Legacies: Old East Dallas 1975
The Nation’s Most Successful Neighborhood Revitalization
Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Spring, 2001
For a neighborhood to be considered the most successfully revitalized, it first needs to be considered the most successfully deteriorated. Munger Place enjoys both successes.
The night before I made my first visit to Munger Place in 1974 as a senior in college, I went to bed early so I would be fully rested for the bicycle trip from SMU. Munger Place is only three miles from SMU, but in my mind, from the stories that I had heard, the two environments were fifty miles apart. Much to my surprise, I departed from Hillcrest and Rosedale and arrived on Tremont Street twelve minutes later. I misjudged the distance, but I did not misjudge the stories. They were all true.
I had become acclimated to SMU, a virtual paradise of tree-lined boulevards, protected quadrangles, bright professors, and beautiful coeds—in summary, a very cheerful university population. Munger Place, on the other hand, was the heart of Old East Dallas, a neighborhood on its last legs. It was the first stop for people arriving in Dallas on their way up and the last stop for those poor souls on their way down. Here, if you saw a smile, there were usually no teeth to go with it.
The dilapidated houses were divided into four or five small apartments, rooms for rent, or converted to halfway houses. These conversions sometimes created spaces only accessed from a rickety wood fire escape through a second-story double-hung window. The rhythm of these decaying structures was interrupted by overgrown vacant lots, often with a protruding foundation, or the lingering smell that accompanies a burned out shell.
Housing reports identified Old East Dallas as the most diverse and transient population in the city.*1 Refugees and out-of-towners with no money landed here. Those with any ability or initiative put together a few hundred dollars and moved to another neighborhood. That still left a cast of every imaginable character parading down the broken sidewalks of Munger Place. They might be camping on vacant lots or in vacant houses, or spending the night in one of the many detox rooming houses, or detention homes for wayward boys and girls. Assorted shelters were dumped in Old East Dallas because no other neighborhood would allow them. With the offer of care and refuge, non-profit organizations collected the downtrodden from across the city and brought them into an environment with the city’s highest concentration of bars, crime, death, and disease. *2
The rest of the population was made up primarily of revolving door tenants. These tenants would pay $20 a week rent for an all-utilities-paid apartment. They would move in with their extended families and friends for two or three weeks until they were evicted. Once evicted, these tenants would move into a similar apartment across the street under the same terms. Not only was there no such thing as a deposit, background check, or credit check, a person might be an evicted tenant one day and an apartment manager the next. *3
A four-plex owner would often choose whoever appeared to be the most dependable tenant to collect the rent from the other tenants in the apartment house. The new manager would last three or four weeks, until he pocketed the rent or stopped collecting rent from his fellow tenants and future managers. In a twelve-block area there was an almost endless combination of tenants, managers, and apartment houses. This arrangement was reminiscent of the expression that came out of Communist Russia: “We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us.” Here the tenants pretended to pay rent and the landlords pretended to provide shelter. If a roof leaked through the five or six layers of shingles, the water would create a hole not only in the roof, but also in the floor, where the water would land. Usually the landlord had a “no repair” policy, since his goal was to collect the last dregs of rent before the structure was demolished and the land sold to a developer or investor.
These apartments might be all-utilities-paid, but all the utilities might not be offered. For instance, an apartment might have running water, but no drainpipe. It might have a sink, but no toilet. In the event the apartment had both electricity and gas, one could count on the tenant opening the windows and simultaneously running both the air conditioning window units and the gas space heaters. Although these decayed, divided-up buildings were not making money, there was no hope the owners would ever repair them or convert them back to single-family homes, even if they wanted to, because there were no loans available for purchase or repair.
Some landlords took a different approach to offset their expenses. They would find a novice buyer, collect a $500 down payment, carry a $9,000 note, foreclose a few months later and then find someone new who thought the apartment was a good investment because it was overflowing with tenants.
