Resource Center moves to its new landmark building this weekend
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Cece Cox said this week she wishes Bill Nelson and John Thomas and Bill Hunt and others lost to HIV were here to see the new LGBT Community Center, that will welcome the public for an open house from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 21.
“The people who can’t be here …” she started, her words cut off by the tears she unsuccessfully tried to keep at bay. “John Thomas was in this office,” she said, referring to her tiny space in Resource Center’s old building on Reagan Street with a mixture of sadness and joy. “I worked so hard to get here and now I’m leaving it.”
Cox managed to keep from crying as she walked through the new building, pointing out some of its features:
There’s light, windows everywhere. The old building has few windows and little light.
And the art! But none of the $8.7 million from Resource Center’s capital campaign went into art. All of it was donated or is on long-term loan. Nancy Whitenack, owner of Conduit Gallery, and local artist Ted Kincaid saw to that.
Where the old community center had no place for people to just sit and visit, the new space offers comfortable seating around small tables. The new building also has boardrooms available for groups to meet. The triangular space above the entryway is a new open auditorium that can be configured a number of ways to accommodate large group functions or smaller group meetings.
The new community center’s prominent location on Cedar Springs Road is on property purchased from Cathedral of Hope, completing a circle that began in 1989, when Metropolitan Community Church Dallas outgrew the facilities on Reagan Street, selling them to Foundation for Human Understanding to build the new cathedral.
Cox said people could drive by Resource Center’s nondescript former home on Reagan Street every day and not have any idea what the place was. But this new building is an LGBT landmark. Anyone driving up Cedar Springs Road to Love Field will see it and know what it is.
And just to make sure that no one will miss it at night, Mark and Dante Reed-Walkup, whose WieDaMark lighting company on Harry Hines Boulevard may be best known for Reunion Tower’s nightly light show, made sure the new community center is properly lit.
“We’ll be seen by anyone flying into Love Field,” Mark Reed-Walkup said.
The Reed-Walkups installed lighting on the roof that will bathe the new center in rainbow colors for Pride. But it will also show the LGBT community’s patriotism with red-white-and-blue lighting on July 4, its Christmas spirit with red and green in December and the importance of Halloween with a flood of orange in October.
Reed-Walkup described the lighting as an LED flex neon product that’s weather protected that should be a “trouble-free installation.”
Now that community center activities are about to move into a new location, Cox exp
ected to be able to take a break. But that’s not going to happen; there’s too much is going on.
The capital campaign continues through the end of the year, Cox noted. Of the $8.7 million cost for building the Cedar Springs property and renovating the Reagan Street buildings, they have $344,000 left to raise. That’s just a small portion of the original total, but Cox pointed out it’s more than they paid for the Reagan Street property, which cost $260,000 in 1989 and is now valued at $2.1 million.
Cox said she is looking forward to welcoming the 40 community groups that meet at the community center into the new building, and she hopes to welcome and incubate new groups.
Gray Pride will finally have meeting space, she said. Youth First begins meeting in the new building next week. And the new food pantry, Resource Center’s most accessed service, have already opened in the Reagan Street building.
Both Youth First and the Food Pantry have been occupying other facilities. Now, not having to pay those leaves will save the organization about $100,000 a year, Cox said.
Having the food pantry at the same location as the hot meals program is more than just convenient, Cox said. It may also bring in more clients to access both programs. “Clients won’t have to travel to two places,” she said. “We’re planning for an uptick.”
Resource Center’s counseling program, operated in conjunction with Southern Methodist University’s School of Education, moves to the new building and gets more space.
On July 1, the center will launch its own behavioral health program to treat drug and alcohol abuse. Cox said the new program will work on a different model than the SMU program, requiring insurance or cash payment, and much of the work will be done in group sessions.
The Reagan street facilities will continue to be renovated. What is currently office space will be reconfigured for HIV client service programs, and the cafeteria, which hasn’t been renovated since it was used for fellowship by MCC, will get a refresh.
