Oak Cliff Artisans

For me, I think Oak Cliff has always had people with artistic hands and minds. My mother is an artist, but then there are others with creative minds that have individually and collectively formed their ideas to improve the area.

I think Oak Cliff (I call southwestern Dallas, Oak Cliff) has the natural beauty lacking in so many other parts of Dallas and Dallas County. It just breeds inspiration into an artist.

Before the current Tour of Homes set up, many times the Tour began with a parade and always included a street fair. At least 20 years ago, there was a big celebration held at Kidd Springs Park. There may have been some artists outside Oak Cliff invited, but I’m pretty sure most were natives to the area. They had everything from pottery to hand made crocheted items, to paintings and many other things. Sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical. Someone in the league got greedy, charged whopping rent for the two day event and it went away.

I haven’t been in years, but if you’re interested in local art, call Mountain View College to see if they still have a show on a Saturday in November or early December. It’s been a while, but it had to be a lot of different types of art because it went from one end to the other of that campus on two floors. It’s all handmade.

There have always been artist of a sort in this neighborhood. At the turn of the century, people used their talents to make a living. Many were craftsmen by trade, that’s why so many of these houses have workshops on the back of the property — it wasn’t always a rental unit.

The man that built our home — the original homeowner — was a cabinet maker. There have been many craftsmen/women of this sort in our neighborhood. After living with one or the other you learn a few things. Anyway, Charles Lee in the neighborhood is a tile layer, and Richard Fitzgerald stays pretty busy redoing houses in the area. He also volunteers a lot of his talent. Both are very good. Donna Eller once lived in the area. She is well known for taking a hobby of leaded glass and building a business by first teaching others. She was one of the original shopowners in the Bishop Arts area and ended up having several books published. Jason and Carrie design landscaping. I understand there are many writers living in the neighborhood, too. There are various, creative ways to express talent; sometimes its bigger than you can hold.

Politics of Oak Cliff 1960-2000

Most of what I write is first hand, although I have consulted a few who are older and have lived in Oak Cliff back to the 1920’s. We not only cover a lot of years, we cover a lot of territory from Ft. Worth Ave to the Trinity River bank to beyond Lancaster Road to Wheatland Road, to past Loop 12 and back to Davis. No one recalls any signs of discrimination in all those years against blacks and/or gays.

Oak Cliff really was a great “small town” atmosphere in the shadows of Dallas. People were very friendly and welcoming to all. Be a good neighbor and you were treated as a good neighbor.

I first recognized a difference between Dallas and Oak Cliff when I was a kid about 10 years old and it didn’t get any better for almost 40 years. My grandparents noticed it since the early 1900’s. Dallas had landscaped medians, we were supposed to be happy with a crepe myrtle. Dallas had well kept neighborhoods, blight became a part of Oak Cliff for too long. You didn’t notice streets in North Dallas without sidewalks and curbs, yet, it was a part of life in many parts of Oak Cliff during the 60’s and 70’s, and maybe into the 80’s.

We just thought Dallas didn’t care about Oak Cliff until November 22, 1963. When the press found out Lee Harvey Oswald rented an apartment in Oak Cliff, it was downhill from there — like we had somehow molded this man’s life to become who he was. Forget the fact he just rented this place for a short time, and his family was in Ft. Worth. Didn’t matter.

You have to know the politics of the time, and to be honest, I wasn’t old enough to know the hate that surrounded JFK or why. A modern day assassination? I do remember there was an uproar and Washington was trying to kick Texas out of the union. Still too young to follow, but I can tell you Dallas took it out on Oak Cliff, and the area was neglected something awful, like we didn’t exist.

Someone wrote about the redlining — where banks wouldn’t loan money to rebuild homes within those boundaries. It was Councilman Charles Tandy (Dr.) who helped get the redlining removed when he was in office during 1990 so these once grand homes could be repaired and rebuilt.

JFK died and LBJ was in office. It was LBJ that signed a bill on civil rights. That’s when forced busing came into play. Dallas leaders — and there wasn’t an even playing field of representation of southern Dallas at the School Board or City Hall — did everything they could to prevent forced busing into North Dallas — or even Dallas. The minorities were mostly living in West Dallas and South Dallas with some in Oak Cliff; Oak Cliff, mostly white, was in the middle. To meet the objective of a court order, these leaders pushed forced busing on Oak Cliff. It only worked for a few years because people with children put a child’s education first — they only get one chance to get a solid foundation and a chance to succeed in school and on to college. They moved to where their children could go to neighborhood schools. By the way, I remember going through grade school to high school with people of Mexican ancestry, and I counted them as my friends as did others. They didn’t call themselves Mexican-Americans back then. Maybe we were stupid, but we just knew we were Americans.

For Sale signs were everywhere when educational standards started to dip and people didn’t want their kids shipped across town to meet a court order, but to our credit, as one friend pointed out, there were never any signs that mentioned negative notations against minorities. That was the 70’s. Come to think of it, blacks and browns moved to the burbs as well.

No one I asked recalls any such signs discriminating against gay people. Two of us remember two places on 10th St. that rented to MEN ONLY. I remember wanting to rent an apartment at the “new” apartments at 10th and Jefferson next to the dentist office in the late 60’s and was denied because I was single, the same thing happened to a friend.

As Ellen mentioned, people thoughout history have been discriminated against. The new immigrants of the 1900’s and 1920’s really had it hard. Today, its short; or overweight; or strait, white men; or age, or where you live; or well you get the picture …. they just don’t say why because it would most likely bring a lawsuit.