Now, after a few more bicycle trips back to Tremont to visit my artist friends, sculptor James Surls suggested I buy the beat-up house across the street from his home and studio. I asked how I could do that, since the house was not even for sale. He said that every property in the neighborhood was for sale, but no one bothered putting up a sign because no one wanted them.
Sure enough, I looked up the owner and he was willing to sell this apartment house for $12,500 with a $1,000 down payment. I considered this proposal because I had saved some money from my summer warehouse teamster’s job, enough for the down payment with money left over for paint. I called my father and asked him what he thought. He said he would fly right down. The next day James Surls, with a feather in his ear and a long braid pulled up and secured by a bone, gave my father a tour of the block. My father, while taking this experience in stride, was still a little skeptical of the property. He suggested we call the agent from the sign in front of a house down the street. This was my first introduction to Fred Longmore. He drove up in a 20-year-old pink Cadillac with a trunk that was a virtual library of promotional material and propaganda. Fred Longmore was an incredible visionary, but this eccentric would have been better placed in Edwardian England than twentieth-century Dallas. He made James Surls look like he worked for IBM.
Shortly thereafter, in 1974, I did buy a house on Tremont Street where I still reside. Years later I discovered that my father’s encouragement came not from keen insight or blind confidence in his son’s judgment, but a call he placed to Stanley Marcus, whose brother-in-law was a colleague of his. Mr. Marcus told him if the neighborhood ever turned around it would be a good investment, and if it didn’t, it was so close to downtown it was still a good investment.
In my youthful enthusiasm I saw that beyond the veils of decay was a majestic neighborhood that only needed, in my opinion, some nurturing and organizing. To put this in perspective, I also thought my new home just needed some paint. However, I discovered when I pulled off the wallpaper there was no sheet rock or plaster, only gauze and 12-inch wood shiplap. Spending the next six months sheet rocking my house gave me plenty of time to come up with a plan for the neighborhood.
Since the Vietnam War ended before my student deferment ran out, I felt I had a couple of years I could devote toward a good cause—time given back to me when the war ended. Even though two out of the three remaining homeowners on my block of Tremont were murdered the first year I lived on the street and one vacant house was arsoned, I felt immensely safer than if I had been in the swamps of Vietnam.
I found I was not alone in wanting to resurrect the neighborhood, organize, or make a social and political impact. Besides a few original homeowners, this area was a magnet for a wide range of activists. I found this out at a backyard neighborhood party at the home of Ken Gjemre, a liberal in the Scandinavian tradition and founder of Half-Price Books. Here I met Harry Gibson, the secretary of the local municipal Employees Union; Charlie Young, the leader of the local cell of the International Peoples Party; Dan Fry, a right wing astrologer and radio host at WRR; Jim Ball, the publisher of a libertarian neighborhood newspaper; and Jackie Burden and Suzanne Starling, two professors who introduced me to Mayor Pro Tem Adlene Harrison, who came in support of the neighborhood. Also in attendance, from across Gaston, were Lynn Dunsavage and Virginia McAlester, who had recently contributed to the rezoning of their neighborhood, the Swiss Avenue Historic District.
The Swiss Avenue Historic District had been conceived by a planner named Wei Ming Lu, whom Plan Department director James Shroeder and the City of Dallas recruited and hired to form a small urban design team to help with a master land use plan. Creating a historic district on Swiss Avenue was one of Wei Ming Lu’s first initiatives. To accomplish this he approached former mayor and prominent banker Wallace Savage and his politically and socially astute wife Dorothy. Not only were the Savages receptive, their daughter, Virginia McAlester, also a resident of Swiss, and Lynn Dunsavage, a public relations specialist and a neighbor behind her on Bryan Parkway, agreed to spearhead this historic district effort.
This planning initiative came in the nick of time. A building permit for a high-rise apartment had just been requested. The planning staff, with the support of the Savages, was able to secure a city moratorium on any new Swiss Avenue building permits until a study of the zoning could be made, stopping the high-rise development.
