Good-Latimer Golly

A tunnel crumbles and a record store escapes the wreckage

Does the bad news for Deep Ellum ever stop? The official problems--Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings by the Entertainment Collective (owners of Gypsy Tea Room and Trees) and the Curtain Club--haven't done much to help the not-so-official problems in the downtown music district. Parking is more difficult than ever, local music booking has seen a steady decline in quality and an overwhelmed and understaffed police force controls the district after closing time with mace-loaded paintball guns.

Really, the last thing Deep Ellum needs at times like these is to lose one of its landmarks. That's why the bankruptcy filings are actually good for Dallas--they keep the music clubs alive while red tape and debt are resolved behind the scenes, and thank goodness, because the Gypsy has hosted some amazing, near-capacity concerts in the past few weeks. But what about the Good-Latimer tunnel?

For more than half a decade, Dallas Area Rapid Transit has been pitching a new Light Rail line that would connect busy spots near downtown like Fair Park, Baylor hospital and Deep Ellum. Logistically, it's a great idea, as that new line would both alleviate parking trouble and connect the farthest reaches of the metroplex to downtown. Problem is, part of the proposed line was to be built on top of the Good-Latimer tunnel, and the 70-plus-year-old bridge was deemed structurally unfit to handle a rail line. To build the line, DART said, the tunnel would have to be filled.

Hold on, now. Really? The old, classic tunnel, covered with city-endorsed graffiti and murals, is going to be buried in concrete and replaced with some modern, yellow-painted train line? What kind of introduction to the local music district is that? Nothing says "rock 'n' roll" like a big, yellow DART logo.

According to Deep Ellum Foundation president Barry Annino, the locals were similarly resistant at first: "The neighborhood didn't want the tunnel to be filled in, so DART tried to figure out an alternative. There really wasn't one that would work, and the tunnel was pretty weak structurally. It had a tendency to flood; it would've been too much to keep it around and fix it, put a big train on top of it."

So, without a formal announcement, the years-old plan finally reached approval "back in the summer," according to Morgan Lyons from DART media relations. In fact, I might not have heard about this up until the last minute had I not run into Good Records manager Chris Penn last week.

"You heard? We're moving."

The store, co-owned by the Polyphonic Spree's Tim DeLaughter, is located only a few stones' throws from the tunnel and, more important, in the part of the street that DART will clear when, as Lyons says, "construction starts at the beginning of next year" to make room for the rail line. (The paint shop next door will also go, but the loft apartments down the block will remain untouched.) Still, Penn insists that the store's move is only partially because of the construction.

"Initially, when we opened the store, the paint shop next door was supposed to leave after about a year," Penn says. "The original plan was to tear down the wall and expand. The paint store obviously never left, and we've always kinda been out of room. This was the gentle nudge we needed to get off our butts."

Those "butts" have since landed at 1808 Greenville Ave., and talk about expansion--the second floor alone is almost as big as the original Good-Latimer space, and Penn is excited about having room for a bigger, better selection of records, along with improved parking for customers.

But there's more afoot here: The new location, which is scheduled to open on New Year's Day 2006, is only footsteps away from white-hot local music venue the Cavern and new hipster destination Gachet Coffee Lounge, along with the soon-to-open Cityville Apartments. Think about it--add Good Records, a cornerstone of independent music and in-store concerts, to those spots, and you've got a worthwhile alternative to Deep Ellum.

Really, the DART project, which is intended to revitalize Deep Ellum, could seriously hurt the district until the line is complete--Lyons predicts completion by 2009. That's at least three years of construction on the street that drivers on Central Expressway take to enter Deep Ellum, and on weekend nights, alternate routes through downtown are a mess thanks to traffic at Purgatory, Blue and other downtown clubs. Lyons says there may still be a route down Good-Latimer during construction, but with an entire tunnel out of the picture, that prospect doesn't seem likely.

"The tunnel made Deep Ellum seem like an island," Annino says. "You're crossing a bridge, entering into an island. From that angle, it'll take away a little charm. But at the end of the day, it'll help business. The artists really liked the tunnel because we could do some cool stuff with it, but there's not really much we can do. The tunnel's just an old man. It's falling apart."

Lyons confirms that $1.5 million has been set aside to build a "new portal" into Deep Ellum to preserve the concept of the tunnel, though the portal design hasn't been completed. But it won't be an "old man." It most certainly won't.

 
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