Oak Cliff home tour features mostly gay-owned houses

OOCCL returns funds raised at the weekend event to neighborhoods for safety and beautification projects

OOCCL

EIGHT AND A HALF MEN | OOCCL president Michael Amonett sits on the porch of a restored house in Bishop Arts that has been repurposed into a law office and is part of this weekend’s Old Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Of this weekend’s 14 houses on the annual Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s Fall Home Tour, eight and a half of them have gay owners.

With 14 homes on the tour, this will be the largest home tour OOCCL has staged,  OOCCL President Michael Amonett said, and the largest and most profitable in the city.

“We started taking applications in the spring,” Amonett said, adding that deciding which houses to include was difficult because there were so many good choices.

A committee spent months deciding which homes to include.

“We made appointments and looked at people’s homes,” Amonett said. “We had a grade sheet and rated them for drive-up appeal, art work, historic interest.”

They also were looking for variety, spread across the area’s different neighborhoods. The committee met in June and selected the winners that were not announced until September.

“Two of the houses are in Oak Park Estates,” Amonett said. “We’ve never had any in that area. People will see a part of Oak Cliff they’ve never seen.”
Oak Park Estates, which lies south of Kiest Park between Hampton Road and Highway 67, is one of Oak Cliff’s southernmost neighborhoods.

“One of them is very Brady Bunch,” he said.

That house, with its two-story arched roof, was built in 1964 and is the newest of the homes.

The oldest, built as a convent in 1900 in the Elmwood neighborhood, has been a railroad storage depot, part of an amusement park and a gambling casino and speakeasy that was one of Bonnie and Clyde’s old haunts, according to legend.

The largest house has been expanded to 7,000 square feet and faces Stevens Park Golf Course.

One house was built for the 1936 Texas Centennial as a companion piece to the Magnolia Lounge. The Bauhaus-designed East Kessler Park home was dubbed “The Electric House” because of the four and a half miles of wire laid to power the then state-of-the-art General Electric kitchen and outdoor living areas around the pool.

At the time it was built, similar homes were selling in West Hollywood, Calif., for $4,000. This one had a price tag of $15,000.

Another sits adjacent to the Bishop Arts District that was renovated last year and is now a law office. Amonett wanted that house included to show that older houses can be renovated and repurposed rather than just torn down and replaced.

Good Space, the company that bought and renovated the Bishop Arts house and rented it to Remington Law, is now working on two other properties in the area.

Two bonus stops are included in the Oak Cliff tour — the newly renovated Stevens Park Golf Course and the new Twelve Hills Nature Center, a five-acre urban preserve in the 800 block of Mary Cliff Road.

“The home tour has been instrumental over the years in profiling what Oak Cliff has to offer,” Steve Habgood of Hewitt & Habgood Realty Group, a lead sponsor of the event, said.

He said that the tour includes everything from small boutique cottages to mid-sized homes to old estates.

“It’s a cross-section of what Oak Cliff is all about,” Habgood said. “The diversity that runs the gamut — that’s one reason this tour is as popular as it is.”

He said that the money raised funds a variety of projects throughout the 30 Oak Cliff homeowner associations. Last year $22,000 funded projects such as solar lighting for alleys in the Hampton Heights neighborhood and neighborhood patrols. Other grants funded websites and neighborhood signage.

OOCCL donated $5,000 to the Bishop Arts Theater Center for half the cost of a new marquis on the restored building. They also contributed to replacing the roof on Turner House, a landmark in Winnetka Heights that is home to the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts.

And the eight and a half gay owners? Amonett explained that he thought one house is owned by a “Will & Grace couple.”

Old Oak Cliff Tour of Homes, Oct. 8 and 9 from noon to 6 p.m. $25 for adults over 10, $15 for seniors available at any of the homes on the tour or under the service station canopy at 8th Street and Bishop Avenue in the Bishop Arts District. More information at OOCCL.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Candidate forums set for Saturday, Monday

Damien Duckett

As we noted in today’s cover story, candidates for Dallas mayor and City Council will attend a forum Saturday hosted by the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance’s Political Action Committee. The forum begins at 2 p.m. at Kiest Park Recreation Center, 3080 S. Hampton Road, and it will follow an open question-and-answer format.

