letter style.  After van Enter and Carapetyan completed researching, they concluded that they could create the closest match to the wording that was humanly possible, suitable, and historically correct.

Carapetyan said, “It was a bit of craft, a bit of detective work, some judgment calls based on 33 years of experience, and the rest was just work.” van Enter concludes, “From all our forensic information, our historical analysis of the paint, and our research, we have created as close an approximation, a facsimile of the original

Eighty-five years to the day the Warner Bros building was announced, we celebrated the completion of this aspect of the process. Research, skilled artisans and contractors, and our donors made this possible. 

The 508 Park Avenue mural restoration was unveiled on January 9, 2015. 

Video ©2015 Professor Mike •