This 1929 Humble Service Station on Zang at Beckley may not be here in a week. A demo permit has been issued. It has a rich history. Here with its almost identical twin in San Antonio, it is one of only 2 in the state of Texas. The new owner has a discount beer and wine store planned for this property.
The owner has said the building is ridden with asbestos and must come down. Asbestos became prominent in construction in the ’60s through the ’80s; it was not used in construction in the 1920s. Tile floors or ceilings with asbestos could’ve been used in updates, but neither appear present here. A 1952 addition to the building could have asbestos, but it is not likely in the original structure of historic significance. Asbestos remediation is necessary only for demolition work. Many structures all over the country have asbestos but unless asbestos becomes airborne, full scale remediation is not required.
The owner has other properties in Dallas like this drive through beer-and-wine/check-cashing store in Balch Springs. He’s also trying to get a special use permit to create a drive through convenience store on Hampton and Clarendon. He will need City Plan Commission and City Council support to achieve that however. Both properties are in District 1, council member Delia Jasso’s district.
The owner also has been busy in other districts. The city recently gave him $100,000 in economic development money to create similar stores in District 8. It’s sadly ironic that some of that money may have helped this business deal gain momentum.
Other districts have real challenges attracting reputable grocery stores, and similar stores fill a void even if all the meat and produce they offer are two apples and a package of lunch meat. District 1 however, does not have that problem. We aren’t a grocery store desert. No, we don’t have a Whole Foods but we have Fiesta, Tom Thumb, Kroger, Minyard, Aldi, not to mention several small independent grocers scattered along the Jefferson corridor and Fort Worth Ave.
The Zang triangle is one of the few destinations in north Oak Cliff outside of Bishop Arts attracting visitors. The success of places like Spiral Diner, Campo and Jonathon’s have created yet another popular space to allow others to see a different view of Oak Cliff and all the things we are proud of. Places like this, Bishop Arts, Fort Worth Avenue and Tyler/Davis give people with preconceived notions the opportunity to form a new opinion of Oak Cliff and as ambassadors, these places are working. Opinions are changing; we are changing.
Why then would we want to infect one of these successful nodes with a cheap beer-and-wine store, especially at the expense of a piece of history ripe with opportunity?
Consider this: Which of these places in the Zang Triangle is working? Which is not? Is the Humble Oil Station more like the things that work or the things that don’t? Is the architectural example of the new owner’s business more like the things that work or the things that don’t?
And if that doesn’t make you think, consider this: Directly across the street within 100 feet, in the Lake Cliff Historic District, is the Oswald rooming house; a site of historical significance not only to Dallas but to the entire nation. In 2013, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. Thousands will make a pilgrimage to Dallas for the occasion. National and even international media will come here as well, and the Zang Triangle will be part of what they want to see. Do we want Oak Cliff depicted with the thriving businesses in 1920s structures across Beckley, or the Payless Beer and Wine store? Isn’t it our responsibility to treat the area with sensitivity?
I don’t know why we’re a developer’s town, but we are. Look at the drama with the Nasher and the Museum Tower. We must be the only city in the world that would construct a huge magnifying glass and aim it at a world-renowned sculpture garden and then expect the sculpture garden to make it right. As if development were good no matter what the cost and worth any sacrifice.
I understand that the economy is still recovering and sometimes we get impatient and would rather see something rather than nothing, but this corner is not that place. The restaurants across Beckley have achieved acclaim and theirs is the success that brings the triangle promise. The planned streetcar will offer even greater promise. All of our success thus far has been housed in our historic architecture because most other areas of town no longer have any. We should hold out for real economic development whether it comes in the form of new quality construction or the historic repurposing we are known for but not some cheap alternative masquerading as such. Turning this corner into Cockrell Hill is not the answer.
Michael Amonett, an Old Oak Cliff Conservation League past president, is a contributor to oakcliff.advocatemag.com. His opinions are not necessarily those of the Advocate or its management.