Inner City Grows Despite Dallas City Hall

I have always been a member of the Church of We-Have-to-Save-Downtown. Whatever that means. I sing in the choir. It's a lifelong expression of my profound wannabe urban cosmopolitology. A religion.

Why? Obvious. Because downtown is...uh, well it's down. And it's...you know...town.

Now all of a sudden I have doubts. We see all kinds of cosmopolite activity all around downtown in concentric rings, most of it developing without any help from and often in spite of City Hall. I'm talking about whole areas of the inner city that seem to want to burst up through the grime and redevelop on their own.

So we have to pour billions into saving the embalmed, asbestos-filled towers of downtown why?

A weekend ago I went on that annual gallery tour they do every year in the Cedars area just across the freeway south of downtown. Last time I went was three years ago. Back then it was still your typical Dallas moonscape of artists separated from crack-heads by bales of concertina wire. Instead of an art stroll it was more of an art trot with your eyes over your shoulders at all times.

This year I saw absolutely amazing change. From Buzz condominiums on Akard (new construction, $160,000 to $350,000) to The Beat Condominiums right across the street from the Jack Evans Police Headquarters on South Lamar (new construction, ready next spring): Very serious money is being poured into the ground in this recently embattled area just outside downtown.

It's going on all over in the inner city. Just not downtown. It sneaks up on me even in my own neck of the woods.

A week ago on a Sunday afternoon I'm driving down Henderson Avenue south from Central Expressway toward my little neighborhood, and I have a head-snapping experience that makes me feel like I might be experiencing a mild aneurysm.

There were certain tunnels of junk you had to drive through to get to my part of East Dallas. Gaston Avenue—oh, I used to love Gaston, back before it cleaned itself up. Gaston was like the dark scary pathway through the forest that Dorothy and the Tin Man have to traverse to get to Oz. Henderson was like that. I always figured Henderson helped scare the weenies back into the Park Cities.

So I'm driving down Henderson; I turn barely to my right, and there before my very eyes is a large and inviting woody, rocky, smoky, cozy-looking place called The Capitol Pub. On a Sunday afternoon the place is absolutely jammed with 20-something, employed-looking couples of the serious car payment variety.

For a split second I think, "I must have just gotten fatally rear-ended by a 1989 Pontiac La Felonia, the occupants of which are even now soaring over backyard fences like eagles, and this must be urban heaven." I pull into the next driveway to check for signs of stroke. This should be the parking lot of Jerry's Market. And now I am seriously disoriented.

Jerry's Market was always a wild and wacky jumble of people selling piñatas, telling fortunes and shaking their fists at each other. But in its place I see the sleek, emerging bones of a cool new oasis still under construction.

Somewhere in here I can still see the faint outline of Jerry's, but it looks like somebody has gone over Jerry's with a powerful chic-blaster. A sign on a door tells me part of this building will soon be the Glo Lounge.

Now as I pull back out onto Henderson my eyes are open at last, and I see all the same things I saw in the Cedars the weekend before—really serious investment, residential and commercial development just popping up out of the ground all over the place. This is all stuff the land-holders downtown would give their right gargoyles for. And it comes from where? From whom?

So later last week I went back and found out whom—the Andres brothers, Marc and Roger. Their grandparents, Harry and Chaya Andres, ran a grocery store where the Meyerson Symphony Center is now. Their father bought property in this area. They went to St. Mark's, UT and UCLA in the late '70s and early '80s, and then they came back to the family business, which by then was real estate. Now they sort of own Henderson, or at least control it.

"We've been here a long time," Marc told me. "We plan on being here a long time. We're not just financially vested in the area but mentally and physically, as you can see."

The transformation of Henderson has been nothing short of phenomenal. It has broken into public view so quickly and so recently that even I, who drive this street several times a week, didn't see it until I saw it.

In their offices a block down Henderson from Central Expressway, Roger and Marc Andres showed me before and after pictures. They were explaining that the Capitol Pub, which looks as if it has been there forever, just opened days before I drove by and saw it packed with thirsty payment-makers.

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