tenth street historic district resource center

It’s North Texas Giving Day and one project is looking to preserve the history and celebrate the present-day residents of the Tenth Street Historic District of Dallas. 

During Reconstruction after the Civil War, many emancipated slaves created communities together. Most of these Freedmen’s towns have been torn down or changed beyond recognition over the years, but Dallas has one of the only remaining intact ones in the nation. 

Located in Oak Cliff, this is the Tenth Street Historic District, a designation created in 1993 by the city of Dallas to help preserve African-American culture in this vital area, which has 257 homes, four commercial buildings, three institutional structures, and one cemetery. Other designations include Dallas Landmark District, National Register of Historic Places, and State Historic Marker Program. This area’s preservation is a big deal.    

During North Texas Giving Day, nonprofit Building Community Workshop, known as BC Workshop, is fundraising to help renovate the house above to create a resource for the community, the Tenth Street Neighborhood Resource Center. 

“Our goal is to renovate, keeping it true to historical character and working with residents to create a resource center, staffed by someone from [BC Workshop] and providing information about things like how to apply for permits to do renovations in this historic neighborhood, and answer questions, learn and share back with residents,” said Lizzie MacWillie, Associate Director of Dallas office of BC Workshop. “The place could be available for community meetings, art shows, performances…poetry slams, musical performances that celebrate and elevate the celebrate the neighborhood.” 

MacWillie emphasizes that this is all about creating what the residents want, not what an outside group thinks would be best for residents.  

“We wouldn’t be doing any of this without residents,” she said. 

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Southwest Dallas neighborhoods. Stars represent DART Light Rail stations.

[Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in Jon Anderson’s Southern Dallas Buyer’s Guide. Read the first two here and here.]

First Stop: The Tenth Street and The Bottoms

Every neighborhood needs a Lester Houston fighting for it.  In Houston’s case, he’s the Cedar Haven Neighborhood Association leader located just southeast of the Zoo. Houston grew up in the area and actually lives in the home he grew up in. But Houston’s life story adds to this often-told tale of activists reclaiming their childhood.  As a Marine for 35 years, he’s lived and traveled all over the world. This gives him a local and global perspective often lacking in neighborhood revivalists.  He also understands hard work, discipline, and the realization that “overnight” is a pat phrase.

The area surrounding the Zoo didn’t slide into neglect overnight, and it won’t rise again overnight.  The area has had several building cycles, usually after some war — be it Civil (one of the oldest black areas), or after both World Wars when the area was mostly Caucasian.  During the 1960s, two things happened: White-flight took whites to the ‘burbs and U.S. Highway 77 was upsized to I-35E, severing the connection with Oak Cliff.  Because of this, the area slid into decline and became almost exclusively black. I’m sure we all understand the racial motivations and freeway mania of the time, as we strive, decades later to begin healing that wound.

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One of the many houses in the Swiss Avenue Historic District. Photo: Swiss Avenue Historic District

One of the many architecturally significant houses in the Swiss Avenue Historic District. Photo: Swiss Avenue Historic District

In the late 1960s and 1970s, the preservation climate in Dallas was almost nonexistent. Historic buildings were routinely razed on a whim and the city lost quite a few prominent structures, like the Commonwealth National Bank in 1969, the Melba Theater around 1971, the Southland Hotel in 1971, and the Hotel Jefferson in 1975.

The Swiss Avenue area, now one of Dallas’ most treasured neighborhoods, was almost destroyed by high-rise development and disinvestment. But in 1973, homeowners banded together to protect the area and through historic district status and many years of investment by property owners, created the first historic district in Dallas, and what is now the “crown jewel of East Dallas.”

The Swiss Avenue Historic District is truly a success story and one that blazed a trail for other future historic districts in Dallas to follow,” said David Preziosi, Executive Director of Preservation Dallas. “It stands as the finest example of an early 20th-century planned neighborhood with an eclectic mix of houses representing virtually every popular residential design style of the day.”

Those efforts, along with 12 projects, organizations, and individuals, were recently honored at Preservation Dallas’ 16th annual Preservation Achievement Awards. The awards recognize the most outstanding developments in historic preservation and individuals or groups who are committed to preserving Dallas’ history. They help continue the organization’s efforts to educate and advocate for the preservation and revitalization of the city’s significant historic buildings and places.

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