Bishop Arts District Spicing Up Urban Landscape
By Mary Gallagher Williams, NTNewsNet.com
For decades, the streets of the Bishop Arts District, located just minutes from downtown Dallas, were dormant. Once beautiful historic homes were vacant and storefronts boarded up.
Now that’s changed. The Bishop Arts District boasts resurgence.
“I don’t have to explain Bishop Arts much anymore,” said David Spence, an 18-year North Oak Cliff resident and real estate renovator. “The fashionistas of Dallas have very much discovered Bishop Arts.”
Bordered by Davis Street, Zang Boulevard, and Ninth and Adams avenues, this historic Dallas enclave now attracts new businesses and residents while maintaining its cultural charm.
“The people who are a little bit negative on what is happening are people who don’t understand what the new ordinances are,” Jasso says.
In his booklet entitled “The Bishop Arts District: a Brief History,” Robert L. Crockett lists factors that propelled the migration to Dallas suburbs. Big-name stores forced local retailers to choose between relocating and closing their doors. The neighborhood demographics changed with white flight. Mass transit replaced the streetcar route that once stopped in the district. Rising crime rates and deteriorating commercial buildings left the area in despair. Rental homes once lived in by generations of the same family fell into despair as well.
“This use to be sort of an affluent, nice, primarily Anglo community,” said Yolanda Alameda, 46, who moved to North Oak Cliff as a child in 1969. “White flight was happening everywhere.”
Spence sits on a bench outside his company on West Eight Street. His bright blue athletic shirt conveys his passion for running marathons. As a real estate investor who loves to restore old buildings, his company— Good Space— renovates commercial and real estate property around the area. The 48-year-old spearheaded the current zoning changes. He says opponents of Bishop/Davis Land Use Study were afraid of multistoried high-rises being built among smaller homes. However, in reality what it does is improve on sewer, electricity, sidewalks and such in the area.
“It updates our zoning to the rest of the city,” says Jasso, the area’s city council representative. “[It’s] more current and more competitive with the north side [of Dallas],”
Chris and Sonya Eudaley opened their Bishop Avenue florist shop, Dirt, a few months ago. They live in a loft above their shop—a new zoning-change perk for business owners. “It consolidates our costs,” Chris, 34, says.
Spence, the property renovator, says not many places in Dallas have the neighborhood feel of a Brooklyn, New York. The Bishops Arts District has that because of its authenticity, central location and easy access to downtown.
Other watershed moments that established the area as an entertainment, dining and shopping destination include: $2.25 million the city spent for area upgrades; Hattie’s, the first white-tablecloth restaurant that attracted high-paying clientele from across the river; and the democratic party celebration on Bishop Avenue the evening of President Obama’s 2008 victory in which 5,000 people attended.
Maria Vasquez, a 30-year Oak Cliff resident, has lived one block east of Bishop Avenue in her faded mint-green house for the past 15 years. Wooden floors and overstuffed leather furniture show upkeep inside despite the weathered appearance outside. As the clock chimes at the half-hour mark, Vasquez speaks Spanish while her daughter interprets. The 63-year-old Mexico native does not like to talk to outsiders.
Though not involved politically, Vasquez is concerned about the recent zoning changes. Her daughter, who asked that her name remain anonymous, says Vasquez feels they will be pushed out of the neighborhood. Raising property taxes and setting up a lot of rules “would make the community feel uncomfortable and want to leave on their own” she says.
Vasquez’s 35-year-old son, Alex, comes in the front door carrying grocery bags. He listens, and then says people on Bishop Avenue look at him like he does not belong. He echoes a prejudice felt by a segment of Latinos in the area.
Alex says he wants to say to business owners, “Why you looking at me like that. I’ve been here before you even put your business in here. I lived here all my life. Now how come I have to have those looks like I don’t belong?”
Local business owner Luis Vega held meetings at his Davis Street shop for local Latinos concerned about the zoning changes.
A brick building two blocks north of the Vasquez home houses Vega’s Tire Company. Tires stacked on racks line the storefront outside. In a small rectangular office, scattered papers cover an outdated government-issued desk where Vega sits. A large round clock with large numbers hangs in front of a large window covered with chipped paint. Vega wears latex medical gloves to protect his hands.
The 71-year-old Mexico native took over the shop in 1982 and bought the property in 2005. Though officially retired, area workers proved his services were still needed during working hours despite rumors that surfaced about his building.
“I’m not against progress,” Vega says with a thick Spanish accent. “But what I hear, they don’t want no more this kind of business over here.”
A cracked yellow marquee attached to his storefront needs repair. Vega would like to update his shop, but he does not have the money. He almost went out of business when the city dug up the street in front of his shop to work on water and sewer lines for six months.
A friendly man with a warm smile, Vega does not feel like people snub him when he walks down Bishop Street. Vega says things are going to change and he feels terrible for some people. His advantage is property ownership. People have offered to buy his property, but he says they give “stupid offers.”
“There’s no doubt it’s going to change,” says Rick Barton, president of the Bishop Arts Merchants Association and owner of Hunky’s Old Fashion Hamburgers.
Plexiglas sheets covered the windows when Barton opened his restaurant on Bishop Avenue five years ago. The former owners gave up continually replacing the glass shattered by gunshots. Barton says the area had the same feel Oak Lawn did 25 years ago before renovation—shady.
Though good change has happened, signs of a once tough neighborhood still linger. Iron bars still cover windows and doors in the nicer areas. “The Trinity’s been like the ‘Great Wall’ to keep people from coming over here [to] the notorious bad Oak Cliff,” Barton says referring to the Trinity River.
With his other Hunky’s hamburger location in Oak Lawn, Barton saw Uptown go from a diverse to a not-so-diverse area as the high-rent district dotted with high-rises attracted high-income people. Though good for the city’s tax revenue, Barton would hate to see that type of change in North Oak Cliff.
Sherry Andrus, owner of chic Epiphany Boutique on Bishop Avenue, lived in Highland Park, but relocated to North Oak Cliff’s Kessler Park after opening her shop a few years ago.
“[The Trinity River Project] had a lot to do with why we felt that there was so much potential here,” the forty-something Andrus says. “The project means a huge revitalization for this side of the river.”
Andrus expects an influx of people who in the past thought of North Oak Cliff as unsafe. A cross section of people already living here makes the area very interesting and appealing, and will be reflective in the businesses that thrive here.
“As a resident and business owner, the conversation that we have is that we really don’t want this [area’s reputation] to get out too much,” Andrus chuckles. “We kind of like being this small town flavor with the greatest restaurants.”
Alameda, the woman who witnessed white flight as a child, worked in arts administration for 15 years for the city of Dallas. Recently hired as a Good Space employee, Alameda does not see redevelopment as a “malicious plot” to push out a particular race of people. Change does not always make people happy.
“The culture will change,” Alameda says, “but we have to remember that [Oak Cliff] wasn’t originally a Mexican community. Originally it was a white community.”
Before white flight Alameda says there was a mixture of races. Now she says a significant gay population and middle- to upper-income people of color are present—a nice balance for a mixed community. She also notes the Mexican community is staying.
“We are obviously one of the largest populations [of Latinos] in the whole city,” Alameda says. “To expect us all to get up and move from Oak Cliff is not realistic.”
Alameda sees now a textbook example of what happens to communities all the time—an outgoing of Anglos and money, an influx of lower-income immigrants, and a resurgence that includes higher-income people of color. Recently while driving home, Alameda saw a group of mostly Latino kids playing in a front yard. A blonde-hair child was playing in the circle with them.
“That’s the change,” Alameda says. “I haven’t seen that in years.”