Lynn and Virginia calmed those opposed to a historic district and identified those on the street who would be supportive, making sure their petitions were mailed back to the city. The petitions came back. Eleven were in favor of a historic district and three opposed, enough for the Plan Department to claim neighborhood support for their proposal. With the encouragement of Mayor Pro Tem Adlene Harrison, the motion before the City Council passed and Dallas’s first Historic District was established in September, 1973. *4
This new district prohibited high-rise and multi-family apartments, but it did allow new duplexes, since duplexes were already on the street. Also, the design guidelines did not require new homes to look historic. Conspicuous modern homes could be built on Swiss if they satisfied a point system with criteria including compatible mass, materials, height and landscaping. This new historic district, however, did its job—it reclaimed the street. Dorothy Savage; Virginia McAlester; Lynn Dunsavage; Harryette Ehrhardt (now a state representative); along with Mike Brown, an architect; Joe Goyne, a young banker; and a few others, formed the Historic Preservation League. Preservationists were now in charge, and did they charge!
The publicity machine of Lynn and Virgina went into overdrive. They generated dozens of newspaper articles, created a pamphlet on Old East Dallas neighborhoods, recruited new residents, and initiated an architectural survey of lower Munger Place. Their greatest success was the Historic Preservation League’s annual Mother’s Day Home Tour. This event was an architectural Mardi Gras, a pilgrimage to the homeland, a crusade eager to convert non-believers. Thousands of people came. In 1973 the first tour raised $10,000 and was spent on the landscape design for Swiss Avenue.
Swiss Avenue, however, remained separated from Old East Dallas by Gaston Avenue. Gaston Avenue, long faded from glory, was a mile-long strip of deteriorating apartment complexes built shortly after East Dallas had been blanket zoned multi-family in the early 1960s. While Swiss Avenue was acquiring a new identity on one side of Gaston, on the other side of Gaston the architectural and physical decay of Old East Dallas blurred the boundaries of its distinctive neighborhoods.
City Hall responded by creating and staffing the East Dallas Community Design Committee. They placed an overlay on an Old East Dallas map, arbitrarily identifying the neighborhoods as “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E.” All interested parties were rounded up and convened in church basements. Representatives were elected to the big committee that would meet monthly in the old Lakewood Library, a town hall for the struggling area.
Besides residents of neighborhoods “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E,” the big committee included investors, slum landlords, and business owners who did not live in the area, such as rent house owner Willis Tate, Jr. Then there were Mary Riffe and her family, who were involved with the Tenants’ Alliance and other radical groups. She chaired the public relations committee. Martha Heimberg, a theater critic, was a homeowner in area “B.” Marian Gibson chaired the Code Enforcement Committee. Her committee was not just concerned with getting shoulder-high weeds cut down and derelict buildings removed, but with keeping buildings from being demolished. One committee report stated: “An elderly woman in neighborhood “C” called the city to complain of a tenant urinating out of the second story side window of a four-plex apartment. The city responded by sending out an inspector who promptly red-tagged the building. It was torn down a month later.”
Uniform code enforcement was an impossible problem. The condition of 85 percent of the structures warranted condemnation. The experienced rent house operators could dodge inspectors with several layers of assumed names and partnerships, keep complaints in the courts or at last resort, take out a permit and claim work was in progress despite a several decades long schedule for completion. But if they were pushed, the owners would tear down a structure before they would bring it up to code. The neighbors would be mad if the city did not respond fast enough to code violations, but they would be furious if a building was torn down. They were usually furious. Two to five percent of the houses in the neighborhood were demolished each year. *5
Bob Logan chaired the honky-tonk committee. He was raised on a ranch in the desert of California thinking that Ronald Reagan was a wild liberal. He owned a large apartment complex in Munger Place in which he and his wife resided. Bob, an advocate of new apartment development, felt that no new apartments would be built as long as there might be twenty-two honky-tonks clustered on a single corner of the neighborhood. East Dallas had 5% of the population, 19.9% of the bars and 30.4% of all beer licenses.*6 The day I moved into the area, I walked three blocks to the Safeway, passing several bars along the way. I returned with a sack of groceries and a copy of D Magazine with a cover devoted to “The 10 meanest bars in Dallas.”*7 The bar I just passed was on the cover.
