As older properties throughout the gayborhood are replaced with large developments, residents wonder if the area is losing its character
Like many properties in Oak Lawn, the building at 3322 Knight St. has been sold and the 90-year-old building most likely will be demolished for future development.
Unlike many other buildings in Oak Lawn, this one may be worth saving. Built in 1924, the brick building has original hardwood floors and tiled bathrooms. Sitting on a third of an acre, the landscaping is well maintained and the residents and neighbors love it.
Residents must be out of the building by Dec. 1. And area resident Richard DuPont said the building has value and the community should do something to save it.
The building’s owner did not return calls seeking comment about the future plans for the building.
Historic status is one way to save the building.
However, historic status is rarely given to a property without the owner applying for it. It’s something rarely imposed against the property owner’s will.
Age or architecture is not always enough to get a building historic designation. An important owner or an event taking place at the site is also taken into consideration, which is why Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and the Melrose Hotel have historic status but little else in Oak Lawn does.
Oak Lawn Committee Secretary Michael Milliken said that with property values in Oak Lawn rising, it’s highly unlikely that a house or building not currently being used to the maximum value of the property is going to be saved.
Councilman Philip Kingston, who represents the district the Knight Street building is located in, had a slightly different take on it. He said loose credit distorted the market, making the dirt under the building more valuable than the older building itself.
Property throughout Oak Lawn is being developed at a frantic pace.
An old house on Lemmon Avenue that most recently housed an antique store was torn down this week. That property will be redeveloped by the Taco Bueno next door into a drive-thru, Milliken said.
Two two-story office buildings on Carlisle at Bowen streets were torn down last year and a 17-story apartment building will open on the site soon.
The former driving range on McKinney Avenue in West Village is being replaced by an office tower and mixed use high-rise.
While the emphasis on high-rise density is concentrated in Uptown right now, Milliken sees that type of density continuing to head up Central Expressway and toward Love Field.
He said that direction comes from the city to build tall to increase population with heavier density to add to the tax base.
Former Old Oak Cliff Conservation League President Michael Amonett said without homeowners, people aren’t as invested in their neighborhood.
“I wouldn’t be like I am if it wasn’t for watching Oak Lawn get torn down,” he said. “It’s why I’m so persistent.”
Amonett helped build OOCCL into an alliance of more than 30 neighborhood organizations that work to preserve the area if not all of the older buildings.
But redeveloped properties adhere to setbacks, neighborhood architecture, landscaping requirements and other style features.
That doesn’t mean no older buildings will be saved. Kingston said it’s taken on a case-by-case basis.
In areas of the city like East Dallas and Oak Lawn, strong neighborhood associations are helping to preserve neighborhoods. Some have organized into historic districts based on national guidelines.
Others become conservation districts that maintain the scale and character of a neighborhood through special regulations.
Kingston said the conservation district is a very flexible tool for a neighborhood to use.
“Some have demolition standards,” he said. “Others have divided into sub-districts.”
Kingston said his neighborhood’s conservation district’s goal was to preserve the look and feel of an arts and crafts-style neighborhood. That stopped the intrusion of McMansions in his area that were being built in some parts of East Dallas that overpower lots and are bad neighbors to smaller, surrounding houses.
Oak Lawn has a few neighborhood associations, notably Maple Springs and Perry Heights, which have successfully helped preserve those areas.
But Oak Lawn has something unique in the city. In 1982, Oak Lawn Committee was formed to address quality of life issues and respond to planning and growth issues.
The organization makes recommendations throughout the Oak Lawn public improvement district that roughly runs from Central Expressway to Mockingbird Lane and Highland Park to Woodall Rodgers Freeway, with some carve-outs.
West Village, for example, is no longer included and the State Thomas area has always been its own entity. But Uptown is part of Oak Lawn on the city plat.
Milliken said Oak Lawn Committee only becomes involved in the area’s development when the developer is looking for a zoning variance.
“If someone wants to tear down and rebuild within zoning, they most likely won’t come to us,” he said.
Often the city tells developers to go to the Oak Lawn Committee to get support before approaching the plan commission or city council.
Milliken said that while the organization has no official power, it often trades its endorsement for something beneficial to the neighborhood.
That might be landscaping or setbacks or additional parking in exchange for height variance or other code exemption.
As Oak Lawn continues to be developed, Amonett said Oak Lawn is losing its neighborhood vibe.
Kingston disagreed but said one of his major concerns is keeping neighborhoods pedestrian friendly.
But for resident DuPont, the area has lost the neighborhood feel it was once known for.
“Oak Lawn is not for us anymore,” DuPont said.
Maintaining a Legacy of Love
The Oak Lawn Committee is raising funds to maintain the Legacy of Love monument on the corner of Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road.
When the monument was built in 2006, money was saved for maintenance, which runs about $5,000 a year, including electricity for lighting, clean up, watering the garden, insurance and rental of the small parcel of land from the city.
Over the years, damage from several car wrecks have eaten into the fund.
“Some has been recouped from insurance,” Oak Lawn Committee Secretary Michael Milliken said.
Only one driver who crashed into the monument had insurance that covered the damage. Others did not.
In addition, the Frank Caven Garden originally included a tree. The first tree died and was replaced. The second tree was destroyed in one of the car accidents and has not been replaced.
Also, the garden ground has settled with a depression in the middle.
“When it rained, it became a pond,” Milliken said.
He said the garden needs to be redesigned with Texas-friendly xeriscaping.
Since Oak Lawn Committee first planned the monument, it’s become much more of a rallying point than was expected. Most recently, a rally after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions overturning California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act were held on the triangle and spilled over on Cedar Springs Road.
In addition to working with the Tavern Guild and Oak Lawn Merchants Association, Oak Lawn Committee is appealing to the community for donations to replenish its maintenance fund, which is maintained by Communities Foundation of Texas and donations are tax deductible.
Donations can be made at OakLawnCommittee.org.
— David Taffet
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 18, 2013.