The three major mayoral candidates — David Kunkle, Mike Rawlings and Ron Natinsky — all plan to attend the DGLA forum. Damien Duckett, chairman of the DGLA PAC, said other City Council candidates who are scheduled to attend include Casie Pierce, Pauline Medrano, Billy MacLeod, Luis Sepulveda, James Nowlin, Cynthia Durbin, Scott Griggs, Dave Neumann, Angela Hunt, Jerry Allen and Sheffie Kadane.

• The Old Oak Cliff Conservation League will host a political forum Monday evening, and District 3 City Council candidates Scott Griggs and Dave Neumann both reportedly plan to attend. OOCCL President Michael Amonett said each will have 40 minutes for questions and answers with the voters and the League.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Avalon at Kessler Park, 2522 Fort Worth Ave. (Avalon is next to the Fort Worth Avenue Home Depot.)

—  David Taffet

Old Oak Cliff Conservation League to host neighborhood symposium Saturday

Michael Amonett

On Saturday, the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League is hosting a symposium at Turner House and will distribute grants to neighborhood groups for area improvements.

Last year, OOCCL distributed more than $20,000 in money raised from the Tour of Homes and other events. This year the group plans to hand out more.

Michael Amonett, the gay president of OOCCL, emphasized this is not a gay event, even though most of the 30 neighborhood organizations are headed by members of the LGBT community. He insisted the event is for everyone in Oak Cliff.

“Really,” he said. “We just all work together so well over here. … Really.”

He said representatives from the city, local arts organizations and community activist organizations will be on hand. Neighborhood projects that the organization will consider for funding include signage, security, web design and landscaping in parks and medians or other public areas.

Amonett said they will address topics including graffiti, animal control, researching the history of your home, organizing a neighborhood, achieving 501(c)(3) status. There will be information on area parks, community gardening, the better block initiative and local arts programs. The graffiti task force was started by City Councilwoman Delia Jasso.

The cost is $5 for OOCCL members and $20 for non-members. Lunch will be served.

He said that others from around the city may attend, but the money OOCCL distributes will stay in Oak Cliff. People from around the city may be interested in attending to learn how the city’s oldest and most successful collection of neighborhood groups works together. (Here’s one clue — the gay is a really important part of it, but the straight has been a huge contributor, too).

—  David Taffet

Carnivale returns to Oak Cliff

CARNIVALE ON PARADE | Entries in the Oak Cliff Mardi Gras parade set for Sunday reflect an eclectic mix, with everything from the Oak Lawn Band to the Catholic School Dad’s Club participating.

Oak Cliff Mardi Gras celebration promises an eclectic mix of participants and sponsors, including many from LGBT community

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Oak Cliff celebrates Mardi Gras with a two-day event this weekend, beginning with the second annual “Dash for the Beads,” a 5K run, one-mile walk and costume contest.

As with many Oak Cliff events, the sponsor list and participants in the weekend include an interesting and diverse mix. Sponsors range from GayBingo, Hewitt Habgood Realty, Monica Greene’s new restaurant Bee and attorney Chad West to the Oak Cliff Lions Club and Oddfellows.

“It’s why I love it over here,” said Old Oak Cliff Conservation League President Michael Amonett. “It’s an interesting, eclectic mix.”

The walk begins in the Bishop Arts District on Saturday, March 5, at 8:30 a.m. and the “Dash for the Beads” run at 9 a.m. Runners will proceed west on Davis Street, turn north on Tyler Street then east on Colorado Boulevard, with a detour through scenic Kessler Lake Drive, and return to the starting point on Bishop Avenue.

After race participants return, race awards will be followed by costume awards. Judges for the contest include Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Councilwoman Delia Jasso.

Vendors will have booths in the Bishop Arts District throughout the morning. The Cliff Blues Band will provide live music. DJ Ish follows and Ballet Folklorico performs.

A masquerade ball begins at 8 p.m. at the newly restored Kessler Theater on Saturday night. Lil Malcolm and the House Rockers will headline the evening. Zydeco Blanco will open.

Weekend organizer Amy Cowan called OCarnivale at the Kessler a semiformal masquerade ball with people dressed in everything from jeans to black tie — with lots of masks.

The Mardi Gras celebration continues on Sunday with a crawfish boil at 3 p.m. in Bishop Arts. Tickets are $15 in advance and a limited number will be sold at the door for $20.

That will be followed at 4 p.m. with the Mardi Gras parade.