The County Commissioners Court and the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission said shutting down these bars was virtually impossible. Ordinances requiring a percentage of food sales could be manipulated. Zoning was not a solution as there proved to be too many loop holes. Licensing crackdowns proved futile. Even if there was a drug related murder in one of these honky-tonks, you had to find a witness willing to testify at his own peril before the licensing authorities. If enough evidence were gathered to revoke a license, the owner would just hire a new bartender and put the license in his name.
I had shown an interest in zoning and so I was made the Chairman of the Physical Development committee. My zoning effort started by approaching the Jacksons, the only remaining homeowners on my block. I asked them with great confidence if they would sign a petition requesting that their single-family home be zoned single-family. To my great surprise, they said no. They wanted to be able to sell their property for apartments.
I met with much the same rejection when I contacted the other isolated homeowners in the area. With no petitions signed I did what any sensible graduate student would do—I went to the library and began researching urban journals on the economic impact of different types of zoning. I discovered there was strong evidence that single-family zoning would create confidence and stability and that in Blooimington, Minnesota, multi-family zoning had actually been used to deliberately lower housing prices.*8 I put together a position paper on the economic advantages of single-family zoning for every party with a vested interest in the area.*9 Also, by continuing to talk with property owners I found that the larger the area I suggested for single-family rezoning, the more appealing it became, but the less likely they thought it was possible. This prompted me to define a 700 acre area with historic housing stock and natural neighborhood boundaries, which was approximately Haskell to Lakewood Shopping Center, Gaston Avenue to Columbia/Abrams. With the help of Rick Finley, a city planner and liaison with the East Dallas Community Design Committee, a map was made of the 100-block area showing each property not as it was currently used, which was predominantly multi-family, but its original use, which was predominantly single-family.
I brought my findings to Bob Logan. He viewed me as a liberal graduate student against apartment development that he thought would improve the neighborhood. I viewed him as a hardheaded, unenlightened, apartment owner against single-family zoning, which I thought would save the neighborhood. I would rant about slum landlords and he would counter, “There is no such thing as a slum landlord. Only slum tenants!” These frequent and furious debates would escalate on my front porch.
I knew that rezoning 100 blocks of mostly apartments to single-family zoning was going to be an uphill battle. The homeowners were skeptical, the apartment owners were opposed, and Robert Folsom had just been elected mayor on a platform against any rezoning that reduced property owner rights. Even my urban economics professor said, “you might find 50 people quirky enough to fix up a home there, but you will never find 2,000 people willing to move to the area and fix up a property.” But what I did not realize until much later was that the people who I thought would be in favor of single-family zoning were against it. I had no idea a coalition of planners, preservationists and politicians would all be opposed to this project. Nor did I know how much they had at stake to see single-family zoning thwarted. Mayor Wes Wise and Adlene Harrision had been setting in motion their own plan, the strongest pro-neighborhood/anti-development initiative in Dallas history: the comprehensive land use plan. They had targeted East Dallas as their rezoning demonstration area. Jim Schroeder, director of the planning department, was charged with creating this comprehensive land use plan that reduced development rights. His career depended on the passage of that plan. The problem for us was that the comprehensive land use plan did not call for single-family zoning in Old East Dallas. Olive Shapiro, the plan commission chairman, and her mentor, Adlene Harrison, had made the comprehensive land use plan and mass transit their political priority, so they were against our single-family rezoning plan. In East Dallas they wanted a combination of mixed use, duplex, triplex, townhouse, and multi-family zoning. They also wanted high-density zoning that would help mass transit. Lynn Dunsavage, the newly appointed plan commissioner for East Dallas, joined them in support of the land use plan. Planner Wei Ming Lui was against us because, after the success of his historic district on Swiss, he wanted to create another new designation—a mixed-use conservation district, and showcase it in Munger Place. I also thought that the radical anti-development Bois D’arc Patriots would be in favor of single-family zoning. I was wrong. Charlie Young told me in his home on Junius, “When you are organizing, you want unstable conditions and disgruntled people.” And finally, it never occurred to me that the best known preservationists would oppose the single-family rezoning of Old East Dallas, so I optimistically kept knocking on doors and drumming up support.
