When Randy Culbreth saw a bit of AIDS history fading away in plain sight, he took it upon himself to save it


NEVER FORGET | Randy Culbreth took it upon himself to restore memorials to those fallen to AIDS inside Lucky’s Cafe. Culbreth’s painstaking efforts, above, have significantly brightened the wall as it recently looked, opposite. He hopes others will volunteer to assist in the project. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

HOWARD LEWIS RUSSELL  | Special Contributor

Hiding in plain sight at the Dallas gay community’s home-cookin’ landmark is a vaunted, albeit often overlook, “Memorial Wall,” a catalogue of faded graffiti running, full-length, above its interior windows’ curved perimeter.

Many diners at Lucky’s Café scarcely notice “The Wall’s” existence overhead, or have become so accustomed to seeing it, they forget it’s even there. Newcomers may give passing thought to why it’s there — except, possibly, to consider it an eyesore in desperate need of a good sand-blasting and a fresh coat of paint. Or maybe they wonder why management ever permitted its walls be vandalized with now-dingy scribbles above where people are — gasp! — eating:

Dream as if you’ll live forever,
Live as if you’ll die tomorrow
— B ‘N’ L

community2Few of Lucky’s diners today probably realize that this scribed-upon hallowed arc documents the Oak Lawn community’s brave sacrifice during the “death-sentence years” of the AIDS crisis: From dreams lost, to nightmares found; from futures unrealized and pasts turned rigor mortis,

“The Wall” at Lucky’s was originally conceived in the mid-1980s so we’d “never forget,” paying homage to those who did not make it through to the tunnel’s end of protease inhibitors’ incandescent new dawn.

LOVE BOO-BOO 2-14-97

Unfortunately, decades of neglect threatened “The Wall’s” very existence — and certainly its status as a monument to the brutal toll taken on Dallas’ gay community. Even many longtime employees and patrons of Lucky’s couldn’t precisely recall how it started, except some vague recollection that its inception was the brainchild of someone at the Resource Center way back in the Jurassic era. The earliest dated scribbled seems to corroborate as much:

Rick G.

But one person recognized its significance, and decided Lucky’s “Wall” must not be allowed to fade away further into oblivion.

That’s why Randy Culbreth, with a sparse crew of volunteers, has magnanimously spearheaded Lucky’s resurrection.

“Any ‘in memoriam’ restoration effort to respect former victims of AIDS in our holy era of The Kardashians’ being kept up with, resonates more fantastically quaint to someone, say, under the age of 35, than if we were attempting here to memorialize victims of The Middle Ages’ Black Plague,” Culbreth angrily observes.

Determining Lucky’s Wall deserved rescue from the brink of being lobbed into the doomed dustbin of our present living history’s ephemera, Culbreth began to restore the memorial. Rather than merely trace over old epigrams, Culbreth — who’s own partner he memorialized in 1992, both on The Wall and an AIDS quilt panel — is adding embellishments and color.

“These were friends of mine, and they certainly weren’t in black and white,” he says, “they were all very colorful.”

John & James
I will love you forever . . .
Wait for me

To contribute to Culbreth’s project — or to volunteer your time in the restoration — contact him at RCulbreth35222@gmail.com.                    

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2012.