History of an Icon: The Background of the Continental Gin Building



The Continental Gin Building (affectionately referred to as “The Gin”) has long been a Dallas icon; its water tower has been a landmark in the Deep Ellum skyline for over a century, a homing beacon for Old East Dallas locals. Once the largest cotton gin manufacturer in the country, it continues to be a space where the past meets the future in the form of work, art, living, and innovation at its finest.



Deep Roots in Deep Ellum


We couldn’t talk about Continental Gin without paying homage to its neighborhood. The area was settled in the 1870s by former slaves and European immigrants, its namesake simple: Elm Street, the main road that runs through it. In the locals’ dialect, “Elm” was commonly pronounced “Ellum,” and the name still stands.


With two railroad tracks, Deep Ellum offered ample work opportunities to freedmen and immigrants both on the lines and in businesses serving them. The area originally consisted of two business districts, Deep Ellum and Central Track, connected by a string of shotgun houses that gave it the name Stringtown. Annexed by the city in 1890 to form Old East Dallas, Deep Ellum became a booming industry spot where factories and warehouses began setting down roots, some of which you can still see today.



Constructing an Icon


The Continental Gin Building is part of a larger complex of structures built in three phases over the span of 26 years. The first two- and three-story buildings were constructed in 1888, followed by a foundry in 1912 and the four structures that today form the “front door” to the complex on Elm Street. One of the most significant features of the complex is the shift in architectural eras evidenced by the building styles; the standard load-bearing masonry and timber construction of the late 1800s transitioned to the reinforced concrete with brick infill style of the early 1900s. The result is a long-standing relic that displays some of the best examples of 19th- and 20th-century industrial architecture living in the 21st century.



The Life of a Landmark


The Continental Gin Company was formed by the combination of multiple successful ginning operations. Robert S. Munger of Dallas invented several improvements to the ginning process and built his own plant, the Munger Improved Cotton Machine Company, in 1888. His business and others were absorbed by Alabama’s Continental Gin Co. in 1900 and the Continental Gin Building as we know it was born.


The Continental Gin Co. experienced massive success as the largest manufacturer of cotton gins in the United States. The company saw its most significant industry boom in the early 1920s and was recognized for its help to the country during World War II in the 1940s. After decades of triumph, the company closed its doors in 1962; two years later, Coerver Properties purchased the Continental Gin Building to produce elevator cars. Later, in 1982, The Gin became a hub for local artists to work, live, and create in the community.


History shows that art and music are practically synonymous with Deep Ellum. With the careers of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Huddie “Leady Belly” Ledbetter, T-Bone Walker, and countless more folded into the timeline, the neighborhood hums with creative energy. The Continental Gin Building’s transition to a sort of headquarters for local artists of all kinds was seamless, and its identity as a creative haven remains prominently in many East Dallas residents’ minds. From intimate galleries to larger-than-life murals and essential dive bars to major music venues, the characteristic spark of Deep Ellum’s artistic community burns brightly on these streets--and in the Gin.


The Continental Gin Building, designated as a Dallas Historic Landmark, is a monumental piece of Dallas and Deep Ellum’s history. The entire complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, protecting the structure and securing its foothold in the fabric of Dallas’ future. They say to never forget who you are or where you came from, and we couldn’t agree more; the strength of the Gin’s past is propelling it forward into an equally brilliant future.



What’s Next


Keeping the integrity of the building’s history, local property firm August Real Estate Co. has partnered with local coworking company Common Desk to breathe new life into The Gin. Repurposing and restoring the existing structures, the building has been transformed into a thoughtfully designed multipurpose space where restaurants, retail, and coworking will collaborate to form a truly experiential destination for all.


By choosing a manager native to Dallas, The Gin will maintain the authentic and persevering spirit of Deep Ellum. Common Desk was born on Commerce Street in 2012 and, though it has expanded to several locations across Dallas and beyond, its roots will always be in the gritty independence, rich culture, and characteristic energy that run through Deep Ellum’s veins. Common Desk will set up coworking across the entire second floor, offering shared workspace and offices complete with amenities like conference rooms, chat booths, a kitchen, and a state-of-the-art VR lab. The first floor consists of retail and restaurant space, a lounge and meeting area, an outpost of East Dallas’ Fiction Coffee, a craft cocktail bar, and a large deck that wraps around the north and west sides of the building. On the third floor, you’ll find functional team suites, an exclusive tenant lounge, and an abundance of conference rooms. In short, The Gin will have everything you need to experience the energy of Deep Ellum in a productive and collaborative environment.



The Continental Gin Building has lived a long life of innovation and creativity, and it’s nowhere near done. Join us in 2021 as we open the next chapter of this Deep Ellum icon. Book a tour, sign up for our newsletter, and learn more about what it looks like to be a part of Common Desk and Continental Gin.