A Work(room) in progress

Gay-owned shop anchors W. Dallas development boom as area awaits opening of Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

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URBAN PIONEERS  | Nick Troilo, left, said the store wouldn’t have been possible without his partner, Jim Wright. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

When Nick Troilo opened The Workroom on Singleton Boulevard in West Dallas, he did what many gay people have done before him: He became an urban pioneer opening a business in an area most others avoided.

Although a designer by trade, Troilo’s interest in the neighborhood began when he worked a few blocks away at Jack’s Backyard.

Although business had started to flourish along Fort Worth Avenue, Singleton Boulevard was still an example of some of the city’s worst urban blight — lined with junkyards, auto repair shops and nondescript buildings with iron bars on the windows.

“The idea for the store came out of the recession,” Troilo said.

“I was working at home not meeting clients and was waiting tables at Jack’s.”

While working at Jack’s, Troilo met a customer who was buying up property in the area. Speculators have been preparing for the boom that is expected after the March 2 opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, which will replace the Continental Street viaduct and link Singleton Boulevard to Woodall Rodgers Freeway and downtown.

Troilo’s future landlord showed him a variety of properties, and Troilo selected an old warehouse to lease, three blocks from the bridge adjoined by plenty of parking. When he first opened in October, Troilo was definitely a pioneer, but plans for other businesses in the area have since progressed.

Standing outside of his store recently, Troilo pointed to a number of bright, recently painted buildings surrounding his.

Behind Troilo’s store is an abandoned strip that will become a retail center. Across the street, a microbrewery is scheduled to open. Next to that is a planned “restaurant incubator” where companies will test-market new concepts in dining.

Troilo has been talking to developers about working with them on interior designs. He designed the interior of Veracruz in the Bishop Arts District, one of the most successful new urban neighborhoods also largely pioneered by gay entrepreneurs.

One reason Troilo chose this warehouse for his shop, he said, is because it had two garage doors — one in front where he created a patio to serve coffee and pastries, and one in back for deliveries.

“Coffee is free,” he said. He wants The Workroom to be a place people can come and shop but also a place to gather.

North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tony Vedda said, “Traditionally we have had the ability to find those diamonds in the rough and work those visions into a reality.”

And LGBT consumers have a history of seeking out and supporting those businesses.

Troilo describes the mix in his shop as “distinctive fresh florals, arts, crafts, interiors and antiques.”

He’s stocked the store with an eclectic variety of goods at various price points. The walls are currently filled with his own artwork, but exhibits by other artists are planned. In addition to Troilo’s work, the store features everything from carvings by an artist from Poland to custom metal work to a T-shirt commemorating the opening of the bridge.

“I wanted to have something so people could walk out of here for $5, to things in the thousands,” he said.

Troilo rented out a floral design station to Tommy Dodd, a florist who is moving his business from Southlake to the new West Dallas location where he plans to continue working with Saks Fifth Avenue and his private clientele as well as find new customers — possibly right across the street at the test restaurants the area will be incubating.

In addition to subletting the space for floral design, as well as his retail and design businesses, Troilo hopes groups will schedule special events at the shop.

“The space is available for lease for private parties,” he said.

He’s hosted West Dallas Chamber of Commerce meetings, has a wedding rehearsal dinner scheduled and is talking to the local GLAAD chapter and Black Tie Dinner about holding wine-tastings or receptions.

And he credits his partner, Jim Wright, with helping in every aspect of creating the store.

“He sacrificed to pull this together,” Troilo said of Wright.

Although the store has been open since October, Troilo said the official opening was in January. He expects business to take off once the bridge opens and traffic along Singleton Boulevard increases dramatically as the road once again becomes an alternative route to Oak Cliff that’s been cut off through much of the recent construction.

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Lesbian artist’s work part of bridge opening

Decle.Joleen

As part of the opening celebration for the Calatrava bridge to West Dallas, lesbian artist Jolene Decle will exhibit some of her paintings in a converted warehouse.

Decle, originally from the Caribbean, has lived in Dallas for 18 years. She has participated three times in Art Rage Us, an annual fundraiser for Resource Center Dallas, exhibited at Cathedral of Hope in a show sponsored by Hope 4 Peace and Justice and has donated work to Black Tie Dinner and Toast to Life.

