26 years after Resource Center bought it, the Reagan Street property gets a makeover
DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
Resource Center rededicated its old building at 2701 Reagan St. as its new health campus this week, unveiling the main building’s new name: the John Thomas Building, after the organization’s original executive director.
The health campus will house the food pantry, the hot meals program, the insurance program, case management and the new counseling program. A computer room is available for clients to use.
Dallas County Commissioners Elba Garcia and Theresa Daniel along with County Judge Clay Jenkins attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, as did County Health and Human Services Director Zach Thompson. City officials were not available to attend because of a rescheduled city council meeting.
Other speakers at the event included Penny Pickle Crispin, a nurse who saved lives during the height of the AIDS crisis by administering pentamidine mist at the Resource Center to help prevent pneumocystis pneumonia. Parkland Hospital and other health care providers were precluded from administering the treatments at the time because the drug was not indicated for that preventive use.
In May this year, Resource Center opened its new community center on Cedar Springs Road near Inwood Road. While the original plan was to sell the Reagan Street property, the organization decided to retain the old property and put it to new use.
As Resource Center has increased its programming over the years, space in the old buildings became increasingly tight. In the renovated space, areas that previously crammed five desks together now house two.
The food pantry already re-opened earlier this year in the John Thomas Building after its old location on Denton Drive Cutoff suddenly closed for projected redevelopment. A development described as similar to West Village in the Uptown section of Oak Lawn is slated for that property. Although the landlord was anxious to empty the buildings of tenants — so anxious that the food pantry had to vacate before being able to rebuild and relocate to the health campus — the property has stood vacant and boarded up for a year.
That sudden closure, however, forced Resource Center to scramble to rebuild a space for the food pantry in the Reagan Street property before the new building was complete.
Work on the second building on Reagan Street is not completely finished. The hot meals program has been providing boxed meals for clients as work has progressed in the lunch area. The full sit-down lunch service should resume over the next few weeks.
The counseling rooms need a little finish-out work and are awaiting delivery of furniture before the expanded counseling program begins.
The dedication of the space brings to a close the agency’s construction, which was financed by an $8.7 million capital campaign. Resource Center CEO Cece Cox said the organization needs about $225,000 to close out the campaign.
Cox indicated that with the completion of the work, Resource Center becomes one of the four largest LGBT community centers in the country and one of very few with multiple properties.
The two-building campus on Reagan Street was acquired from Metropolitan Community Church Dallas, now known as Cathedral of Hope, after an arsonist set fire on Feb. 22, 1989, to AIDS Resource Center offices then located on Cedar Springs Road.
The Resource Center was located in the space on The Strip now occupied by Out of the Closet. The arsonist was Dale Wesley Biddy, a gay man who had been volunteering at Dallas Gay Alliance; he walked into the Dallas Voice office two weeks later, told his story to editor Dennis Vercher, who called police.
Biddy set the fire to cover up his theft of computers, disks and money from the center. The fire also destroyed the Round-Up Saloon and Union Jack, and did some damage to TapeLenders.
After the fire, AIDS Resource Center regrouped quickly. Agency officers held a meeting at MCC Dallas where Executive Director John Thomas revealed that the organization’s insurance only covered depreciated value. But it was the height of the AIDS crisis and the organization had work to do so they rented a space at 4012 Cedar Springs Road. That property is now known as the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic.
By the fall of 1990, MCC Dallas had outgrown its Reagan Street location. The church purchased property off Cedar Springs at Inwood Roads, but it couldn’t wait for the new building to be built before relocating to larger space. So the church rented a building at the corner of Maple Avenue and Hudnall Street. That building, which later became the home of radio station KNON, was torn down earlier this year to make way for a self-storage facility.
To help finance the new building, MCC Dallas approached DGA about purchasing the Reagan Street property. DGA had created the AIDS Resource Center as a charitable non-profit organization. In order to allow people who wouldn’t write checks with the word “AIDS” on it, the nonprofit’s official name was “The Foundation for Human Understanding,” because, well, who could be against that.
The facility on Cedar Springs Road was administering more health treatments, both legally and not-so legally, including Pickle’s clandestine pentamidine mist treatments.
So FHU decided to purchase the Reagan Street. property. No bank would finance the organization so the church arranged financing for the $235,000 mortgage. With no means to pay for the property and no real plan, John Thomas signed the mortgage on behalf of the FHU board.
“This community took care of its own,” Cox said at the ribbon-cutting event as she talked about the history of the buildings.
Surprisingly, the mortgage — at least interest on the mortgage — was kept current. Groups that used the new building would pay for use of the space and community members made donations. Lots of fundraisers held in the bars helped but a major source of income came from bequests by people who had died of AIDS.
One of those bequests was a lot directly across the street from the center, which became the center’s first parking lot. A developer traded that lot for a larger space diagonally across from Resource Center. While the original parking lot remains empty years later, another developer wanted the larger parking lot to add to the rest of the block he acquired. As part of the deal, he exchanged that property for an even larger lot adjoining the existing buildings and paved and fenced the lot for Resource Center.
But the largest bequest at the time came from Joe Desmond, who had served as secretary of DGA since its founding and of FHU since its founding. Whenever the topic of how to pay the mortgage came up, Desmond would say, “Don’t worry. It’s taken care of.”
Desmond was a quiet, sweet and charming man who worked to keep the minutes current for the organizations until a few weeks before his death. When he died in 1994, the AIDS Resource Center was the beneficiary of his $250,000 insurance policy. That paid off the mortgage.
The second building in the Reagan Street property had an industrial kitchen. Food pantry Assistant Director Bill Hunt had a plan for it. He wanted to create Chez Louise.
Many people with AIDS were unable to afford food. But they still needed a high-calorie diet to maintain their weight to stay alive. To make the situation worse, many of them became more and more reclusive as their health deteriorated. Hunt’s lunch program offered nutritious food and socialization.
Chez Louise, simply called the hot meals program today, continues in a space that has now been renovated for the first time.
The main building on the newly-christened health campus, originally the MCC Dallas sanctuary, was renovated in the early 1990s. The space was divided into three meeting rooms, known as the color rooms. The building’s architectural designed was mostly hidden.
In this latest renovation, the vaulted ceiling has been opened and the church’s wooden arches are again revealed.
At the ribbon cutting ceremony this week, Cox described opening up the rooms to reveal that hidden architectural detail. She described the wooden arches as hands clasped overhead, protecting and sheltering the community, something Resource Center has done since its founding.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2016.