There were two things that helped to clean up Oak Cliff and bring equity from Dallas:

1) In 1980, I think, the Republican Convention came to Dallas and Dallas wanted to put their best foot forward. Oak Cliff was so trashy and littered. Bob McElerney was the Director of Code Enforcement and it was he who ordered sweeps and clean-ups in Oak Cliff to get it cleaned up, including the alleys. During the 1980’s, Code Enforcement did several sweeps in neighborhoods all over Oak Cliff where, literally, all available — they were all available — in the office went into that one neighborhood along with the police and they hit the drug houses and the gang problems writing up cases on house after house with violations. Bob McElerney later became the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce director.

2) In 1990, Oak Cliff found the proverbial 2×4 to get Dallas’ attention for equity. Either do something to improve this area or be de-annexed and go back to the City of Oak Cliff. There were boarded structures throughout Oak Cliff, because of the drugs and neglect from owners, tenants, and the City code violations. City equipment was orange back then, and you could see orange everywhere, especially in Winnetka Heights. From that point forward, distribution of tax dollars at City Hall changed.

The Zoo

After the flood in 1908, after the construction of the Oak Cliff Viaduct in 1912, the City of Dallas purchased the land known as Marsalis Park and moved the zoo animals from Dallas City Park — I assume it would be Old City Park near downtown — to their new location. If you are familiar at all with the terrain of the park, we have family photographs with primitive construction of how people climbed the higher areas; no less in long dresses. People didn’t go anywhere in casual wear — they only had two kinds; work and Sunday best.

So, to answer the question, yes there was a zoo, although not very big.

Back in 1914, the Park was known as Forest Park Zoo (Old City Park is near Forest and maybe that’s how it got the name) and was later changed to Marsalis Park Zoo before becoming the Dallas Zoo.

Growing up in Oak Cliff during the 1950’s

Growing up in Oak Cliff during the 1950’s was fun. Shopping on Jefferson during Christmas time was bumper to bumper with police directing traffic. We finally got a mall in the 70’s; little did we know it would destroy Jefferson and Wynnewood when the businesses moved from these areas to Redbird.

During the summer, before there was a seatbelt law, my mother would pile ten kids into the car — her own plus the neighborhood kids — and take us either to Polar Bear where a scoop of ice cream was 7 cents or to a local snow cone shop where they cost a nickle.

Oak Cliff was the country life to Big D. It was nothing for 20 kids from the neighborhood to gather in our yard to play games from kickball to chase or something else we would invent. At night, we would lie on blankets, and in the darkness look at the stars, watch for airplanes, and big lights spanning the sky. During the 50’s, it didn’t take much to entertain a kid

We went to the “zoo” in the summer. They had a collection of rides — ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, train that went around in a circle where that far parking lot on Clarendon is located, and the carousel. When they started to build on the zoo — probably in the 60’s — the rides were moved across the street to where the “Wilds of Africa” is located. Eventually, it was dismantled. Maybe the carousel is the original with exotic animals on the outside “lane.”

The animals I remember, believe it or not, were in small stalls at the corner of Clarendon and Ewing, tethered. It’s possible they only tethered them for a few hours a day trying to get people into zoo! Maybe as they enlarged the grounds, they were able to place them in permanent, safe housing.

Interesting story behind the area known as the zoo. Later.

Buildings in Oak Cliff

For those really curious about the history of Oak Cliff, if you have a question about a street or a building — to know a little history — ask.

May someone else or myself can help.

For instance:
Bank of America Building use to be Oak Cliff Bank Tower
Winnetka Place was Rick Furniture for a long time.

Some of the dollar stores, among other things, were once 5 and dime with soda fountains.

Family Dollar on Edgefield and Davis was originally a Skillern’s Drug Store. The owners — Skillern Family — lived in Kessler at Montclair and Colorado and (pretty sure) the grandparents to Robert Folsom, Mayor of Dallas years ago.

When WH was built, I’m told the only shopping for food and hardware was Boedeckers at Jefferson, 10th and Lancaster Ave. The Super Mercardo building was built later and was the neighborhood shopping for many in the area after it was built. It had an A&P Food Store, Schindler’s Bakery and a hardware store that later became Cannon’s during the 70’s. People in the neighborhood rode the trolley to downtown for major shopping — furniture and clothing.

All those used car lots on East Jefferson, and the area where the the new middle school was built, along with Boedeckers, there were new car lots during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

Originally, Peter Piper Pizza was once a Safeway Food Store and then Bearden Furniture. Bearden’s moved to where the Salvation Army is located on Polk and Jefferson.

Republic Bank was the parent company for stocks to Oak Cliff Bank. It was a great bank. The original Oak Cliff bank was at the corner of Jefferson and Madison (?), across from the Texas Theater. It was later torn down and now is Optical Clinic.

During the 70’s or 80’s the banks in Dallas were in serious trouble, especially First National Bank, for making unsecured loans to the very rich. Republic and First National merged and became ____________. (I think it was First Republic) They went under and North Carolina National Bank — NCNB — came in and bought all those banks in Dallas and it was downhill, high fees, impersonal from there; the difference between a neighborhood bank and an out of state bank.) NCNB changed their name to a more national name — Nation’s Bank. Nation’s Bank and Bank of America merged and became Bank of America (with the mentality of Nation’s Bank). All of this happened in about a 10 year span after NCNB took charge.

Oak Cliff Bank, Republic Bank, First Republic, NCNB, Nation’s Bank, and Bank of America.

Dallas Can Acadamy was originally Oak Cliff Savings and Loan. It also bit the dust during the 80’s, closed and was vacant for some time before Bank of America (the original bank) moved in and Dallas Can Acadamy was in the basement.

Another interesting building near the neighborhood in on Jefferson just past Rosemont. It’s a funny shaped building and maybe has Allen on the sign. It was the Interurban, but I’ll write about it later.