Iconic Oak Cliff, the sequel

Gayla explores more iconic landmarks in Oak Cliff.

The neighborhood landmark tour makes a few more stops

Photo by Amber Plumley

Vintage landmarks in Oak Cliff are a source of pride and remembrance for those who formerly lived here and for those who reside here now. Some remain as standouts on the landscape. Others are fading ghosts.

Certainly one of the most unusual Oak Cliff landmarks is the Merrifield Cemetery — a cemetery that contains a sum total of one tombstone.

The final resting place of family patriarch John Merrifield (1792-1873) and his second wife, Elizabeth (1802-1869), Merrifield came to the Lone Star State from Kentucky and purchased a large farm that included the current burial area. To add to the quirkiness of the situation, the cemetery is, basically, situated on the northwest corner of the Sunset High School campus. Now encased within a tall iron fence and featuring two historical markers, other family members are interred within, but only the graves of Merrifield and Elizabeth are marked.

It’s always interesting to sneak a peak at the single-tombstone “cemetery” every time I drive through the West Jefferson-Hampton intersection, and, like many others, mentally scratch my head. It’s just such an oddity, right there on such a busy corner in the middle of Oak Cliff. And adjacent to Sunset! Perhaps every Dallas high school campus should include a cemetery.

Traveling toward West Dallas, in the area now known as Pinnacle Park (previously Cement City), the former Eagle Ford District 49 School on Chalk Hill Road still stands, vacant and boarded-up. Currently on one of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s list of endangered buildings, this structure holds the rooms and hallways where a notorious gun moll and former FBI target first honed her skills for writing poetry: Miss Bonnie Parker.

The school’s construction reflects the former community’s pride, with its 14- to 16-inch-thick walls tailored with two layers of cement bricks and a 6-inch layer of cement mortar in between. The 5-inch-thick roof is made of steel-reinforced cement and was, like the bricks and mortar, gleaned from local quarries. The 4,000-square-foot building shows a “boys” entrance on the north and a “girls” entrance on the south, each with its own staircase, and the auditorium behind the entrances. According to the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, one of Parker’s report cards was discovered in the school’s basement.

Nibbling on the edge of Lake Cliff Park, Frank Reaugh’s former art studio, El Sibil (The Vault), is perched high on the southwest corner of Crawford and East Fifth — the studio where Reaugh would produce many of the pieces that garnered him the title of “Dean of Texas Artists” and “Painter to the Longhorns.” When Reaugh first settled here, the pastoral landscape of that day provided the horses and cattle Reaugh needed — the “models” for his paintings and sketches. El Sibil signified the early Oak Cliff artist’s commitment to create his paintings right here in the Cliff. Additionally, Reaugh (1860-1945) joined other 1920s citizens in founding the Dallas Art Association, now the Dallas Museum of Art.

Although El Sibil fell into disrepair after Reaugh’s death and eventually burned, the stone structure has been rebuilt and now lives again as an art and photography studio/party rental/music venue while retaining much of its mysterious and shadowy aura.

Our final stop today is the lower floor of the Bavarian-themed building on the corner of West Davis and Edgefield, a location that reigned for years as Schindler’s Bakery.

Along with Jan’s Bakery in Wynnewood Village, Schindler’s was one of the main spots where Cliffites purchased cookies, pies, cakes and other pastries. Most every boomer kid in Oak Cliff who had a “store-bought” birthday cake in the ’50s and ’60s got it from either Jan’s or Schindler’s. My favorite from Schindler’s were the little chocolate drop cookies, along with the actual trip inside the vintage bakery — enough to transport me back to a bygone time and to remind me of my parents and all their wonderful Depression-era friends. The aging chalet-style building is now partially vacant and looks a bit tired. Quite a change from the bustling days when finding a parking spot in front was always a challenge.

I could use one of those cookies about now. And a big glass of milk.

The tour bus is pulling into the depot for this month but will make its final run in August. Until then, I’ll keep the motor running and the Oak Cliff map on my desk. I do see a few more stops on the list.


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  • Gayla Brooks

    Benny, I think your comments reflect the thoughts of many. We DID have a great growing-up time in Oak Cliff. I never understood why other parts of the city always thought that things were dangerous in our neck of the woods. We roamed all over the place and had such fun! It was almost completely safe and everyone knew just about everyone else. Riding bikes, playing outside, Kiest Park, Kips, riding around OC with whomever had “wheels”and could get the keys. I’d ejnjoy a day or two of the old days again. We were blessed. Thanks for posting.

  • Gayla Brooks

    Thanks for the “heads-up” on the spelling error. These things do happen! (Got it changed in the online version. Always a good thing, this technology.) You need to come back for a visit, but if you can’t, I hope you continue to read and comments. Thanks for posting.

  • Gkokel

    You bet, John. Glad you posted.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    The “one tombstone cemetery” is such an oddity, not only because of the one stone but mostly because it’s on the corner of the SHS campus. Honestly? Doesn’t Oak Cliff just have the best “stuff?” You’re most welcome on the stories. And, yes, I agree. Growing up in the OC was a huge part of who we all are today. Good time with good friends. We were fortunate to live here. The rest of Dallas missed it by not living soutnwest of the Trinity.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    As always, Miss Mary, my pleasure. Thanks for posting.

  • RD

    Extremely interesting and informative. Always well-written. Gayla keeps Oak Cliff alive and fresh in my mind although I’ve lived far away for decades.
    One small problem: Bonnie Parker was a gun “moll,” not “maul.” One crushes wood with a maul. 

  • Anonymous

    So interesting! Thanks, Gayla!

  • Peggy Samford

    I guess you’re never to old to learn something new.  Didn’t know about the cemetery @ Sunset.  Or, if I did know, I’ve forgotten.  Thanks for keeping us informed about Oak Cliff.  It is such a huge part of our lives and I love these trips down Memory Lane.  Keep ’em coming, Gayla.

  • Mary Newton Maxwell

    Another great article of ‘home.’  Always look forward to these.  Thanks again, Gayla.

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    Gayla, eventhough I caught this on FB and commented, the column is very worthy of another comment. I sat here as I read through the article and recounted the wonderful memories assocciated with Davis Street. As a teenager and young adult I have spent countless hours in and around Davis St. Many historic places some by gone and a couple still active keeps the memories alive. I can remember numerous times while driving through Oak Cliff from one destination to another and day dreaming while thinking these words. “You better enjoy these days and remember what a great place you had to grow up in”. That  old “Oak Cliff  mystik’ has a way of making a person yearn for days gone by. 

  • LON

    Todd Kent’s folks living in El Sibil for awhile in 1960-61 and I spent a few nights there with some other Bowie Bobcats.  It was still a quite a place then and a long historical existence.  Sure hope it can be preserved for future students to study that era in Oak Cliff. Gayla thanks again for bringing Oak Cliff alive for us. KEEP CHARGIN’   Lon Oakley Adamson 1965