When I returned from a holiday in Hawaii, I found a letter dated January 3, 1977, from Perry Gross, the president of the East Dallas Community Design Committee, stating that zoning was being removed from my Physical Development Sub-Committee because there had not been enough progress or support from the city. Eventually, I was told that Mayor Pro-Tem Adlene Harrison called in David Miller, her former assistant when she was mayor, and his neighbor, Perry Gross, Fred Longmore, Don Criswell and a few other neighborhood leaders. With every good intention, she told them that Doug Newby was tearing up the Comprehensive Land Use Plan and they needed to take over the re-zoning effort in East Dallas.*11 On reflection I could see this was an early example of the trend towards patronage politics, politicians telling city workers, appointed commission members and neighborhood leaders what they should support rather than neighborhoods telling politicians what the politicians should support. At the time, I thought this was just East Dallas politics, which Dan Fry often compares to Yugoslavia and the Balkan States. Neighbors were family and friends one day, fierce opponents the next, and eventually allies again. For instance, Bob Logan, after months of trying to poke holes in my argument for single-family zoning, decided it was the best hope to turn around the neighborhood. Because he was now an ally, I showed him the letter removing the zoning from my committee. He said he would just make me chairman of the Property Owners for Single-Family Zoning. He would be co-chairman and help coordinate the effort and I could help him with the bar ordinance. While I was still figuring out if Bob Logan could really make me chairman of the Property Owners, the East Dallas Community Design Committee announced in front page newspaper stories their call for Old East Dallas to be rezoned. They proposed a study of the area to determine how each property owner wanted his or her property zoned. In response to this announcement, Bob Logan told me we would just have to accelerate our schedule and go public with our plan. We began solidifying a coalition of financial institutions, apartment owners, and a pro-development mayor. We went to City Hall and met again with Mayor Folsom. At our first meeting I was shocked that he understood and agreed with the principals of our single-family zoning proposal. But he quickly made clear why he thought the plan had merit. He knew no new apartments were going to be built in Old East Dallas because developers did not want to build new apartments surrounded by a slum. He also knew that since there were 1,200 owners, the ownership of these 2,000 lots was too fragmented for developers to assemble and demolish the entire area. He agreed with our position that single-family zoning creates confidence for both homeowners and lenders. He recognized that single-family zoning would create an incentive for apartment owners to maintain their buildings, because if their apartments were demolished they would lose their multi-family privilege. Mayor Folsom had said he would support our plan if we had the property owner’s support.