Parade entries reflect an interesting mix and include everything from the Oak Lawn Band to St. Cecilia Catholic School’s Dad’s Club. Cowan said they have 48 entries.

Following in New Orleans style, several Oak Cliff krewes have formed with names like Krewe of Winnetka Heights and Krewe du Cliff Temple. Cowan is part of the Kings Highway Krewe, which has a 24-foot float.

She said Krewe La Rive Gauche always has the best costumes and that Friends of Kidd Springs Park’s entry features a 10-foot Eiffel Tower.

Norma’s, a popular Oak Cliff diner since 1956, has a vintage fire truck in the parade. Valdez will march with a sheriff’s posse on horseback.

Cowan said most mayoral and council candidates will be participating.

The parade begins on Davis Street at Windomere Avenue. The route follows Davis Street to Madison Avenue where it returns to Bishop Arts on Seventh Street.

Among the parade sponsors is Hunky’s.

“We’re going to open at 10 a.m. on Saturday,” said Hunky’s owner Rick Barton, referring to the Bishop Arts location only. “We’ll be decorated and festive.”

Cowan said traffic and parking will be difficult.

“Take public transit or ride your bike,” Cowan said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

DISD tears down Oak Cliff landmark

Michael Amonett sits amid the rubble

Since April, the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League has been trying to find a buyer the Oak Cliff Christian Church built in 1916. The building is owned by the Dallas Independent School District.

Over the summer, when no buyer could be found, DISD offered pieces of the building to anyone who would haul them off. The pillars would have been prime architectural material to preserve from the church. Michael Amonett, president of OOCCL, said an offer came from a salvage company but was a day late. DISD refused to wait until the company could dismantle and haul off what they wanted.

On Oct. 4, DISD began tearing down the landmark church. The property will be used as tennis courts for the replacement to historic Adamson High School. Neighborhood and alumni groups have protested tearing down that historic building as well.

While crews worked just behind him, Amonett snuck behind a construction gate to sit amid the rubble of the building he and his group tried to save.

The historic property figured in the Kennedy assassination story. As Lee Harvey Oswald walked from his boarding house a few blocks away to the Texas Theater on Jefferson Avenue, he shot officer J.D. Tippett on this block. Then he walked through the church property and threw his coat behind the building. Police found the coat here, putting him at the scene of the Tippett murder, if not JFK’s.

—  David Taffet

Annual tour of Oak Cliff homes to be ‘best ever,’ organizer says

Gays’ homes featured prominently in Old Oak Cliff Conservation League’s 36th event

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

EXTREME MAKEOVER  |  An historic church and 11 homes will be featured on this year’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. The tour has been credited with encouraging people to buy and renovate older homes throughout the area. Others have built new homes, like this one, in historic styles. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)
EXTREME MAKEOVER | An historic church and 11 homes will be featured on this year’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. The tour has been credited with encouraging people to buy and renovate older homes throughout the area. Others have built new homes, like this one, in historic styles. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)

This weekend the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League holds its 36th annual Home Tour, and “almost all the houses are gay this year, which will make it the best friggin’ tour ever,” said OOCCL President Michael Amonett.

The Oak Cliff Tour of Homes is one of the oldest home tours in Dallas and one of the largest. Members of the LGBT community is actively involved in the conservation group and in the tour.

Home Tour Chair Michele Cox said that actually five of the 11 homes on this year’s tour are gay-owned and noted that D Magazine readers voted this the city’s best home tour.

In addition to OOCCL’s president, gay residents head most of the 29 neighborhood associations and many of the tour sponsors are LGBT-owned businesses.

Amonett said that the tour has contributed to much of Oak Cliff’s renovation efforts.

“This tour is an ambassador for Oak Cliff and has been for 36 years, long before we were trendy,” Amonett said. “People came across [the river] and got a different perspective of Oak Cliff than the preconceived ones they had before.”

“What stands out for me is that Oak Cliff has become hot and fashionable,” said gay Realtor Steve Habgood, one of the sponsors of the tour.

He said that much of that has to do with Bishop Arts District and some of the city’s hottest new restaurants like Bolsa.

“This allows people to come and experience what it’s like to live in Oak Cliff,” Habgood said.

Amonett said that the tour highlights various neighborhoods where homes have been renovated and updated.

That encourages others to buy on the block “and pretty soon you’re Winnetka Heights,” he said.

He said that Oak Cliff homes are better built and more stable than homes elsewhere in the area.

