DISD wants $1.2 million for 100-year-old Oak Cliff Christian Church; conservation league wants more time to find buyer
Dallas Independent School District has given the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League until this summer to find a buyer for Oak Cliff Christian Church.
But conservation league President Michael Amonett said he doesn’t think that’s enough time to find someone to save the landmark building, built in 1916.
The asking price is $1.2 million for the 27,000-square-foot building located just eight blocks from the Bishop Arts District. Although state law prohibits the school district from taking a loss on the property, at that price the district won’t be making a profit.
DISD purchased the property —along with most of the other North Oak Cliff properties within a four-block area — to build a replacement for the 100-year old Adamson High School.
They paid $479,000 for the church and in February spent another $553,000 to remove asbestos.
Legal fees and maintenance costs make up the rest of the $1.2 million asking price.
And Amonett estimates it will take a buyer another $4 million to renovate or repurpose the building.
While the exterior structure is strong and the beams throughout are solid, all walls and floors need to be replaced, he said. Recent rains have weakened some of the floors, balconies and railings further.
John McCall, attorney for and former president of the Oak Cliff preservation group, filed suit on behalf of the organization to keep the school district from demolishing the old church. DISD settled out of court, offering to allow the conservation group to find a buyer by August and close on the property by the end of October.
The district also agreed to secure the building by boarding up the doors and windows.
To move forward with controversial plans for the new Adamson High School, the school district wants to know the fate of the property this year. Whether or not it is saved determines which streets can be closed.
Adamson alumni groups are also challenging tearing down the original school building rather than renovating it or incorporating parts of it in the new design.
Amonett argues that finding a buyer for the church by this summer is practically impossible and that the school district can proceed without this property, allowing his group more time.
Current plans call for the high school building to be elsewhere on the parcel of land the district has put together. Tennis courts are planned for the spot not occupied by the church, Amonett pointed out.
He also noted that additional adjacent property in the area is available for the school district to purchase that would be much cheaper and does not have the historic significance of the Oak Cliff Christian Church building. He also said that $1.2 million was a lot of money for land intended to be used for tennis courts.
Oak Cliff Christian Church bought the Tenth Street property in 1897. The current building opened in 1916 and the attached education building was added in 1926.
At one time, 23 churches lined the street, earning it a mention in "Ripley’s Believe It or Not." Only six of those buildings remain.
Van Slyke and Woodruff designed the church building. The firm is better known for the McKinney Avenue Baptist Church that later became Dallas’ Hard Rock CafÃ©.
The Oak Cliff property is part of the Kennedy assassination story and is mentioned in the Warren Commission Report.
Lee Harvey Oswald shot Officer J.D. Tippit down the street from the church. From there, he passed by the building and threw off his jacket before heading to the Texas Theater on Jefferson Boulevard, where he was caught.
Police later retrieved the jacket from behind the church. That evidence established Oswald’s route from his boarding house to the theater and helped tie him to Tippit’s murder by placing him on the street.
Although Amonett is not a real estate salesperson, he ticks off the advantages of buying the property with the skill of an experienced realtor.
"It’s been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historical Places," said Amonett, adding that the building is sound and free of asbestos.
He noted tax advantages to buyers for saving an historic property and additional tax benefits for providing housing in certain neighborhoods.
Since the land is zoned multi-family, Amonett suggested a variety of uses for the historic building, such as condos with panoramic downtown views or housing for lower-income DISD employees.
He said it could be a perfect headquarters for a non-profit organization or even be used as an auxiliary building by the high school.
OOCCL is the strongest coalition of neighborhood associations in the city. Comprised of 29 neighborhood groups, it represents Oak Cliff’s diversity, from the mansions of Kessler Park to the cottages of Kidd Springs. The neighborhoods stretch from Lake Cliff Park, near the Jefferson Street Bridge that links Oak Cliff to downtown, to Oakland Terrace near the southern Red Bird section of Dallas.
Amonett said that the groups reflect Oak Cliff’s economic, social and racial diversity. In addition to himself and McCall, gays and lesbians are well represented both among the neighborhood groups and on OOCCL’s board.
He reflected on the time and effort he and his board have spent trying to save the church property.
"Even if we don’t save it, we’ll have done the right thing," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 30, 2010.