Architecture at risk: Six endangered Oak Cliff places

Story by Rachel Stone, Alicia Quintans and Michael Amonett / Photos by Danny Fulgencio 

Our list of the six most-endangered places in Oak Cliff

   Sometimes neighbors come together to preserve a piece of historic Oak Cliff. The Texas Theatre, for example. Twelve Hills Nature Center. Thankfully, there also are real-estate investors who see the value in historic buildings — Jefferson Tower, Top Ten Records, Spinster Records and the Belmont Hotel are shining today because of them.

 Grassroots efforts and sensitive developers keep a vein of old Oak Cliff alive. But we’re outmanned and out-moneyed by investment funds, townhome builders and ever-looming big development.

About four reviews come through the City of Dallas every week for old buildings that people want to demolish in the Bishop Arts area and Downtown Dallas.

 That’s according to Mark Doty, the city’s chief planner for historic preservation. It’s now part of Doty’s job to decipher which buildings should trigger a 45-day stay of execution under the rules of a new historic overlay that delays some demolitions within its boundaries.

Demolition and dramatic new construction are reshaping Oak Cliff at a terribly fast rate. In a reaction adopted from Preservation Dallas, we offer this list, Oak Cliff At Risk. Heritage Oak Cliff and the Advocate cooperated to identify places that we think are at high risk for demolition — either immediately or through a futurist lens — but are worthy of historic preservation.

We hope to draw attention to the history, architecture and cultural values of our neighborhood and start a conversation about what we can and should preserve in this climate of constant target.

Wynnewood Village 1947-1954

The new owners of Wynnewood Village plan to renovate some of the shopping center’s buildings, reconfigure the driveways and add a movie theater and a gym.

The owner, Brixmor Property Group, intends to keep parts of the property intact and make overall improvements. In June City Council approved spending $2.4 million to upgrade the shopping center’s storm drainage system.

Brixmor also has pitched tearing parts of Wynnewood down — they already demolished a 1965 bank building.

Buildings that could be demolished include an old Texaco station and the former Goff’s Charcoal Hamburgers building that is now a laundromat.

The hamburger joint’s owner, Harvey Gough, at one time owned nine Goff’s in the Dallas area. Gough was running Harvey’s Charcoal Hamburgers in Preston Hollow until this past January. He’s a cantankerous Dallas character, infamous for yelling at customers and his refusal to serve males who had long hair during the Vietnam War era.

The last of the Goff’s stores is still operating near SMU.

Several interesting buildings have been demolished at Wynnewood throughout the years, including the Wynnewood Hotel and an office building, both designed by original Wynnewood Village architects DeWitt and Swank.

A standalone Sears store and the Wynnewood Theater also have been lost to demolition.

Wynnewood was a regional shopping destination until Red Bird Mall was built in the 1970s.

“The DeWitt and Swank design was cutting-edge, and the layout of the center made it highly successful until the shopping mall rose in prominence,” says David Preziosi of Preservation Dallas.

As Wynnewood Village receives attention and renewal, we hope it doesn’t lose its original character and design.

EL FENIX on Colorado 1948

If your junior high club had its year-end banquet at El Fenix on Colorado, you might be from Oak Cliff.

The restaurant at 120 E. Colorado Blvd. was the second El Fenix location, opening 30 years after the original on McKinney Avenue.

When the restaurant’s “fiesta room” opened in 1952 it quickly answered a need for party space.

The Lion’s Club hosted their annual fundraising party there that year. And just about every other professional and extra-curricular club in Dallas met there through the 1950s and ’60s. There were wedding showers and rehearsal dinners galore.

Legendary Oak Cliff singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard had his very first gig there while still a student at Adamson High School.

El Fenix founder Miguel Martinez Sr., known as Mike, had an inspirational immigration story. He started driving mules in his hometown in Nuevo Leon, Mexico at age 7. After moving to Dallas in 1911, he washed dishes at a Downtown hotel for 14 years, even after he started El Fenix in 1918. His eight children took over the restaurant business in the 1940s, and Martinez paid for a plaza, roads, electricity and well in his hometown, now part of Villaldama.

The Martinez family sold El Fenix to Firebird Restaurant Group for a reported $30 million in 2008. 

 

Since then, the company has expanded to include at least 22 locations in North Texas.