“My paintings for the show will include some flowers, abstracts and watercolors, but the signature piece will be of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge,” she said.

The show will be held in a warehouse just over the bridge in West Dallas. Look for the first blue building on the right, with the Sheppard Fiery’s mural of a woman’s head and the word “OBEY” across it.

Caribbean Art Show, 331 Singleton Blvd. March 2 at 6 p.m.–10 p.m. March 3–4 at 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

— David Taffet

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BRIDGE-O-RAMA

The opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge will be celebrated March 2-4. For full information, go to MHHBridgeCelebration.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Perot Museum: A different perspective

I just got back from a media tour of the Perot Museum of Science and Nature, the Borg Cube-ish structure fronting Woodall Rodgers, and I’ll tell you, the building is impressive. The external escalator will be a hit, and the fourth floor dinosaur room is gonna wow people. There’ll even be a cafe operated by Wolfgang Puck, and a separate entrance for schoolchildren to keep them segregated from those of us who don’t scream and sneeze on our sleeves. (Anymore.)

But what made the tour especially interesting was, I was one of only two gay men (I know of) in the press corps. And since the other was style diva Steve Kemble, it naturally follows I would ask him the most important question of the day: How do you dress for a construction site tour and remain fabulous.

Steve managed it. And here’s what he said:

Steve Kemble's construction site chic look

In vest. “I wore a Louis Vuitton scarf to counteract the attention from this awful reflective vest,” he said. The neck wrap was subtle, but added a stylish flare around the neck.

You can’t avoid hat head. Attendees were required to wear hard hats, so a smash up-do wasn’t possible. But there was an upside. “I have to give props to the Perot people for adding color to the hats, Kemble said, “instead of those dreadful, boring white ones.” Also, the hats weren’t visibly scuffed. We considered stealing them.

These boots were made for walking. The pre-tour press info was very specific: Long pants and no open-toe shoes or heels. Ugh, said Kemble. “I hate not being in heels,” he sighed. But not to worry: He made up for it with a pair of Gucci chocolate leather boots worn over the jean so everyone could see fashion and recognize it. “I was not going to wear those boring work boots!” he insisted. (P.S. I was wearing Timberland boots … pretty much what Kemble pooh-poohed.)

Have a belt. Finally, a studded stacked leather belt from Versace completed the ensemble. “I can hang tools from this!” Kemble said. Yeah, Steve, we’re not sure a crimping iron counts as a tool…

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What is Dallas’ obsession with building useless crap downtown?

Proposed Fair Park tower, from a pdf of a City of Dallas Landmark Commission agenda

The latest piece of useless downtown architecture is a ferris wheel approved by Dallas County Commissioners Court at Tuesday’s meeting. Another ferris wheel? Really?

First Dallas built that hideous new 1980s glass box of a hotel that’s attached to the Dallas Convention Center. How much more would it have cost to tell the architect to make the building attractive? Make it a place people will say, “Hey, I wanna stay there.”

OK. The lighting at night is interesting. But the architecture is as updated as the city’s other half-empty decades-old reflective-glass office towers.

Next, there’s The Bridge to Ray’s Gun Shop. That’s not the official name, just what the people at the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League are calling it.

Impressive close up; a meaningless non-golden arch from a distance. Iconic? Only because the Trinity River will be recognized around the world as the smallest trickle of water ever crossed by suspension bridge. And it’s destined to become a traffic nightmare each evening when six-lane Woodall Rodgers crosses the mighty Trinity River and backs up onto two-lane Singleton Boulevard in West Dallas.

For the same money we could have had two or three new bridges that crossed to where much of the traffic is actually going — Oak Cliff. Hopefully Ray, operator of the oldest sporting goods store in Dallas, will see an increase in business.

Now the Dallas Commissioners Court has approved a new ferris wheel for Founders Plaza.

Daniel Cates and GetEQUAL will have to find a new location for weddings, protests and other demonstrations.

A ferris wheel? Don’t we already have one of the largest — yet mostly unused — ferris wheels in the world a mile away in Fair Park?

