The churches of Tenth Street

In its glory days, Tenth Street held the record for churches per mile

Oak Cliff has wonderful houses of worship peppered all over our neighborhood. But in earlier days, there was only one main “ecclesiastic avenue” around: Tenth Street.

This 3-mile strip of pavement from the east end of Tenth westward, nearly to Hampton Road, held the record in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” for having more churches per mile, on a street, than any other place in the world. And not surprisingly, quite a number of additional congregations “almost” anchored Tenth — setting either one block north or one block south.

The Father of Oak Cliff, Thomas Marsalis, envisioned his community as a spiritual utopia, populated by only the best pioneer folk. Analyzing the earlier La Reunion settlement failure to be the result of the absence of churches, Marsalis worked fervently to establish them.

What is now Oak Cliff United Methodist Church held successful revivals in 1891 and 1907, with Oak Cliff Christian Church holding an “outdoor” revival in 1909. The new pastor of Memorial Baptist Church (now Cliff Temple) held a successful weeklong service at Reagan Public School on Ninth Street that same year. Throughout these early days, other denominations followed suit and founded churches in the community — most of them ending up on or adjacent to Tenth Street.

More than 28 churches called Tenth Street home at some point, but as they moved and merged and the holy dust settled, 18 of those congregations anchored along Tenth Street’s perimeters. Among them are Cliff Temple Baptist Church, which in 1939 held the title of the second largest Southern Baptist church in the world (second only to First Baptist Dallas). Similarly, Tyler Street Methodist Church in 1950 took the honor of having the largest Sunday school enrollment in all of Methodism. Yes, right here in Oak Cliff!

Our community earned the title “Land of Churches,” as it was highly touted that more than 300 houses of worship were located in Oak Cliff — said to be the nation’s largest concentration of churches per square mile.

Tenth Street ran parallel to Jefferson Boulevard (which at the time was the largest commercial thoroughfare in the Southwest outside of a downtown business district). Hundreds of Tenth Street parishioners were able to take advantage of an inexpensive but efficient transportation option by traveling to and from church via the Jefferson Boulevard streetcar line.

Everything worked well, as long as the streetcar was king, and before a series of zoning changes and the 1950s alcohol ban in Oak Cliff. Then came the post-baby boom. Boomer families grew, causing more and more Cliffites to relocate to the burbs. And … things changed.

The good news? With more 1960s families able to afford a second car, and with more teenagers having their own wheels in the 1970s, it became easy to get to church independently, replacing the former need for public transportation. The bad news? Simply put, there weren’t enough parking spaces to accommodate the growing number of vehicles.

As a result of the Cliffite migration both south and southwestward, a slew of new churches sprang up — away from Oak Cliff’s center — and before long the Tenth Street temples found their congregational rolls decreasing. Although several congregations simply packed up and relocated, quite a few remained. And other churches managed to find a leveling-off place and have survived well despite the challenges. Some have refocused their ministries and thus discovered new life.

Some congregations have established schools, some have community ministries, some support Spanish and other foreign language services on their campuses, and others are researching new ways to use their large-but-aging buildings. In many cases, memberships are up, and so is the enthusiasm.

The life-altering experiences from yesteryear, the ones that took place in one of Tenth Street’s earlier houses of worship, will never be forgotten, especially to those who were there — and for those who hear their stories. But undoubtedly, the remaining, stalwart “Church Street” congregations are as dedicated to their current missions as were those early pioneers. Now, with new people moving into the neighborhood, Oak Cliff churches and the faith walks they share are still changing lives. And these folks will have their own stories to tell.

Will the former glory days ever return to Tenth Street? It doesn’t seem likely. But the remaining congregations do have fresh visions and renewed hope. And hope springs eternal …

See you in church!

About the Author:

Gayla Brooks
GAYLA BROOKS co-authored the books "Images of America: Oak Cliff" and "Legendary Locals of Oak Cliff" and writes a monthly history column for the Oak Cliff Advocate. She can date her neighborhood heritage back to 1918, when her father was born in what was then called Eagle Ford. She was born at Methodist hospital and graduated from Kimball High School. Email gbrooks@advocatemag.com.


  1. Gayla Brooks Kokel March 31, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    Thanks, Dmax1944! Tenth St. was a wonder, for sure. And still is. Oak Cliff is just a great spot, and, when we were young, was the perfect place go grow up. So many sweet memories. Glad you posted. 

  2. Dmax1944 March 31, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    Tenth St was well traveled by my family as my great aunt lived on Melba.  I was always fascinated by all the Churches and their grandeur.  It is always a great trip back, virtually speaking, when I read your great stories.

  3. Gayla Brooks Kokel March 28, 2012 at 12:25 AM

    Well, thank you, Bro. Bill! And I say “amen” to Tenth Street. Aren’t we fortunate to have grown up and lived in such a great community and to have had all the richness it offered? We are blessed, both then and now: Then–for the lessons and foundations, and now for the great memories and legacies. It was a great place at a great time.

  4. Billmelton37 March 27, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    Another Home Run Gayla!  Congratulations.  It really is fun to remember once again that Tenth Street in the Oak Cliff Section of Dallas is World renown for its Churches!

  5. Gayla Brooks Kokel March 27, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    If credit for the great photos is given, it should be to Susan Shanks at Cliff Temple and to Vivian Skinner and Carla Boss at Tyler Street. I think Bob Johnston (AHS) sent the rest. All my “sources” make my job easier and the magazine LOVES the complimentary images. I don’t know as much as it seems…but my “peeps” do, and that makes the difference. As always, Frances, thanks for the kind words.

  6. Frances George Phillips March 27, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Gayla, thanks for reminding us once again of our unique Christian heritage.  As a member of Cliff Temple Baptist Church since 1950, I have seen many changes come and go on Tenth Street and in our own home church.  However, our congregation at Cliff Temple has never been more committed to ministering to the Oak Cliff community.  Our focus may have changed over the past 100 years, but our committment and enthusiasm are keeping us a vital church for today and the future.  Thanks again for the wonderful trip down memory lane.  It was truly wonderful seeing the pictures of so many of our former pastors and church members. 

    Frances George Phillips   

  7. Gayla Brooks Kokel March 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    Thanks for your “story,” Lynda. Great memories of great times, right? I know Jerry and Martha were very important to you guys in those early days, and that the input they had in your lives has proven to be lasting. The years that many Cliffites spent up and down Tenth Street, in the different houses of worship, shaped our futures. We are all the better for our time spent there. Much love to you, too.

  8. Lynda Welch Kokel March 26, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    I was one of those who went to church on 10th St. First, I was a member of Grace Temple as a teen and then when I married my sweetheart, we eventually joined Cliff Temple. Some of our very best years were spent at church where we met so many dear friends as young married. One of our greatest blessings was having the joy of being in Jerry and Martha Gilmore’s class. Best teachers we have ever had and we have had a bunch! Terry was raised Lutheran and what a hurtle that was for him to go to a Baptist church…much less join one! We were baptised together by a wonderful pastor Dr. Morgan. Our daughters were both in the day care at Cliff Temple. I loved the photos in the article. They were great! Thank you Gayla for your wonderful articles. I love you sweet one. Lynda Welch Kokel

  9. Gayla Brooks Kokel March 23, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    To view an enlargement of the slide show and read info on all the images, double-click on the photo in the Flicker window, and when the new screen comes up, double-click on any of the photos in the “film strip” group to the right of the larger image. Each photo will come up with the info beneath. Enjoy!

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