At this next meeting Mayor Folsom further encouraged us by scheduling a news conference on January 21, 1977*12, in the Mayor’s office to announce our plan, much to the consternation of the city manager’s staff. Also invited to this news conference were leaders whose support we had quietly secured. They included Manny DeBusk, the President of the Apartment Owners Association; Keith Beer, the owner of the largest number of vacant lots; George Reeves, who owned the most rent houses; Henrietta Eidt, a resident of Old East Dallas since 1904; David Fox who was developing Bryan Place; and John R. M. McDowell, the regional director of HUD. On January 25, the same participants also formed a panel that addressed 600 property owners on February 2, in the auditorium of Woodrow Wilson High School where we kicked off the single-family zoning petition campaign.*14 After this news conference and town hall meeting, the opposition was energized and campaigned vigorously against the single-family proposal. We responded to every allegation with a mailing that answered the charges and always included a petition on a stamped return postcard. Our opponents claimed that single-family zoning would displace tenants. We explained that tenants would not be displaced because there was a high vacancy rate, and they would live in a more stable environment. We cited the educational disruption caused by the 100 percent student turnover every year at David Crockett Grade School, prompting its principal, Dr. John H. Redd, to support the plan.*16 In fact, when graduate students at SMU were doing research on gentrification, they could not even find any displaced tenants. The opponents also claimed that apartment owners would lose their investment if an apartment burned down and could not be rebuilt. We would make another 11 P.M. trip to the post office with letters to every property owner so they would have our response the next day. In this correspondence we pointed out that if an apartment burned, the owner would collect insurance for its replacement cost and with the insurance money could buy two more apartments of the same size in the same area.*17 We also reminded the apartment owners that every time an apartment was torn down the other apartment owners would benefit because there was one less apartment to compete with. The opponents claimed lenders would refuse to make loans on apartments zoned single-family. We countered with letters from the presidents of Glenn Justice Mortgage*18 and Merchant State Bank*19 that said they were more likely to make loans on apartments in this area if it was zoned single-family. The opponents alleged that the city would prohibit non-conforming use apartments to be repaired. We referred to a letter from the Housing and Urban Rehabilitation department that said the city would allow apartments to be repaired even if they were non-conforming.*19 Even retail owners who had favored high density zoning to give them more customers ???
As support for single-family zoning grew, the planner-politician-preservation-coalition countered with a call for “mixed-use zoning,” the zoning mantra of the day, “zone everything for its present use.” It was popular across the country and had been used in Oak Cliff’s Winnetka Heights. A new 20-unit apartment could replace an existing 20-unit apartment. A new four-unit apartment could replace a fourplex. And a new single-family home would be required to replace an old single-family home.
There were problems with this plan. Ninety percent of the historic housing stock was used as multi-family and so it could be torn down and replaced with new apartments that destroyed the architectural tone of the neighborhood. Apartment owners would have no incentive to maintain their buildings. And it was not equitable: different owners lost different rights.
When single-family zoning continued to gain support, Olive Shapiro and Lynn Dunsavage met with us.*21 They offered to relent and make the twelve blocks of Munger Place a historic district if we dropped the single-family request for the entire 100-block area. This was a huge offer since the city did not want to dilute the prestige of historic designation in an area as deteriorated as Munger Place. We said no to the deal and reiterated that the critical mass of 100 blocks rezoned single-family was essential for the area’s success.
The next several months we would go down to City Hall and planners would hide under their desk when they saw us coming. We cajoled, pleaded, and pounded our fists trying to get the plan commission staff to understand the benefits of single-family zoning. We could not even find out what they were going to propose for the area. With the help of dozens of neighbors and property owners we eventually gathered 800 petitions representing the ownership of 1,200 properties, along with many business and corporate letters of support and ???succeeded in getting a public hearing called by the City Plan Commission to determine proper zoning.
The jubilation was short lived. Instead of the Plan Commission sending notices asking if the property owners desired single-family zoning, they sent notices asking what each property owner wanted for their individual lot.*23 This was the antithesis of our request. Our efforts were further frustrated when the Plan Department at the Plan Commission hearing unveiled their recommendation for dividing the area into twenty-two different zoning districts. Even with our petitions representing 1,200 properties, the Plan Commission would not allow us to discuss our single-family request. They limited us to three minutes for a reaction to the specific zoning proposed for only the small district in which we lived. Adding to the bedlam was Charlie Young. He was best known for letting cockroaches loose at a City Council meeting to protest slum housing. He brought his band of supporters waving posters and passing out pins in opposition to blanket single-family zoning. The City Plan Commission in April, 1977, voted in favor of the Plan Department’s recommendation for eleven different types of zoning. Our only chance to salvage the single-family zoning initiative that banned any new apartments was at the very pro-development City Council.
