So what the hell's going on, right? Why are scrap yards and salvage yards and other blunt-force industrial occupants trying to make an industrial street look hip and cool?

Did I mention that this is an island? It's all business, non-residential. If anything, the freeways, thoroughfares and other properties around Rock Island have cut it off even more effectively now than the river did in 1892. In spite of that, The Dallas Morning News editorial page has carried out a two-year-long vendetta aimed at scouring the businesses off Rock Island as impediments to the paper's cherished Trinity River project.

Two years ago Morning News editorial writer Tod Robberson described the effect he said salvage and recycling yards have on the city: "Neighboring properties are almost worthless," Robberson wrote. "And when homes are abandoned, scavengers move in and gut them. Next come the drug users and homeless people."

The scrap-metal business on Rock Island is a longtime family affair. Here, from left, are John Hargrove and his daughter Hannah of Orr-Reed Wrecking, Frances Okon, her granddaughter Toni and son Louis of Okon Metals.
The gates at Orr-reed, made of salvaged doors, are the work of artist Cydney Ferguson.
Dylan Hollingsworth
The scrap-metal business on Rock Island is a longtime family affair. Here, from left, are John Hargrove and his daughter Hannah of Orr-Reed Wrecking, Frances Okon, her granddaughter Toni and son Louis of Okon Metals.

The gates at Orr-reed, made of salvaged doors, are the work of artist Cydney Ferguson.

So, wait. A guy goes out on Rock Island a century ago, starts a business that actually cleans up the environment before the concept of environment was even invented, and that makes people abandon their homes and take drugs?

Look. Nobody believes that. Tod Robberson doesn't believe that. It's all bullshit, an absurdly contorted argument to make something happen for some other agenda, some handful of cards close to the vest.

That's not a conspiracy theory. That's a theory that what Robberson says is so transparently stupid, we can't be expected to believe that he even believes it. So it's some kind of scam. Somebody wants that land for something else, and they don't want to pay what the businesses on Rock Island would have to be paid in order to vacate voluntarily.

At exactly the time the News started its editorial campaign for the real estate cleansing of Rock Island, the city launched a unique campaign of aggressive unilateral rezoning for the entire area along the river. Most rezoning efforts are initiated by somebody who owns some of the land in question. There may be division and controversy among neighboring owners, but at least the original impetus for new zoning comes from the neighborhood.

The Trinity River rezoning, however, has been almost entirely top-down, initiated by and from City Hall. Okon told me he got a notice a couple years ago telling him he was going to be rezoned and that the rezoning would require him to get off the land. That's the kind of junk his great-grandfather probably left Poland over.

He and the other owners started going down to City Hall. He says this all winds up being a good story about the City Council, where they actually found sympathetic ears. A deal was struck by which Rock Island would be left the hell alone if the owners came up with some kind of dramatic improvement to the place within two years. The royal rezoning project was deep-sixed, at least for Rock Island.

The June 9 arts festival is Rock Island's coming-out party — a way of showing City Hall some gratitude for extending a bit of mercy as well as proving that the owners have done what they promised.

That's cool. But here is the even cooler part. Louis Okon and the Hargroves absolutely loved doing it.

I asked Okon if this whole arts festival thing wasn't just a huge pain in the ass foisted off on them by fools and meddlers. Why should a scrap yard have to be an art project? He hesitated. I thought he might have been waiting to answer until we were out of earshot of his mother, who works just around the corner from his office.

"I've been having an awful lot of fun with it," he said softly.

Hannah Hargrove, explaining how she and her fiance plan to put the entire Orr-Reed inventory on the Internet, said she thought the whole Robberson/rezoning battle had been "a blessing in disguise." I asked why a blessing.

"It gave Orr-Reed a chance to revolutionize," she said. "Orr-Reed has been an amazing community asset that, well, not entirely as all Daddy's fault, had deteriorated slightly. It's time for it to become something that gives back to the community."

John Hargrove, watching me scribble notes, winced. "Well, I don't know if I would say it has 'deteriorated.' But it certainly hasn't grown with the times."

Here's the thing. Rock Island is a wonderful little world unto itself. These people are deeply proud of what they do, what their forebears accomplished, where it all came from and where they want it to go. Their stories are woven from the legendary fabric of this country.

This festival June 9 will be a bridge inviting the rest of the city to come into that little world and look around. How can that not be a great thing for this city?

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17 comments
Gmason214
Gmason214

I would agree with you Schutze, but if I where to suggest moving these companies over to Gaston would you still agree that they are wonderful. We need a large pro recycling green place over by Lakewood, Highland Park Village, and Preston and Royal.

RAFII
RAFII

I have been doing business with Orr Reed Wrecking for many years. This is truly an eclectic establishment with hidden treasures to be found galore! With the expansion of Orr-Reed and the rejuvenation of Rock Island St and its businesses as an entirety, this is going to be something wonderful for the city of Dallas and its residents to look forward too!

Johnhargrove62
Johnhargrove62

I am scared to death. This is Hannah's father, John Hargrove, owner of Orr Reed Wrecking Co. Hope to see lots of people for the Festival, it is sure to be a blast! Music, food, art, recycling, and a good time for all. Thank you in advance!

David Lee
David Lee

I am friends with a family that owns a business on Lamar. They've been there since the 1940s and pay their workers good wages with nice benefits. Most of their employees stay 20 or 30 years. The Dallas Morning News and the City of Dallas are trying to swindle these businesses and the families that run them out of their properties. Thank you Jim for telling their side of the story. The Dallas Morning News certainly won't.

Mister_Mean
Mister_Mean

The city of Dallas are bullys-they have a long history of trying to close long established businesses. The DMN are enablers too. Would not trust either of them.

David Worthington
David Worthington

Rock Island Street? Is that the same street that parallels where the Rock Island rail line used to run that continues on and off all the way into Irving where the Rock Island rail, now the TRE line still runs?

P. Warmus
P. Warmus

It is truly a wonderful thing to be a part of. I feel honored to have been invited in and allowed to assist the Rock Island business owners in their efforts. Thank you to all involved.

Claystinnett
Claystinnett

i will be curious to find out if all the artists responsible for the actual production of the so called artwork and murals will receive recognition.

Johnhargrove62
Johnhargrove62

Absolutely we want to recognize all contributors. Have we missed someone? If so, please let us know.

Frances
Frances

Louis has worked so hard getting this entire project off the ground. Starting at City Hall and finishing with a great new look on Riverfront, June 9th will be a celebration of his hard work, creativity, and tenacity. The City of Dallas should be proud of this new "old" district.

Droberts14
Droberts14

I am so happy to be a part of this marvelous revitalization!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

'Handsome Fiance' Most excellent. (that's me by the way)

Melanie Okon
Melanie Okon

I actually cried when I read this. I am so proud to be an Okon.

 
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