And, Cox said, she is itching to get back into more advocacy work, especially on the transgender issues that are popping up and as Texas lawmakers gear up for what promises to be a nasty legislative session next year.
How it began
Resource Center began as a program of Dallas Gay Alliance (now Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance) in 1983. While AIDS had already hit hard in other parts of the country, Dallas had only seen a few cases at that poin
t. But Houston already had a number of deaths, and Dallas gay community leaders knew the epidemic was headed here.
They formed a new organization, known as the AIDS Resource Center but incorporated as the Foundation for Human Understanding. They chose the more innocuous name because organizers like Bill Nelson and John Thomas knew that the people with money in Dallas wouldn’t write the word “AIDS” on a check.
FHU shared rented space with DGA on Cedar Springs Road where TapeLenders now stands. The food pantry, which started as a shelf in Crossroads Market on the corner of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street, moved to a vacant warehouse space behind the stores facing the parking lot. In 1988, FHU opened the Nels
on-Tebedo Community Clinic for AIDS Research in a Cedar Springs building that had been empty for at least a decade. The clinic remains in that space today.
In February 1989, a man named Dale Wesley Biddy set fire to the Resource Center offices, starting a blaze that also destroyed Union Jack and the Round-Up Saloon. The food pantry, unaffected by the fire thanks to double brick walls separating it from the retail stores on the street, continued to operate uninterrupted.
“Before the fire, we never considered a move out of the Crossroads,” Bruce Monroe, a former DGA president and FHU board member said. “Afterwards, we weren’t given a choice.”
After the fire, The Round-Up and Union Jack expanded and DGA wasn’t given the
option of returning to Cedar Springs Road. The Resource Center leased space where Thairrific is now, facing Throckmorton Street.
“We were on top of each other — even time sharing desks,” Monroe said. “So, George McDaniel and I began looking at available properties.”
They were offered free houses in East Dallas, but the organization wanted to stay in Oak Lawn.
“There were few properties available,” Monroe said. “We even looked at the old Braniff training center near the tollway. Then we were approached by Jack [Evans] and George [Harris],” who ran one of the large
st real estate agencies in Oak Lawn at the time.
They represented MCC, and “MCC wanted to sell and heard we had been looking,” Monroe said.
MCC had seen exponential growth through the 1980s and outgrew its home on Reagan at Brown streets. The church began building Cathedral of Hope. While construction progressed, it moved from its home o
n Reagan Street to an office building on Maple and Hudnall avenues, a building that was torn down earlier this year.
The purchase of the Reagan Street property came to the FHU board for a vote.
“George McDaniel was on both boards and voted against buying the building on the FHU board — after working so hard with me to find it,” Monroe said. When he asked why, he said, McDaniel “replied he was the only member with deep pockets and didn’t want to pay up should we default on the loan.”
Still, the board approved the sale and FHU bought the property for $265,000, taking out a loan with a large balloon payment at the end.
Joe Desmond, who served as secretary of both DGA from it’s inception and FHU, kept assuring the boards of both organizations not to worry, that the mortgage would be covered, Monroe said. Every time a board member fretted, Desmond reassured them.
Desmond died in 1994 and left his life insurance to FHU. The money paid off the mortgage with cash left over, a luxury the organization never had before.
In 1998, Foundation for Human Understanding was sued over its name by an organization called Foundation of Human Understanding, a Christian organization in Oregon. By this time, anti-HIV drugs w
ere keeping people alive and there was less stigma about using the term AIDS. Rather than countersuing, FHU changed its name to Resource Center Dallas and in 2013 simply Resource Center.
Today, Resource Center has about 50 people on staff, making it one of the largest centers of its kind in the U.S. About 1,200 people volunteer for Resource Center every year ,and 60,000 people a year use its services, programs and community center space.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 20, 2016.