Dallas Heritage Village Collaborative Exhibit Looks at Historic Neighborhoods

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This railroad section house in the Dallas Heritage Village is home to an exhibit by the Dallas Mexican American Historical League, as railroad work attracted many workers of Tejano or Mexican heritage. The exhibit is part of “Neighborhoods We Called Home” — a unique collaboration. (Photos courtesy Dallas Heritage Village).

A new Dallas Heritage Village is hosting a collaborative look at the historic neighborhoods that supported the African American, Hispanic, and Jewish communities in Dallas.

The Dallas Jewish Historical Society, the Dallas Mexican American Historical League, and Remembering Black Dallas Inc. worked together to provide a look at the “Neighborhoods We Called Home,” delving as far back as early 1900s Dallas.

Each organization has curated oral histories, family memorabilia, art, fashions, and artifacts from their communities, and those collections are installed in corresponding structures at the village. Volunteers from each organization will also be on hand to act as docents for their exhibits.

The exhibit, which runs through Dec. 31, also features an interactive map of Dallas neighborhoods and their historic communities. Created by Anita Palmer of GISetc: Educational Technology Consultants as a donation to the project, the map also links to all four organizations’ websites and will provide a comprehensive look at what life was like for these communities at the turn of the century.

“This new exhibit will certainly be a highlight of the fall at Dallas Heritage Village and something the community will want to see,” Evelyn Montgomery, Dallas Heritage Village curator, said in a statement. “Our three collaborators have been hard at work on their respective exhibits, and it is very exciting to watch this come together.”

Remembering Black Dallas redeveloped the Shotgun house their exhibit is housed in with 1930’s décor. The main living area has been transformed into an informational area, and the kitchen and bedroom are home to artifacts and furniture to depict the average Black family of the time.

The Shotgun House

The Jewish Historical Society’s exhibit is in a Victorian house that the Village has dedicated to the presentation of Jewish history, and the Dallas Mexican American Historical League’s materials will be featured in the railroad section house – a nod to the railroad work that attracted many workers of Tejano or Mexican heritage, the Village said.

The Blum House

“I hope this exhibit will be an ongoing project that will continue to evolve and be an educational and informative tool that will reinvent itself and grow,” said Dr. George Keaton Jr., founder of Remembering Black Dallas, Inc.

Keaton said he would like to see vintage videos and more in the exhibit, eventually.

“This collaboration not only gives us a chance to showcase where we each fit into the history of Dallas, but it also helps us find more ways the three communities were and are connected,” said Debra Polsky, the executive director of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. “Mexican-Americans succeeded Eastern European Jews in Goose Valley, black Dallasites owned much of the land on which the Orthodox Jewish community now resides, and all three ethnic groups suffered the effects of bigotry and flourished alongside the City of Dallas through its growth.”

Juanita Nañez, president of the Dallas Mexican American Historical League, agrees.

“What will be gained from this exhibit is not only learning of the uniqueness of the different cultures, but also seeing that there are more similarities than differences between all groups,” she said.

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Debra Polsky, Executive Director Dallas Jewish Historical Society; Melissa Prycer, president and executive director Dallas Heritage Village; Dr. George Keaton Jr., founder Remembering Black Dallas, Inc.; Evelyn Montgomery, curator Dallas Heritage Village; Juanita Nañez, president, Dallas Mexican American Historical League.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, Dallas Heritage Village and the Dallas Homeowners League will host a roundtable discussion on Dallas community history featuring Keaton, Polsky, and Albert Gonzalez of the Dallas Mexican American Historical League.

We took the opportunity to chat with Montgomery, who will moderate the roundtable, this week. We talked about favorite neighborhoods, surprising Dallas history, and more.

CD: What is your favorite neighborhood (present or historic) in Dallas, and why?

Montgomery: “The Cedars, where Dallas Heritage Village is located, and please don’t tell my home neighbors in Peaks Addition, which is also a nice neighborhood. The Cedars has such a rich history, and City Park is at the center of it. Always has been, the one constant in this ever-changing neighborhood.

The Cedars has been the place where people went for picnics in the 1870s, built the first park in the 1880s, and lived in Victorian houses way out in the suburbs, far from downtown, in the 1890s. Then it became an industrial area, with cotton and flour mills, but also a candy factory and a huge Sears distribution center. The housing stock grew and changed to accommodate the workers, who still went to the Park and the new City Park School. After World War II, the Cedars could have become one of the neighborhoods that urban renewal ruined, but loyal residents wouldn’t leave it, and then the artists arrived and so did the Dallas County Heritage Society, to build this museum. And now? Tech center, case study for new urbanism, center of creative preservation, who knows in this neighborhood that remakes itself so often.”

CD: Give us one surprising fact about Dallas history that most people don’t know.

Montgomery: “The first zoo was here in City Park, the museum grounds. It included wolves who howled and kept the neighbors awake, bears who kept escaping from their cages and roaming the streets, and antelope who everybody loved.”

CD: If you could get stuck in an elevator for an hour with five Dallasites – past or present – who would they be?

Montgomery: “John Neely Bryan and Sarah Cockrell, for the truth about early Dallas. Doc Holliday, who lived here briefly as a slightly drunken dentist before going on to greater fame. Since I am a historic preservationist and a friend of Virginia McAlester, I would want to meet her mother, Dorothy Savage, who started the preservation movement in Dallas. And finally, Joanne Wynne, wife of Angus Wynne Jr. While he developed Six Flags and Wynnewood Village, she led the group that found historic buildings to move to our museum, so that is sort of her own little building project. She left a lot of pictures and notes, but I still have questions.”

CD: Why is it important to learn about the rich and varied historical neighborhoods in Dallas?

Montgomery: “Neighborhoods are where the people of Dallas came together to build community, to learn leadership, establish buildings, and create cultures that supported their children. From those neighborhoods, strong residents reached out to build the city and to demand that Dallas give everybody an equal opportunity for success and to contribute to the city governance. Neighborhoods are still the building blocks of the city.”

In addition to the roundtable, DHV will also host a public scanning day to preserve images and documents Dallas families may have that relate to these neighborhoods. The event will be held on Nov. 5, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., in Browder Springs Hall. The images will be sent to the appropriate exhibit collaborator for their permanent collections.

This program was made possible in part with a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Dallas Heritage Village is located at 1515 S. Harwood, Dallas, Texas 75215-1273. The exhibit is free with general admission: $9 for adults, $7 for seniors 65+ and $5 for children ages 4 through 12 years. Children under 4 and members of Dallas Heritage Village are admitted free of charge.