The location on Colorado is on the Oak Cliff streetcar line and across the street from Methodist Dallas Medical Center, which recently demolished the Vet Stop building, a former diner on Colorado at Beckley Avenue.

 ATLAS METALWORKS 1929

 When Dallas built the first levees to protect the city center from flooding in the 1920s, it opened up thousands of acres of real estate to development in West Dallas.

Atlas Metal Works was among the first to capitalize on that. 

The manufacturer’s original 1904 location had been at Young and Marilla, near the current Dallas City Hall. By 1922, Atlas was one of the biggest steel and iron mills in the country, manufacturing culvert pipe, grain storage silos, stock tanks and water cisterns that were shipped all over the country.

A new plant on Eagle Ford Road, now Singleton Boulevard, was built in 1929.

The original West Dallas complex comprised 40,000 square feet on 7 acres that included its own railroad trackage. It also includes a 1929 office building of concrete tile and stucco. The factory was constructed of Atlas metal to be “fireproof, ventilated and lighted according to modern engineering,” according to reports from the time it was built. Another 11,000 square feet was added during World War II.

At the time of the move to West Dallas, Oak Cliff developer Leslie A. Stemmons was the company president. But the Storey family was its originator. Millard Storey cofounded the company, and his sons Millard and Boude started working there in about 1908.

Boude Storey eventually became company president, and he made a name for himself as a community leader. A World War II veteran, Boude Storey grew up on Swiss Avenue and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and what is now Rice University. He served on the Dallas board of education for nine years, including six as president. When the first junior high was built in Oak Cliff, the community easily decided to give it his name.

Storey died at age 78 in 1959, four years after his brother Millard. He had served Atlas for 51 years. His son, also named Boude Storey, ran the company after him.

The plant remains in use as a metal factory, which is still in the same family. 

Atlas sold part of its acreage, where Trinity Green Luxury Apartments and Homes is now, a few years ago.

While thousand of new apartment units and luxury townhomes open in West Dallas, Atlas Metal Works stands as an architecturally significant remnant of West Dallas' industrial past.

TENTH STREET HISTORICAL DISTRICT 1870-1900S

 Robert Swann grows emotional when he talks about his 122-year-old house, its story and the neighborhood into whose fabric it is woven.

A highly skilled carpenter named Richard J. Moore, the son of freed slaves, built the 720-square-foot house in what is now the Tenth Street Historic District, in 1896.

Swann jumped through hoops for most of a decade to buy the abandoned house from the city of Dallas in 2016. If he hadn’t, the city likely would’ve demolished it.

This neighborhood just east of Interstate 35 and south of Eighth Street is part of the original Oak Cliff and was known as “Miller’s Four Acres.” The former slaves of cotton plantation owner William Brown Miller began settling there shortly after the end of the Civil War. 

Freedmen who migrated from Alabama, the Boswell family, began buying lots and building homes there in 1888. The neighborhood had a school, two churches and small businesses among the 300 or so houses. 

In some places, such as Winnetka Heights, “historic district” means that buildings cannot be torn down. At the very least, tearing down a house in a historic district ought to be very, very difficult.

Not so in Tenth Street, one of the nation’s few remaining freedmen’s towns.  A passage in the city of Dallas development cot states that homes in historic districts can be demolished by court order if they comprise less than 3,000 square feet and are a “nuisance.”

 The city approves demolitions in the neighborhood with ease, Swann says. Because of that statute, little can be done to stop or even delay the destruction.

“It’s de facto discrimination because we don’t have any structures in Tenth Street that exceed 3,000 square foot,” says Swann, who serves on the city’s Landmark Commission. “What’s really upsetting is that these houses are rushed through demolition before they’re even offered at tax sale.”

Many Tenth Street houses were handed down through generations. Let’s say your aunt dies at age 90, and no relative claims her house. Someone boards it up, and it’s forgotten. There’s no clear heir, and the house falls into title limbo.

Consider 1105 E. Ninth St. 

The Landmark Commission gave the house at that address a 30-day reprieve from demolition on July 2, after a court order was granted. 

This park-facing cottage three miles from Downtown is 107 years old and has been vacant for about 12 years. It has a cloudy title, but the city could foreclose on it for delinquent taxes, sell it at auction and hopefully get it back on the Dallas County tax rolls.

Instead, they’re moving to demolish it.

Tearing down the house does nothing to clear up the title, Swann says, and it decreases the property’s taxable value by half.