OK, this one is being billed as a 17-story “observation wheel.” What’s an observation wheel? Well, it’s round and has baskets and rotates in a vertical circle. Like a ferris wheel. What about it is not like a ferris wheel? The baskets will be air conditioned and a ticket will cost $15. And unlike the Texas Star in Fair Park, it will be a sightseeing attraction. And the Texas Star? Well, that’s just a ferris wheel.

And if downtown is going to have a ferris wheel, then Fair Park must have an observation tower. This planned 500-foot needle will be nothing like downtown’s Reunion Tower. And it will never be built because Fair Park is on the glide path to Love Field and the FAA won’t approve it, but that’s beside the point. And unlike Reunion, this won’t have a restaurant and there won’t be an elevator.

The observation deck itself will ride up and down the spire. To see downtown. Which you apparently can’t do from the nearby ferris wheel — because 49 weeks a year, it doesn’t operate.

—  David Taffet

Applause: Piece o’ work

The Perot Museum is the most promient new space on Dallas’ skyline, but older, offbeat museums resonate with historic import

 

Flagpole-View
The Perot Museum will be under construction for the rest of the year, but this rendering illustrates what the final facility will look like when landscaping is complete.

DAVID TAFFET  | Staff Writer

While the major art museums are part of the Arts District, Downtown Dallas is home to a number of smaller museums with a focus on history and science that are worth a visit. The new Perot Museum of Science & Nature will rival the art museums in size and scope.

The Perot Museum
After three smaller museums — Dallas Museum of Natural History, The Science Place and the Dallas Children’s Museum — merged in 2006, the new institution needed additional space to house the collections and a vision for more halls as well. The new home, rising along the north side of Woodall Rodgers Freeway a few blocks west of the Arts District, will become a city landmark.

Designed by Thom Mayne, the building will appear to be a large floating cube under a landscaped roof. Inside, 180,000 square feet will house 10 galleries on five floors. (Like the cornerstone buildings in the Arts District the museum is also designed by a Pritzker Prize-winning architect.)

Museum CEO Nicole Small describes the building as a “sustainable science lesson.” It will feature two 25,000-gallon underground cisterns that collect rainwater from the roof and the plaza for the non-potable needs of the project. The wavy roof’s rockscape and drought-resistant plantings will also help keep the building cool; solar energy will heat the water.

Small says the building will appear to float over the plaza, an outdoor space she sees as suitable for everything from cocktail parties to community festivals, from art to food.

The skin of the building is pre-cast, custom-molded concrete. But the most striking design element is a diagonal glass box — now just a steel frame — that will house an escalator.

“The view from the top will be stunning,” Small says.

Although principal construction is nearing completion, the opening of the facility is still 18 months away. Exhibits are being assembled off-site, but installation will take months to get ready for public viewing.

Small said the permanent exhibition will span dinosaurs to DNA. “We’ll have the largest dinosaur in Texas,” she says.

The museum will be able to take much of its vast collection of artifacts out of storage for the first time. But one of the most exciting things about having the new building is that Dallas won’t be missing all of the major traveling shows that can now be booked into the museum’s temporary exhibit space.

The West End
Sixth Floor Museum. Two floors of the old School Book Depository Building make up part of the city’s No. 1 tourist destination: The Kennedy assassination site. The notorious building, which now also houses Dallas County Commission offices, chronicle the presidency of John F. Kennedy and his death at Dealey Plaza in 1963. From the sixth floor window, visitors can stand in the sniper’s nest that Lee Harvey Oswald created on Dallas’ darkest day.

Dallas County acquired the building in 1977 and converted the first five floors to county offices. In 1989, the museum opened, a project headed by an openly gay man, Jeff West, who became the museum’s first director.

Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture. This iconic structure with the red stone façade was once the Dallas County Courthouse. Built in 1892 and restored more than 100 years later, the museum’s exhibits trace Dallas from prehistory through its early years as a trading center to its current status as a business center and the hub of the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country. Across the street from the museum is a replica of Dallas founder John Neely Bryan’s log cabin.

