By Arnold Wayne Jones

Don’t write off Rockwall too quickly, says at least one queer pioneer

Rick Wise moved back to North Texas after years in Boston. But rather than return to his old haunt Oak Lawn, he found a great house in burgeoning Rockwall, which despite a large conservative population has been very gay-welcoming. Photo by Arnold Wayne Jones

One of the first things Richard Wise will tell you is that Rockwall County that tiny square of a community that seems to create a panhandle on Dallas’ northeast corner looks as Republican as any county in Texas. (For example, in the current election year, not a single Democrat filed to run in any countywide race.) That alone might be enough to keep the gay community storming to the west.

But Wise doesn’t stop there. He’s anxious to point out that despite its conservative credentials, Rockwall is fast becoming a haven for gay homeowners.

If heading 25 miles east, over a bridge and out of Dallas County strikes you as extreme, Wise and his fellow queer pioneers would beg to differ. The pluses, he says, far outweigh any minuses.

Wise speaks from experience. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, he lived on Cedar Springs "the party years," he calls them. He spent more than 20 years in Boston before deciding to move back to Dallas a year ago. He’d been gone so long, Wise enlisted some old friends to show him around all the neighborhoods.

"I looked in Oak Lawn again it hadn’t changed much, except it was more congested," he says. "Nothing against it, but I was not coming back to relive my youth. We looked in North Dallas and in the Bishop Arts District of Oak Cliff."

But while all of those areas had their appeals, Rockwall had everything. And Wise happened on it by accident.

"We were coming to visit some family members out in Rockwall and I immediately fell in love with the city," he says. "It is kind of resort-y, a much more relaxed lifestyle. It’s only 23 miles from Downtown Dallas, but on the other side is ranch land."

The house he moved into had all the bullet-points on the list he prepared before moving: A ranch-style home, not too large ("I didn’t want to pay for air conditioning"), in a small town, a short drive from the city, a friendly atmosphere. Wise’s home is a cozy 1,757 square feet, but he says it seems bigger.

"The bedroom, living room, dining room and breakfast nook all have floor to ceiling windows that make the back yard feel like part of the square footage." It also has an in-ground pool, two-car garage and lake view, "which wasn’t on the list but would have been if I thought I could get it."

Price was key as well. Rockwall is growing quickly, with lots of residential development, most priced from $260,000 to $350,000, Wise says. That means older custom homes can be had for a song.

"The older homes are just sitting they are very affordable and you get a lot for your money." Wise paid less than $200,000, "and what I would get in Oak Lawn for that doesn’t even touch it. I have so much more than I expected," he says.

For those who still consider Rockwall to be cow country, it’s much more than that. Growth has been tremendous in recent years. Lake Ray Hubbard has become a hopping locale. The Hilton Bella Harbor Resort, a 231-suite hotel, is set to open soon.

There are also enough eateries to attract gay foodies. Blue Canyon, the new concept restaurant from chef Brandt Evans, features eclectic American cuisine in a welcoming and gay-friendly environment, and a branch of gay-fave Gloria’s Salvadoran restaurant recently opened there. The Sonata "a very nice Italian grill and wine bar," Wise says adds another high-end option.

The DART light rail is also extending to nearby Rowlett, and the President George Bush Tollway is set to link Rockwall with much of North Dallas as conveniently as I-30 does to the central part of the city.

The 66 Classic Diner is a popular home-cooking cafe among Rockwall’s growing gay population.

But Wise was also drawn to Rockwall’s Mayberry-like charms: the 66 Classic Diner, where blue-haired ladies sit for breakfast planning their days; an historic downtown with an active community interested in preservation; a courthouse in the middle of the square; a smalltown newspaper; a quaint Fourth of July parade; free outdoor concerts by the harbor in the summer; a government that’s small enough that you deal "with a person and not a bureaucracy," says Wise. "But if I want to go to Oak Lawn it’s just a 30 minute drive, and just as accessible as North Dallas. It’s easy to go in party and play or meet friends but easy to come out here, too."

Among the best reasons in favor of moving to Rockwall are the taxes.

"There’s a lower tax base because school taxes are lower as are county taxes. And because houses are a little cheaper, you get an awesome house for less money" than nearer to Dallas, says Keith Yonick, a real estate agent with Prudential Texas Properties. Yonick has found homes in Rockwall for several gay clients. Wise even found that his actual first-year taxes were $1,000 less than he had been quoted at closing.

The people are unexpectedly friendly and accepting as well, Wise has found. Perhaps it’s the cliché that gays have always been leaders in discovering undervalued areas that has led to the openness.

"It’s like the episode of ‘Will & Grace’ where Jack and Will moved into a suburban area and everyone wanted to live near them," says Yonick. "I won’t say Rockwall is like that, but I find the people are not judgmental, even though you’d think they might be."

"There are a lot of transplants not a good ol’ boy Texas city," adds Wise. "There’s a diversity of culture and a lot of open-minded people out here. When I moved in, my neighbors made sure they told me they had a gay uncle I guess I’m not that discrete," he laughs.

Wise says his barber is gay and several of his cronies from Boston have even decided to move to Rockwall after being so impressed by what it has to offer. Yonick says he’s aware of one group of gay residents that meets monthly at a restaurant downtown, and some others who congregate at the 66 Classic Diner.

But ultimately, it’s the locale itself that really sells the area.

"When I’m driving home from work, seeing the sunlight or moonlight reflecting off the water, it blows away your cares," says Wise. "I still pinch myself that I’m living in my dream house."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice Defining Homes print edition March 7, 2008
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