An eclectic community finds solace in a tiny East Dallas ‘hood

Charlie Jenks, above left, and Eric White enjoy their front porch in the East Dallas neighborhood of Mill Creek. Sprawling back yards and Victorian homes such as Mack Anderson’s, previous page, dot the Peak Suburban district within Mill Creek. (Photos by Rich Lopez)

By Rich Lopez

On the whole, East Dallas has a solid reputation as the quirky part of town. Artists and musicians find cheap properties to rent and homeowners find a sort of refuge that’s not like any other. But look a little closer and the area is divided into several neighborhoods such as Munger Place and Junius Heights. As historic districts, they keep up the heritage of the area, but a street over and the denizens of Peak Suburban and Mill Creek do their own thing.

“We’re all a little off-kilter here,” Charlie Jenks laughs.

Jenks lives in a patch of neighborhood called Mill Creek with his partner of 25 years, Eric White. Sectioned off between Fitzhugh and Haskell avenues, the tiny area has been both a haven for Jenks and White as well as quite a find. The couple moved here from Baton Rouge and was intent on finding an older neighborhood. A friend told them to go east.

“It took a while to find this part of town,” Jenks says. “We knew we wanted to an old part of town. We had gone to Oak Cliff, looked in Oak Lawn because of the community, but we finally came to look here. This house being larger, we knew this is the one.”

That was 21 years ago. Beginning with what White describes as a teardown that was boarded up with no plumbing or even doorknobs, they have now renovated into exactly the home they wanted.

“When we moved in, there was lots of sketchy people around,” White says. “We couldn’t afford to buy this house now.”

The old neighborhood that was once spotted with substance abusers, homeless drifters and prostitutes evolved into an attractive area. With yuppies jogging in the streets and same-sex couples walking their dogs, Mack Anderson now sees a small utopia, but without the invasion of big stores and McMansions.

“It hasn’t really gentrified through the years here,” he says.

Anderson lives in the micro historic district of Peak Suburban within Mill Creek. A street away from friends and neighbors Jenks and White, Anderson revels in the overall feel of the magnificent trees, the different people and the big porches.

“Sometimes I just take my dinner out there and see what’s going on,” he says. “It’s better than TV.”

His Victorian home, which was also renovated, is thought to have been build in the 1880s.

Now retired, Anderson liked that his commute downtown was only five minutes. That factored big into his day-to-day living, but the texture of the area was a big selling point when he bought in the early ’80s.

“You don’t find that kind of diversity anywhere else, we all get along,” he says. “Here you have Irish, German, Hispanic and everyone gets along fine. It’s like the way the world should be.”

Add to that a bustling number of gay residents. The diversity and eclecticism of the area resonates with LGBT homebuyers and owners for similar reasons Oak Cliff does.

“I think we’ve always been here,” Anderson laughs. “I think us gay people want projects, want big houses and we’re the only ones willing to get things started. That makes a statement to others who follow the risk to bring up the neighborhood.”

Jenks and White feel good about being able to fit in and be proud.

“The flag goes up twice a year,” Jenks says. “There are several gay people around and the neighborhood associations and straight friends are all gay friendly, we’ve never not felt comfortable here.”

But while buying a home is not impossible in this is East Dallas pocket, Anderson makes a point about how great his spot is.

“If it has a good feel, it doesn’t matter where it is,” he says, ”so I found that the people who move here, stay here.”

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