Dallas Holocaust Museum. A block from the Sixth Floor Museum sits the one of the oldest Holocaust museums in the country, which moved Downtown in 2005. In its current temporary space, the museum tells the story of one day during the Holocaust. To bring the story home, survivors who later settled in Dallas donated many of the artifacts on display, including the front pages of the areas’ three local newspapers from that day.

The building that houses one of the original boxcars that transported victims eerily evokes the period as DART trains regularly rumble past. Temporary exhibit space was added to the museum late last year. The first traveling exhibit to open in the space is called “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945.”

Museum director Alice Murray says that attendance this summer soared over previous years so that other exhibits are planned including one on Jim Crow laws next year.

Plans call for building a new, larger museum on adjacent property that the museum owns.

Elsewhere Downtown
While the Dallas Public Library isn’t actually a museum, the central branch across from City Hall houses one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence — the only one in the western United States — in a temperature-controlled case on the seventh floor.

After the Continental Congress appointed a committee to declare independence, Thomas Jefferson drafted the text of the document. The copy is one of about 25 printed on July 4, 1776.

Just south of I-30 sits Dallas Heritage Village, better known as Old City Park. This museum is home to Texas’ largest collection of 19th century shops, pioneer and Victorian homes and even an old hotel that once stood in downtown Carrollton. Moved from throughout North Central Texas to the city’s first park, the 20-acre site recreates life in North Texas more than 100 years ago.

Among the interesting facts we learn is that when the hotel was full, guests would sometimes have to share a bed. Strangers sleeping together? Right here in Dallas, Texas? Why, we can’t even imagine what might have gone on.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

There’s no place like home

With the Mavs’ victory and the Super Bowl, all eyes are on Dallas lately. But many locals don’t know just what Uptown has to offer

CLANG CLANG CLANG WENT THE … | Uptown’s trolley service has a history and plans for expansion. Best of all, it’s free. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Every year, when they bring in travel journalists from all over the world to promote Dallas as a gay destination, the Tavern Guild shows them everything the city has to offer a visitor. (See sidebar.) Just this week, all eyes were on Victory Park as the Mavericks won their first NBA championship title. In other words, lots of people from outside have had Uptown Dallas on the brain.
So let me ask: Where, exactly, is Uptown?

There’s a lot even Dallas natives don’t know about the Oak Lawn-adjacent neighborhood. And that’s something the local association is trying to change.

Uptown, officially, is just a single square mile, bordered roughly to the south by Woodall Rodgers Freeway, to the west by the Katy Trail, to the east by North Central Expressway and to the north by Haskell Street. But they’ve packed a ton of stuff in that district: Five hotels, all pretty high end (the Stoneleigh, the Ritz-Carlton, the Crescent Court, Zaza and the Hotel St. Germain); 90 bars and restaurants; three live theaters … and tons of gay folks, of course.

Uptown didn’t used to be “up;” it used to be “low.” When the plans were drafted in the 1980s for construction on the Crescent, the area was described as “Lower Oak Lawn,” which is how many in the gayborhood still see it. But Uptown has some attractions unique to it.

Not the least of these is the McKinney Avenue Trolley system, which circles Uptown before crossing over the Woodall canyon and dead-ending on St. Paul Street between the Dallas Museum of Art and the Fairmont Hotel. That’ll change soon; plans are underway to extend the end of the line and make it a true loop. That should add to the 390,000 riders who hopped one of the three trolleys in 2010. And best of all, they rode them for free.

If you haven’t ridden the trolley yet, it merits your time. Because they are antiques, these are not cookie-cutter light rail trains but variously sized, one-of-a-kind streetcars loaded with history. One of the cars is 101 years old; one has distinctly European styling; they come from as far away as Australia, and run on tracks that won’t need to be repaired for decades.

One trolley trip can take you from right next to Stephan Pyles Restaurant back up McKinney Avenue, where you can grab a cocktail at Sambuca and an appetizer from Fearing’s across the street; up toward State-Thomas, which hides some hip bars like The Nodding Donkey; and past the West Village where Cork has a variety of wines. And you’re just a few paces from the Cityplace DART stop, so you don’t have to drive home after indulging.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens