Gay Oak Cliff preservationist appointed to Dallas Landmark Commission

Recently appointed Landmark Commissioner Michael Amonett is shown sitting in the rubble of an Oak Cliff church he tried to preserve as president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.

Dallas City Councilman Scott Griggs appointed former Old Oak Cliff Conservation League President Michael Amonett to the Dallas Landmark Commission. While Amonett’s appointment, approved Aug. 1, may be viewed by some as some as controversial, Griggs doesn’t see it that way.

“He’s a strong advocate for preservation and conservation,” Griggs said. “I can’t think of anyone better for Oak Cliff and for Dallas.”

Amonett said he’s just learning what the job entails and knows he can’t just declare buildings historic against a property owner’s will.

“But I’m passionate about old buildings,” he said.

As president of OOCCL, Amonett fought with Oak Cliff developers and the city about tearing down historic landmarks.

One of his biggest battles concerned tearing down an Oak Cliff church to build the new Adamson High School. The building was architecturally significant and the property played into the history of the JFK assassination. In addition, Adamson alumni wanted their school renovated, not destroyed.

DISD agreed to give Amonett six months to find a buyer for the church property. OOCCL was unable to find a buyer and the building has been torn down to build tennis courts for the replacement high school.

As a member of the Landmark Commission, Amonett would have been able to recommend landmark status for the church. Other members of the commission generally abide by the recommendation of the commissioner for that district.

Griggs said the first big case for Amonett will come before the commission in September and relates to preservation of the oldest building in North Texas thats still in its original location. The site includes a cabin built at about the same time as the John Neely Bryan cabin in downtown Dallas, as well as a barn, cistern and other structures. The building stands on city park property in far southwest Dallas near Mountain Creek Lake.

Griggs said the chimney was built with interlocking stone and no mortar and still stands. He said he’s confident about preservation of the site with the case in Amonett’s hands.

—  David Taffet

Oak Cliff does gayborhood differently

In the city’s second-largest collection of gay-owned businesses, gay and straight mix nicely

VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM BISHOP ARTS

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

None of the gay business owners in Bishop Arts could say exactly how many of the other business owners in the Oak Cliff neighborhood were gay.

That’s because “no one cares about your color or if you’re gay or straight,” said Hunky’s owner Rick Barton at his Bishop Arts restaurant. Barton recently served as president of the Bishop Arts Merchant’s Association.

In the early 1980s, the Bishop Arts District began when a gay couple opened a restaurant in a corner space of an old warehouse in an area that was once the busiest trolley stop in Dallas.

That space later became Vitto, a gay-owned Italian restaurant and today is the coffee shop, Oddfellows.

Bishop Arts differs from Cedar Springs in a number of ways. The Oak Lawn street is a busy, four-lane thoroughfare that leads to Love Field, while the Oak Cliff neighborhood has a small-town feel that winds along several side streets off two-lane Davis Street.

Oak Lawn has plenty of bars. But while alcohol sales in restaurants were approved for Oak Cliff in November, bars, taverns and dance halls were not. So Bishop Arts remains a collection of restaurants, art galleries, stores, a gym and professional offices.

Barton said that the stores in Bishop Arts are all “mom-and-pop” affairs.

“That’s what’s cool about Bishop Arts now,” he said.

Barton called Oak Lawn lively, hopping and contemporary, while Oak Cliff, he said, is a little bit retro.

“People come and stroll and window shop,” he said. “It’s a small-town feeling.”

Paul Kirkpatrick and Mike Harrity opened Bishop Street Market 15 years ago. Harrity said each of the last three years he has seen record sales.

Before opening, the couple looked at Lakewood and thought about Oak Lawn, but rents scared them away. At the time, he said, rent in Bishop Arts was “dirt cheap.”

“I had my business here eight years before my parents [who live in North Dallas] would come down to see it,” he said.

“If you want to be killed …,” he said his mother warned.

Now, Harrity said, the area has become a major destination for people from around the city.

“People don’t stumble on us,” he said.

Michael Amonett owns Alchemy Salon. He is also president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League.

He said those in Bishop Arts need to be vigilant to keep the area from looking like Uptown and filling with chain stores.

The largest chains in the area now are Café Brazil and Gloria’s — both local, homegrown businesses.

The new Gloria’s is actually the relocated original that opened 25 years ago, several blocks away. Earlier this year, the restaurant moved into Bishop Arts in the renovated Firehouse No. 15, the same vintage as the fire station on Cedar Springs Road.

And attorney Chad West opened his law firm in a restored house on Bishop Avenue next to
Gloria’s. He recently expanded his business with a new office in Fort Worth near Keller.

West is a big Bishop Arts booster.

“To me, you have the benefit of a large city but the feel of a small town,” he said. “Go to lunch, see your neighbors and wave to them.”

Future plans will bring more people to the area while adding to the retro, small town atmosphere. A new trolley line from Downtown to Methodist Hospital that runs over the Houston Street Viaduct should be running by 2014. Then, the next link would extend near — or possibly through — Bishop Arts.

—  John Wright

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