“We’re built on rock,” he said. “Our homes don’t slide around like they do up north.”

The 11 homes on the tour are all from North Oak Cliff neighborhoods.

“I begged both the Oak Park Estates rep and the Kiestwood rep all year to find me a house in their neighborhoods and it didn’t work out,” said Amonett. “Kiestwood has a promising house next year — a very cool mid-century that sits diagonally on their lot. The guy was just not ready right now.”

Kiestwood and Oak Park Estates, the two southernmost Oak Cliff neighborhoods, are both south of Kiest Park but inside Loop 12.

Amonett described the variety of houses included on this year’s tour.

“We have a new house built to look old, a new house built to look new, a house that is really two houses — one old and one new,” he said.

Angus Wynne Sr. built his own house in Wynnewood North on the highest point in the area. Wynne developed the neighborhood and its namesake shopping center that originally included department stores, offices and a hotel.

THIS OLD HOUSE  |  This Hampton Hills neighborhood home, within walking distance of Hampton Station, is one of the homes featured on this weekend’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)
THIS OLD HOUSE | This Hampton Hills neighborhood home, within walking distance of Hampton Station, is one of the homes featured on this weekend’s Oak Cliff Tour of Homes. (Courtesy Old Oak Cliff Conservation League)

Chris Medsger is the current owner of the Wynne house. He said he has been updating the house since he purchased it four years ago when he moved back to Dallas.

He said that when he previously lived in Dallas, he lived on Turtle Creek Blvd.

“I thought Oak Cliff was down-market,” he said. But now he said he wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Tour organizers approached him about opening his house for the tour. The renovations were done, but he said he put in a new garden for the tour that covers half of his backyard.

Organizers told him to expect about 1,500 people to come through his house each day.

Amonett described the variety of homes included on the tour.

“Two of our homes are award winners,” Amonett said. “And one of our homeowners is in the middle of an election campaign.”

The Lake Cliff Historic District tour home won the Preservation Dallas 2010 award for “Best New Construction in a Historic District.”

“The home on North Oak Cliff Blvd. was named one of the 12 WOW houses in Dallas in this month’s D Home,” said Cox.

In addition to the 11 homes, Cliff Temple Baptist Church on Sunset Avenue, across the street from the main office of AIDS Arms, is also on the tour.

Cliff Temple, founded in 1898 is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a state historical marker. Amonett described the church as a liberal congregation with a number of LGBT members.

Last year the tour returned more than $20,000 to its member neighborhoods, Cox said, for a variety of projects. Some areas used the money for cleanup and crime prevention. Others used the money for projects such as updating a park.

“Family memberships come with purchase of two tickets and it’s not illegal to be a same-sex family at OOCCL,” said Amonett.

Old Oak Cliff Conservation League Fall Home Tour. Oct. 9–10, noon–6 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors over 60, children under 12 free. Available at Hunky’s in Oak Lawn or Oak Cliff and at Daniel Padilla Gallery, 838 W. Davis St. More information is at OOCCL.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Do you need just a piece of a church?

Oak Cliff Christian Church

Earlier this year, I wrote a story about a historic church that the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League was trying to save.

OOCCL president Michael Amonett reports that the group wasn’t successful but did get a temporary reprieve of sorts. Dallas Independent School District Trustee Eric Cowan and OOCCL past president and counsel John McCall negotiated a deal. Anyone who can use part of the building and will haul it off, can have it for just a small payment.

They wrote:

Want it? Want just the front and sides? Want to build your new building with brick that doesn’t come in sheets?

Make an offer and it might not be refused. Let’s just say it’s been marked down to sell from the previous 1.2 million. The only catch is that it can’t stay here.

So if you want a beautiful facade, you can buy this one for a nominal fee.

We don’t know how many feet tall it is but would be happy to stand on the roof and hold the tape measure, that way we could see which lucky area could benefit from this beautiful piece of architecture.

This is the last chance for some form of this church to live on elsewhere … as well as evade the landfill which as far from green or sustainability as one could possibly go.

Wouldn’t those pillars look great somewhere, maybe in Bishop Arts? Bet those bricks could be re-used in some renovation project. Bid on it by Sept. 15 and haul it off by Dec. 31, when DISD tears down the building to make way for the new Adamson High School tennis courts.

For details, contact Amonett at president@ooccl.org

—  David Taffet