Besides that, the city has to foot the bill for demolition and maintenance of the vacant lot.

The Ninth Street house is a perfect example of the neighborhood’s history, Swann says.

It was built in 1911 by William Smith, the son of freed slaves, and it stayed in Smith’s family until 2005, when the resident died.

“It has stood for 107 years, and it’s been vacant for at least 12 years, and now we’re talking about being able to remove the nuisance ‘in a timely manner,’ ” he says.

Some longtime neighborhood residents would like to see the neighborhood become a living-history museum akin to Colonial Williamsburg.

In American history, we talk about slavery, and we talk about the civil rights era. 

“The beauty of Tenth Street is that it tells the most under-told story of the African- American experience, and that’s Jim Crow,” Swann says.

Tenth Street will be affected when a deck park is built over Interstate 35. Whether it damages the neighborhood or lifts it up will be a test for the city of Dallas.

Tenth Street neighbors envision the Dallas Zoo, the deck park and their historic freedmen’s town living together as a greater cultural campus.

In the meantime, Swann wants to find a way to exempt Tenth Street and Wheatley Place, a historic African-American neighborhood in South Dallas, from the 3,000-square-foot rule.

The 720-square-foot castle that he’s restoring stands as a tribute to the triumphs of the people who lived there. 

"A lot of people see these houses and they see poverty," Swann says. "No, that's building wealth."

Stevens Park Shopping Center 1939

   Annie Stevens practiced sensible development.

As president of her family company, she developed Stevens Park Village in the late 1930s.

She and her brother donated 110 acres to the city of Dallas for Stevens Park in memory of their parents. The parkland, now Stevens Park Golf Course, had previously been part of their farm. 

On acreage surrounding what is now Colorado and Fort Worth Avenue, Stevens developed homes and a shopping center. 

That little shopping center, on the curve of Colorado between Hampton and Fort Worth Avenue, was built on the Mustang/La Reunion trolley line for $250,000 in 1939.

They served the neighborhood with shops and services, and the buildings fit in with the one-story limestone homes of Stevens Park Village.

In 1943, the government built Mustang Village, a complex of one-story apartments for veterans, on the southwest corner of what is now Fort Worth Avenue and Colorado.

Those were demolished in the late 1950s, when the two-story brick Stevens Village apartments — later called Colorado Place — were built.

A development company demolished Colorado Place apartments in 2009 but then ran out of cash, and the land sat vacant until 2016 when Lincoln Property Co. bought it.

Lincoln built a luxury apartment complex that backs up to the golf course. And they recently completed a retail complex fronting Fort Worth Avenue and Colorado.

Across Fort Worth Avenue, Centre Living Homes is building about 60 luxury townhomes.

Original pieces of the Stevens Park shopping center, in the 1100 block of Colorado, are not on the market, and there are not immediate plans for redevelopment.

But as Fort Worth Avenue continues to be built out with new multifamily and retail developments, this understated shopping center could be lost.

The Inn of the Dove 1940

About 100,000 cars passed through Dallas in the first six months of 1924, and all of them funneled through Oak Cliff along the Fort Worth Turnpike.

Also known as U.S. Highway 80, the turnpike was built as part of the federally funned Bankhead Highway, which ran from San Diego, Calif., to Washington, D.C.

Since the Green Acres motel in Deep Ellum was demolished in 2017, this might be the only Green Book motel left standing in Dallas.

Once automobile traffic came, business followed– service stations, auto mechanics, car dealerships, restaurants and motels. 

 The Belmont Hotel was among them, and several other old motels with architectural and historical value are still standing as well.

Take the Inn of the Dove.

In the era of Jim Crow, it was the only motel on the Fort Worth Pike that was friendly to African Americans.

The motel, which still operates on Fort Worth Avenue a couple blocks from the Belmont, opened in 1940 as the Triple R Ranch. 

From 1957-1961, it was listed in the Negro Travelers' Green Book, an annual guidebook for African American road trippers.

 

Traveling by car during Jim Crow could be perilous for black people. Besides the threat of harassment or arrest, African Americans often were refused food and lodging as well. The Green Book offered a convenient list of available services.

Since the Green Acres motel in Deep Ellum was demolished in 2017, this might be the only Green Book motel left standing in Dallas.

Tags from the story
,
Written By
More from Rachel Stone

Class of 2016: Sherry Bass

  Anger controlled Sherry Bass for too much of her life. The...
Read More