Norma’s Cafe turns 55

On Tuesday, June 21, Norma’s celebrates its 55th anniversary.

For years, the Oak Cliff cafe has been the place to find the gay community on a Sunday morning for brunch. Norma’s has welcomed the LGBT community with open arms ever since the gay community began migrating to Winnetka Heights in the 1970s.

Norma’s walls document the history of Oak Cliff including photos of the original 7-11 (on the corner of Twelfth Street and Edgefield Avenue) and the 1958 tornado. That storm tore through the Kessler Theater, a block away. Though that building was restored to its original glory last year, it stood in disrepair until then.

In its 55 years, Norma’s has expanded to a second location in Far North Dallas along Dallas Parkway past Trinity Mills Road. And Momma’s Daughter’s Diner? Momma is Norma. Her daughter opened a place on Industrial Boulevard and expanded to North Dallas as well.

In 1986, Ed Murph took over Norma’s and changed nothing. (Well, actually, on a visit last weekend, we were pretty sure the white walls had been recently repainted).

To celebrate its anniversary, Norma’s is offering three of its favorite dishes — chicken fried steak, meatloaf, and chicken and dressing along with always-hefty side dishes — for $1.79 on June 21 beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Happy anniversary, Norma’s.

—  David Taffet

LGBT community helps raise money for Oak Cliff artist who needs kidney transplant

Monaliza Morris

Oak Cliff artist Monaliza Morris will undergo a kidney transplant next month. For the last 19 years, she’s lived with lupus, an immune system disease that has compromised her kidneys.

While waiting for the surgery to take place, friends have been helping her do some remodeling in her Winnetka Heights house to make her convalescence easier.

Morris is a volunteer at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, a non-profit organization that helps refugees who have suffered human rights abuses. They have worked to eliminate the anti-gay bias in immigration laws. Friends said she has worked with the North Texas Food Bank’s Empty Bowls program and done AIDS outreach work as well.

Jenny Vann is Morris’ best friend. They met in middle school in Hawaii. Vann was the first person to be tested as a possible donor. They were a match, so Vann is giving Morris one of her kidneys the first week of March.

A fundraiser is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 23 at Agora Entertainment, 3225 Premiere Drive, Irving from 5 to 8:30 p.m. “The Art of Friendship” will include live music and a silent art auction.

“The goal of this is to raise $50,000,” said RafiQ Salleh, whose partner, Cannon Flowers, is the Human Rights Initiative’s CEO. The money will help with the cost of surgery and follow-up medical care.

For more information about Morris or to make a donation online, go here.

—  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

Art in the Cliff

Oak Cliff’s arts community thrives by making the old new again

DAVID TAFFET  | Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

THEY AUTRY BE PROUD  |  The Kessler opened as a movie palace owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry, but Edwin Cabaniss and Jeff Liles, pictured, have renovated it into a performing and visual arts venue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)
THEY AUTRY BE PROUD | The Kessler opened as a movie palace owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry, but Edwin Cabaniss and Jeff Liles, pictured, have renovated it into a performing and visual arts venue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

First the Bishop Arts District brought gay-owned restaurants to Oak Cliff. Art galleries and stores followed closely. But not since the Bronco Bowl was torn down to make way for a Home Depot a decade ago have performing arts been so evident in the Cliff.

The Kessler Theater on Davis Street in Winnetka Heights has been around for decades, but although it’s in the process of renovating its art deco design, it’s also hopping with activity.

Originally owned by Gene Autry and opened as movie theater, it fell on hard times with the advent of television. The building cycled through many uses — it was a church at one time, and later still, a bowling shirt factory.

In 1957, the Kessler took a direct hit from the great Oak Cliff tornado, a disaster most familiar to Oak Cliff residents today from a large photograph hanging in Norma’s Café across the street. (The twister ripped right through the theater but left the structure standing.) A few years later, the building was further devastated by fire. For most of the past 25 years, it has stood empty.

Then Edwin Cabaniss, who lives in the neighborhood, bought the theater for his wife, a dancer who teaches tap and ballet. The couple’s love of the arts translated into turning the space into a clearing house for live performance. Work continues on updating the building, and when dance, guitar, piano and voice lessons aren’t taking place there, Jeff Liles books live music. Cliff native Edie Brickell will appear there Nov. 16; acts are booked four nights a week.

Visual arts are part of the ethos as well. In the gallery upstairs, an exhibit of black-light 1960s posters ran this summer. The theater, opened in March, looks better than it has since Autry owned it — and is more active.

The Kessler isn’t the only venue bringing life back into this gayborhood. Down the road, the Texas Theatre on Jefferson Boulevard has also reopened with a classic movie series. Best known as the place Lee Harvey Oswald was cornered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it’s worth a visit, if only for its historic significance. After several failed attempts to save the building through the years, it is now owned by the non-profit Oak Cliff Foundation that is working on renovations.

Next door is the newly opened Oak Cliff Cultural Center with 5,000 feet of space, which the city of Dallas used to replace the Ice House Cultural Center. The Ice House was the original early 1900s building where 7-Eleven got its start: They froze water in this building on Polk Street and sold ice in their first store just a few blocks away on Edgefield Avenue.

Dallas converted the Ice House into one of its small neighborhood cultural centers years later, where artists and playwrights were often featured, including Martice Productions, which specialized in gay/Latino comedies.
Gerardo Sanchez of the center said the new space features an art gallery that will house eight shows per year as well as a dance studio that’s already being used by arts groups, dance groups and classes. With the Texas Theatre next door, Sanchez said there are a lot of possibilities.

“We’re hoping to partner with them,” he says.

TeCo Productions is an ambitious theater company that operates out of the newly renovated Bishop Arts Theater on Tyler. The company started in Atlanta in 1993 and moved to Dallas where they performed at the Hall of State in Fair Park until a patron donated the dilapidated Blue Bird Theater just off Jefferson Boulevard.

The Blue Bird was a silent movie theater built in 1917 — talkies never made it in this part of Oak Cliff. Outside, the drab brown cement building is easy to miss. The surprise is the 170-seat proscenium-stage, state-of-the-art theater inside.

This year’s schedule includes gay writer Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity starring New Arts Six; the show opens in December. The season also includes a world premiere of a mystery in October, and in February, their annual new play competition. Last year’s Southwest Airlines Jazz Series regularly sold out.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas