Goodbye, Groovy East Dallas

How Jim Schutze forsook his hippie-dippy days and learned to love the snout house

I talked to Patty Turner, who owned Shakespeare Books at 1922 Greenville Avenue from 1982 to 1993. That street number no longer exists, but the building still stands and is occupied by Billiard Bar, where the Dallas Observer's Christmas party was held this year, which I missed, because no one told me Christmas was coming up. I may also have been held away by a certain sentimental regret, since that address, when it was Patty's store, was home to many wonderful evenings and afternoons.

Robert Trammell read his poetry there. He sometimes brought his buddy, Roxy Gordon, the Choctaw storyteller who lived around the corner in a house with animal bones hanging from the porch. Trammell died in 2006 at age 66. Gordon died in 2000 at age 54. There you have it.

Patty Turner told me exactly why she was drawn to East Dallas. She grew up in the area around Northwest Highway and Midway Road, in what was then brand-new white-bread heaven. She went to Austin to college.

Dallas Public Library
Lorlee Bartos makes the point that a McMansion is better than a whorehouse.
Mark Graham
Lorlee Bartos makes the point that a McMansion is better than a whorehouse.

"After Northwest Highway and Midway, when I went to Austin and saw the hippies and everything going on there, I thought I was in heaven."

Later she went to New Mexico. And then in the early 1980s she came back to Dallas. So if you've been to Austin, and you've been to New Mexico, and now you're back in Dallas and the thought of white-bread suburbs makes you want to die, what do you do? You keep driving around, all night and all day if you have to without food or water, until you find East Dallas.

Get out of the car. Fall on your knees and kiss the ground. Open a bookstore. Makes sense to me.

Turner, who says she's not a big fan of regimentation, resisted the creation of a conservation district in her East Dallas neighborhood, Hollywood Heights.

"Now I'm so glad they did it," she said. "They were right. Someone was really smart."

She's staying. She thinks I'm wrong. She believes enough of the Old East Dallas will always endure to make East Dallas the only part of the city where she could stand to live.

"I think the conservation district will save some of the flavor of the area, but the flavor also comes from the proximity of downtown, the closeness of Hispanic areas, the diversity. I love the fact that I can go down the street and buy really good tamales."

Craig Holcomb, who was the city council member for my area after Simpson and long before Hunt, doesn't live in East Dallas anymore. Now he's a high-rise cosmopolite on Turtle Creek, over in Neal Emmons' part of town. But he told me he thinks East Dallas will always maintain its character, not just in spite of the newcomers but because of them.

"Your premise, that you're moving to Old East Dallas to get away from certain types of people, that was never my motivation," Holcomb said. "I grew up in a solid white neighborhood with 3.2 children, and everybody had a car. There were no Jews. There was one Catholic family. There was nobody of color.

"I moved to East Dallas because I wanted to experience all the diversity, including diverse opinions, that a big city has to offer."

Holcomb also rejects the assertion that all of the new homes are cookie-cutter and the ones they are replacing have character.

"The thing that has intrigued me for a number of years is that 10 years ago if you drove down the streets in Old East Dallas, you would be able to pick out some older houses that were cookie-cutter homes, homes that had been built with the same plan, windows in the same place and so on.

"As much as I love [Clifford D.] Hutzel [designer of many of the houses in Old Lakewood], you know that there had to be a catalog that said, 'For this much money you get a wrought-iron balcony on the front, and for this much more you can also have a wooden balcony.'

"If you read the history," he said, "Old East Dallas was the suburbs."

A good point. The staff of the Texas/Dallas History Department of the Dallas Central Library found an aerial photograph for me of East Dallas when "old" Lakewood was just being cut from the fields, before any houses had been built. That was 1925.

I found my house in the bottom corner of the same picture. It was built nine years before the picture was made. I've lived in it now 22 years.

Nothing here is really that old to begin with, is it? Well, me maybe.

There are nooks and crannies still here and there in East Dallas where I can go, squeeze my eyes shut and imagine for a moment that it's 1982 and everybody still has sideburns. In fact in one of those places when I open my eyes again everybody does have sideburns, including half of the women. I speak, of course, of the Gold Rush.

Ah, the Gold Rush Café at 1913 Skillman Street near the intersection of Live Oak Street—an outpost of the old boho-rococo East Dallas, where some people were born weird and others have to work at it. On any given afternoon, the Gold Rush hosts a full lineup of whispering booth lizards, hungover rock musicians, proper young Lakewoodites with soccer children and people who look like they just came in on the Mars Express—"Uh, uh, excuse me, uh, do you guys happen to know what planet this is?"—and all of them in a harmony and bliss sublime. A symphony, a picture to behold.

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