Longtime Oak Cliff preservationist Ruth Chenoweth passed away July 15, 2006. Whether you knew Chenoweth or not, you have undoubtedly benefited from her efforts to better our community.
Ruth Chenoweth’s deep and unwavering commitment to Oak Cliff earned her many accolades throughout her life, including the 1994 Dorothy Savage Award for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation. As founder of her own real estate company, Chenoweth used her skill as a historic house specialist to bring others with similar passion to Oak Cliff.
Longtime friend of Chenoweth’s and fellow advocate in the push for preservation, Mary Griffith can’t think of anyone who made a bigger contribution to Oak Cliff. While others were focused on new development,
Chenoweth maintained her vision and worked tirelessly to convince city officials of the value of restoration and preservation. “Newcomers don’t realize how hard it was to get this off the ground,” she says. Chenoweth recruited volunteers to deliver flyers, circulate petitions and educate people about preservation; she “didn’t mind getting in the trenches and taking care of the smallest detail,” according to Griffith.
Preservation Dallas President Dwayne Jones calls Chenoweth the “grand dame of preservation.” Firmly rooted in her belief that the old neighborhoods are worth saving, she figured prominently in the conservation of Kings Highway, Kidd Springs, Kessler Park and North Bishop Avenue.
Chenoweth’s legacy is felt most strongly in historic Winnetka Heights, where she lived since 1957 and served as a past neighborhood association president. Other past presidents, such as Rob Romano, speak highly of her. Romano recalls his first meeting with Chenoweth as a big influence in his decision to move to Oak Cliff. In her, he found a kindred spirit with a similar passion for old houses. Remembering Chenoweth as well-spoken and classy, Romano would sit in her office and chat about real estate and the neighborhood. “Ruth could communicate with anyone,” he says, adding that she was “very excited about Winnetka’s upcoming centennial.” Winnetka Heights resident David Haedge also speaks warmly of sitting on his front porch with “the mother of Winnetka Heights”; according to Haedge, Chenoweth loved to go to parties, knew absolutely everyone, and was thrilled to see the numerous homes being renovated in the neighborhood. She loved Oak Cliff and appreciated the people who sought to preserve it.
The next time you head east on Davis Avenue toward the Bishop Arts District, take one last look at Chenoweth’s familiar neon sign in her service station-turned-real-estate-office. Hopefully, her light will shine on us for years to come.
There will be a memorial service honoring Chenoweth at 2pm on Saturday, September 16, at the Turner House, 401 North Rosemont Ave.