A few weeks later the City Council auditorium was packed. Charlie Young and his group again showed up in force. At the urging of Lynn Dunsavage and the Plan Commission, the Historic Preservation League, represented by Virginia and Lee McAlester and Mike Brown and their attorney, Neil Anderson, came before the City Council and threatened to sue the City if they rezoned this area single-family, making apartments non-conforming. In an era when property rights were sacrosanct, some apartment owners were claiming their property rights were being taken away. Mayor Folsom responded, “no one is going to build apartments here, your land has more value zoned single-family.” At-large City Councilman Bill Blackburn moved to adopt the Plan Commission recommendation for rezoning, with the modification that anything rebuilt had to be single-family. This motion passed. No apartments could be built in the 100 blocks of Old East Dallas.
But the process was not yet finished. The technical language of the formal ordinance still needed to be adopted. The Plan Commission, behind closed doors, voted to have the ordinance written so that the zoning was single-family, but every apartment could be replaced with an apartment. We saw that all was lost unless this proposed language was changed. We went to Stan Knight, a City Attorney introduced to us by Mayor Folsom. We asked him to draft sample language that prohibited new apartments in this single-family restoration area. We offered this language to the City Council at their next meeting and they agreed this language reflected how they had previously voted. On August 17, 1977, the single-family zoning in the restoration area was now firmly established. We had just obtained single-family zoning for 100 blocks of mostly apartments before the city had even zoned the 100 historic mansions on Swiss Avenue single-family.
Adlene Harrison resigned from the City Council a week later and to become regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Stan Knight had to resign because he had, in effect, given legal help directly to citizens instead of City Hall. Jim Schroeder was reassigned to an office with no phone, and the proponents of single-family zoning began working on new projects with their recent opponents.
Lynn Dunsavage, Virginia McAlester, and I then combined efforts with Lakewood Bank to convince the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) to choose Dallas when it was conducting a nationwide search for an urban neighborhood to make its first inner city residential loans. This FNMA initiative came in response to allegations that, as the largest secondary lender in the country, they were redlining urban areas across the country. We gave FNMA a tour of the 100-block restoration area. It chose this 100-block area with the single-family rezoning boundaries for its first urban loans in the country and featured it in its stockholders report announcing its commitment to inner-city housing.
As the neighborhood improved, urban pioneers were increasingly moving in, contributing sweat equity, since renovation loans were not readily available. Now, with FNMA and Lakewood Bank support, purchase and renovation loans were available. In response, the Historic Preservation League put together a Historic Dallas fund. Virginia and Lee McAlester and I developed a plan for twenty-three properties to be secured with long-term option contracts. These apartment houses, owned by absentee landlords, were purchased in groups and resold to individuals. Not only were these apartments turned back into single-family homes, but also with the profit the Historic Preservation League was able to fund its first executive director, Susan Mead, now a Dallas zoning attorney.
Attention turned to the East Dallas bar ordinance. Dallas took great pride in being a pro-business and a free enterprise city. In response to this climate, Bob Logan proposed an East Dallas ordinance that would allow all existing beer and wine permits to remain in effect and allow new state issued liquor licenses requiring a $10,000 bond, but prohibited any new city issued $25 beer and wine permit. Once again neighbors realigned. Preservation leaders Dorothy Savage and Virginia McAlester were opposed. They thought the bar ordinance would economically inconvenience the retail property owners who rented their buildings. The bar operators were also a tough crowd. They did not make money from the beer they sold in the bars, but the vices they promoted. Each bar had a specialty, and the owners were serious about keeping them open. City Councilman Dick Smith mentioned that a bar owner put a cash campaign contribution of $10,000 on his desk and asked if he would vote against the ordinance. He did not.
