Local residential artists Emily Riggert and Rachel Rushing recently founded Sunset Art Studios situated in the Elmwood district. The pair wanted to open the gallery/studio among a more intimate backdrop in Oak Cliff. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

Local artists Emily Riggert and Rachel Rushing recently founded Sunset Art Studios in the Elmwood district. The pair wanted to open the gallery/studio amid a more intimate backdrop in Oak Cliff. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

The esoteric neighborhood poised to become the locals-only Bishop Arts

The year Elmwood began to take shape, building in Dallas was at an all-time high.

Frank Jester took a risk in 1925 when he began developing a former dairy, Tennessee Farm, just south of what was then considered the southern border of Oak Cliff.

Ninety-one years later, and construction and real estate in Dallas again are hotter than ever. Now a few Oak Cliff insiders and creative professionals are putting their money on Elmwood, this time in commercial property.

Renovated houses in Elmwood are now starting around $250,000 and can even fetch close to $500,000. But the mid-20th century commercial district there has yet to resurge.

The commercial district, centered on Elmwood and Ferndale, includes auto shops, a taquería, a convenience store and a barbershop. But there are several vacant storefronts, a lack of streetlights and bumpy streets and sidewalks. It has a way to go yet.

Former Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce president Bob Stimson and his son, Matt, in December bought an 8,000-square-foot 1950s office building at 1809 Balboa in Elmwood. They renovated the building, which had been vacant for decades, over the winter. The first new tenants took up residence in April.

They include a barber, a Spanish newspaper publisher and a travel agency, plus Sunset Art Studios, a startup from Oak Cliff-based artists Rachel Rushing, Ryan Rushing and Emily Riggert. The studio and gallery offers short-term artist residencies to emerging artists in Dallas, and twice a month, it hosts an open studio, where anyone can join the artists at work.

There are not many such spaces in Dallas, Rachel Rushing says. And Elmwood allowed them affordable rent amid Oak Cliff’s creative culture.

Fashion designer and entrepreneur Julie McCullough is another creative who recently found a business home in Elmwood.

McCullough, who owns Folksie, Make and Made and the Pin Show, recently bought a one-story building on Balboa.

She started her entrepreneurial career around 2005 with Make, offering sewing and crafting classes in the rented Bishop Arts District space that now houses We Are 1976.

“Elmwood’s perfect for small entrepreneurs to buy real estate,” says real estate developer Monte Anderson, who has been hot on Elmwood for years. “I hope there will be more like Julie who do that.”

The growing commercial district in Elmwood caters towards a quieter and more intimate section of Oak Cliff. (Photo by Rasy Ran)

Anderson, who is known for transforming the Belmont Hotel, recently bought a 1920s industrial building in Elmwood with plans to turn it into a “co-working village.”

He and partners purchased the 127,000-square-foot former Dixie Co. building at 1300 S. Polk, adjacent to DART’s Tyler/Vernon station.

They plan to turn it into a co-working space for “creative industrial” makers — think furniture making, woodworking, welding, machining and the like. They especially want to attract makers who reuse and repurpose materials.

Space for traditional office co-working also is planned, and eventually, if they can achieve rezoning, they plan to build new residential buildings along Cedar Creek.

Anderson partner Gary Buckner will move his Stash Design from Lower Greenville to this space, which they named Tyler Station. There’s also interest from a local beer brewer, Anderson says.

Tenants could pay as little as $600 month for a place at Tyler Station, and the partners plan to keep the former industrial space open to encourage collaboration between tenants.

Stimson compares Elmwood’s commercial real estate to that of West Davis 10 or 15 years ago. Even after residential values increased in Winnetka Heights and Kings Highway, it took many years for West Davis to come around. He expects the same evolution for Elmwood, if a bit more esoteric.

“This won’t be for tourists as much,” Stimson says. “This is where people who actually live in Oak Cliff will want to be.”

Stimson, who also owns a 4,000-square-foot former mechanic garage in Elmwood, wants the city to consider installing streetlights in the district, similar to what it did for Bishop Arts years ago. City Councilman Scott Griggs asked city staff for an estimate, and they found it would cost about $500,000, so that could be funded in a future bond election.