Oak Lawn’s boundaries disappearing
I didn’t realize that Oak Lawn’s geographical boundaries were becoming blurred and in danger of disappearing until I read a story in The Dallas Morning News’ Dec. 1 edition about the city’s "gayborhood" dissolving.
The story, "Closing time for Crossroads, center for gay activism," was one that we had already covered - the anticipated closing of Crossroads Market at the end of the year and what effect that would have on gay life in Dallas.
The writer, David Flick, noted that upscale developments in the area had become too pricey for many gay and lesbian residents, who had subsequently moved to other areas. He raised questions about whether Oak Lawn’s gay identity would diminish, as has happened in New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Castro.
The writer added that other gay businesses had already closed on Cedar Springs Road. What struck a nerve with me was the sentence, "The Dallas Voice, now thick with mainstream ads, still serves as the community newspaper, but its editorial offices have moved uptown to a building near Cole Park."
Clearly, the writer was of the opinion we had moved out of Oak Lawn and out of the "gayborhood."
That’s wrong. The Dallas Voice’s editorial offices have been located in Oak Lawn since its founding 24 years ago. The offices were located on Oak Lawn Avenue, Lemmon Avenue, Wycliff Avenue, Carlisle Avenue and at 4145 Travis St., our current location. We moved to this location - where we are surrounded by four gay bars - from Carlisle Avenue. We had maintained offices on Carlisle Avenue, which is between Turtle Creek Boulevard and Central Expressway in the same general area we are now, since the early 1990s.
The point is, we started in Oak Lawn, and we’ve never left the 15-square-mile area that is bounded by Woodall Rogers Freeway, Central Expressway, Highland Park, Inwood Road and Harry Hines Boulevard. The area of Oak Lawn is defined as such by Dallas City Ordinance 21859, which lays out the boundaries of Planned Development District No. 193.
Those are the official boundaries of Oak Lawn, and they are also the boundaries I’ve recognized as defining the area since I moved to the city in 1969.
Imagine our surprise when we contacted Flick to gently inform him that the Dallas Voice has always maintained editorial offices in Oak Lawn, and he contradicted us, claiming our offices are in Uptown, not Oak Lawn.
"No one considers anything east of Turtle Creek Boulevard to be Oak Lawn," Flick said in an e-mail.
In a subsequent e-mail, Flick said, "However much longtime residents may dislike it, most people these days do not think of Oak Lawn as going up to Monticello. If you don’t believe me, stop people at the corner of McKinney and Lemmon Avenue [east or west, your choice] and ask them if they’re standing in Oak Lawn or Uptown."
That disturbed me because I realized people who live in Oak Lawn might not even know where they actually live. Uptown is indeed a neighborhood in its own right, but it’s just one of many in the Oak Lawn area, such as Maple Springs, Knox Park and Turtle Creek. I realized the history and definition of the area, which in its near entirety was once a "gayborhood," was at risk of being lost - buried by real estate marketing and new developments.
It’s a concern shared by Michael Milliken, president of the Oak Lawn Committee, which was formed in 1982 to protect the area and reviews all development projects for the city.
"It always has been Oak Lawn, and it always will be until they change the ordinance defining the Oak Lawn property development district," Milliken said. "That’s what the Oak Lawn Committee believes is the official definition of what Oak Lawn is."
"Uptown is just a part of Oak Lawn," Milliken said. "That’s how the Oak Lawn Committee views it."
Milliken said he believes the boundaries are becoming blurred because people are trying to separate Uptown from Oak Lawn for business reasons.
"It’s strictly for money because it is more prestigious to say Uptown than it is to say Oak Lawn," Milliken said. "It’s strictly business."
Milliken, who has lived in Dallas since 1981, said the new people who have moved into the Uptown neighborhood don’t know the history of the area. In the early 1970s there were at least two gay bars at the intersection of McKinney Avenue and Hall Street, and one more at McKinney Avenue and Knox Street. There was a lesbian bar off of Knox Street, and a couple of pubs on Knox Street where the proprietors and customers gave little thought to sexual orientation. Hippies and gay and lesbian people swarmed along Knox Street, tending to avoid the side of the street where a biker bar also sat.
"They don’t know the history of the area, and they don’t want to know it," Milliken said.
Milliken said some residents and business people in the Uptown area might not want to be known as a part of Oak Lawn because of its national reputation as a LGBT enclave.
"That could be a factor," Milliken said. "But I think it is primarily prestige and location - the money issue."
Milliken said it is important to keep Oak Lawn’s boundaries intact in order to preserve the area’s rich history and its character, which was developed as an upper class residential and business district in the 1920s and transformed to a bohemian urban neighborhood with multi-family housing in the 1960s.
"It’s important to maintain the boundaries to define our neighborhood so we can recognize our history and address quality of life issues that we feel are important, such as design specifications for new developments," Milliken said.
Considering the transformation of the area now known as the Uptown neighborhood, it is no wonder that some fear a similar marketing project will be attempted along Cedar Springs Road to further obliterate the markers of Oak Lawn. But successful business operators on Cedar Springs Road - both nightclub and retail store operators - vow that will not be happening anytime soon on the strip.
"Me thinks the rumors of our deaths are premature," said Alan Pierce, co-owner of the nationally known Round-Up Saloon.
I agree with Pierce and the other business owners on the strip who are determined to save it. Gay life has survived in Greenwich Village and Castro, and it can do the same in Oak Lawn - maybe in just a less conspicuous manner.
So there you have it, baby. You may think you’re Uptown, but in reality you’re just plain old Oak Lawn.
See you in the hood.