With the support of Mayor Folsom and East Dallas City Councilman Willie Cothrum, the East Dallas bar ordinance passed and the honky-tonks started closing. The success of this ordinance was its simplicity. It had defined boundaries and was not subject to interpretation. Ninety percent of these bars closed in the first two years. Bob Logan knew bartenders with a beer permit were just as transient and unreliable as the tenants in the area. The average lifespan of a beer license was three months. The bartender would either get drunk, be arrested, quit, steal, be fired, or die, and then the bar operator would select the most reliable of his regular customers and make him or her the bartender with a new $25 license. After the bar ordinance, if a bartender left, the bar operator would have to get a liquor license which required a $10,000 bond and state oversight, something he did not want. The bars closed and stayed closed.
Munger Place residents Don and Joan Criswell continued to work on the historic designation for Munger Place. With the help of at-large City Council man Steve Bartlett, they led the effort to create guidelines for Dallas’s first single-family historic district with historic district design guidelines. The Gibsons, Dan Fry, Fred Longmore, Monty Monzingo, and many others helped craft the first ordinance where new homes had to look historic. By 1979 Joe Goyne led a group of his Munger Place neighbors in building the first two replica houses in Munger Place. At the ribbon cutting we awarded Mayor Jack Evans an East Dallas skeleton key (30” bolt cutters) to cut the padlock holding together the ceremonial ribbons. It had been a long time since new homes had been built or prices had gone up. For instance, in 1907, 5011 Junius was built for $10,500, in 1975 it sold for $7,500, over a 70-year period a 30 percent decrease. So it was very exciting when these two replica houses sold for almost $200,000, twenty-five times more than the neighboring houses had sold four years earlier. Residents of Swiss Avenue and Munger Place also incorporated the first two neighborhood associations. Now the city has over 500 on file.
In this 100-block restoration area once designated for demolition, there has been over $200 million of renovation and new construction. Judy Dedman, the former regional director of FNMA, called this single-family zoned restoration area “the country’s greatest inner city neighborhood revitalization success.” Surrounding the borders of this restoration area, David Fox developed the zero lot line houses of Bryan Place, Baylor Health Care expanded the hospital and built Tom Landry Fitness Center, Deep Ellum was rezoned and revitalized and just down Haskell, the Thompson brothers built CityPlace. The homeowners on Swiss Avenue successfully requested the city to amend the Swiss Avenue Historic District to more closely reflect the single-family and historic guidelines found in Munger Place. Lakewood and Hollywood Heights became conservation districts. Downtown became home to many lofts and apartments.
Bob Logan predicted the revitalization would be a 25 to 30-year process. It has been an exciting twenty-five years. In the late 1970s it seemed entire blocks were covered with scaffolding as homes were being renovated. In the 1980s historic apartments receiving national tax credits were restored, and in the 1990s Jefferson Peak became the second historic district in the restoration area. Presently, dozens of 1960s Gaston Avenue apartments are being renovated and rented to professionals who work downtown. Every time a building is renovated, the neighborhood becomes acceptable to a greater number of people and the positive process continues.
The success of Old East Dallas came from the convergence of many ideas, philosophies and personalities. Adlene Harrison gave the residents of these forgotten neighborhoods the confidence to speak out and organize; visionaries like Fred Longmore instilled images of a restored Old East Dallas recapturing its earlier glory to everyone with whom he came in contact; prominent families like the Savages never left the neighborhood and gave it credibility; even the antics of activist Charlie Young brought attention to the deplorable state of the neighborhood. Much of the revitalization success was made possible by Mayor Folsom’s City Council, one of the last to make the will of the property owners their priority. It was near the end of an open era when any citizen could get an appointment with and bring an idea to any City Council member. In our effort to obtain single-family zoning and a historic district we went to the at-large member to champion the cause. It was before the era of single-member districts that Adlene Harrison recently said is turning Dallas into a ward system. It was a time when good ideas rose above bad politics. It was an era when hundreds of people devoted their time, energy and good ideas to the revitalization of Old East Dallas. Dallas continues to benefit from this effort.