Dallas City Hall versus The Car Wash

Mayor Rawlings calls this South Dallas business a blight. People earning a living there call it family.

And it was all supposed to get fixed anyway. A new Dallas police chief, David Kunkle, really did clean up the police department. City Attorney Tom Perkins reined in the more egregious misbehavior of his own staff. At the very least the legislative finding meant Freddy Davenport, now 81, a retired steelworker, and his son Dale, now 52, who runs the car wash, could hope their worries of many years were at long last over.

Then late last year, nearly eight years after the legislative report, Dallas city officials sent the Davenports a letter telling them their property was needed for an unspecified city project, warning that the city might resort to eminent domain to force them to sell if they balked.

So they balked. When the Davenports demanded to know the nature of the project and more about the source of the eminent domain letter, the city folded its hand immediately and said there would be no eminent domain. That was part of what the mayor told me in my meeting with him. He said the eminent domain threat was a mistake, a heavy-handed misinterpretation of an off-hand remark he himself had made one day in front of city staff to the effect that the city should think about buying the Davenports out.

"A lot of us over here may have been in trouble in the past, OK. So society don't want to give us another chance to go get us another job." -- Gary Brown (right) with Marshall Cornelius
Mark Graham
"A lot of us over here may have been in trouble in the past, OK. So society don't want to give us another chance to go get us another job." -- Gary Brown (right) with Marshall Cornelius
"I try to come out here and feed the people. ... I enjoy my friends, check out the atmosphere, check on everybody, like to see 'em smile when they eat my food, see how they're doing."-- Antonio Baker with Tonya Worthy
Mark Graham
"I try to come out here and feed the people. ... I enjoy my friends, check out the atmosphere, check on everybody, like to see 'em smile when they eat my food, see how they're doing."-- Antonio Baker with Tonya Worthy

But he also told me the car wash had to go, one way or another. He spoke thoughtfully about "Grow South," his campaign to invigorate the economy of the city's mainly minority southern hemisphere, an area that extends far from old South Dallas. He said he could not address the rest of the city's southern half without doing something for MLK.

Rawlings considers the most important asset and prime point of leverage in that area to be Fair Park, the sprawling Art Deco fairgrounds that hosts the annual State Fair of Texas. Pointing out to me that MLK is a principal route into the fair, he made specific reference to the scene at the car wash and said, "People get scared to death driving down MLK."

The mayor also made pointed references to the role in the area of former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale (1984-1991). Ragsdale is the salaried managing director of a nonprofit organization supported in part by city funds that owns roughly 80 parcels of land in the area near the car wash. A second nonprofit owns another 80 properties in the area, and the city owns many lots nearby, as well.

Rawlings told me he thinks the holdings of Ragsdale's group and other entities active in the area, all on residential streets so far, need to be extended out onto MLK, the commercial spine of the area. He and an aide were close-mouthed and careful about precisely where that process of extension might occur.

The mayor said he had been informed by the city attorney's office that the car wash could be pried loose through use of the city's zoning laws. He said he thought it would soon be declared a "non-conforming use." I checked. Until a year ago, the zoning for the Davenport's property explicitly allowed a car wash there. But last year council member Carolyn Davis, saying she wanted only "wholesome" businesses along MLK, persuaded the council to alter the zoning to explicitly prohibit a car wash. Under the new zoning, the city will be able to force the Davenports to close their business.

On one of the last sunny days before Christmas, I drove over to the car wash with photographer Mark Graham. He and I have worked stories together there before. I don't think either one of us has much journalistic objectivity about the car wash. We both flat love the place. Here are the people we met there.


Extra Income

James Black, 51, is in the back of the car wash finishing up a wax job on a 2014 Mustang G.T. 5.0. At one time detailing cars here was his only job. Now Black, 51, works full-time for a phone company but still comes back to earn extra income: "I can make anywhere from upward to $80 to a $150 a day, and that's in a six- to seven-hour job. On a Saturday I can make $150 a day easy. Like I'm doing this job, it's going to pay me $10, take me about 25 or 30 minutes tops."


Car Wash Mom

Shawn Ponder, 39, stands by her late-model pickup truck selling cleaning materials to the detailers. "I am basically like the car wash mom," she says. "I sell all of the car fresheners, and I make sure these guys eat and they have something to drink, and I also pray for them."

For 20 years she has come to the car wash at least once a day. Working here is a leg up, she says, for the men and women who detail cars. "It's an opportunity for them to work. A lot of them are just getting out of jail or getting out of the hospital or something like that, and they come here looking for a job, and to be honest with you I would prefer them to come here than to be breaking into homes, or something else they would have to do."

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17 comments
elmore_leonard
elmore_leonard

"south Dallas is a scene from Detroit"? or is it a scene from South Dallas. Detroit doesn't have a monopoly on dilapidation you silly cunt. 

J_A_
J_A_

The city is not making any money off this operation. And that is their biggest crime.

Subnx
Subnx

The name Diane Ragsdale explains it all. Rawlings needs to go and be replaced by someone who will clean up the ward politics that we have thanks to Jerry Buchmeyer.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

It would seem the reason for the "blight" in the area is NOT the car wash, but rather Ragsdale and the city holding title to a bunch of land they're letting sit idle. Are taxes being paid? My guess is the city doesn't pay itself, but I'm sure it pays somebody plenty to "manage" these holdings.


But I'm sure we'll see a big announcement soon that Stanley Korshak will be opening a new store next to the South Dallas Ritz Carlton Hotel and Towers.


gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

Why is it I am left unsurprised over yet another teapot tempest over a freaking car wash?  Perhaps the uber-uppity Dallas Citizens Council should merely get down to the basics and move in about 39 white elephants, and then parade around the fact they're giving "the Black" an opportunity to wash elephants.  Why should I pull punches here?  While I have nary a single thing against Mayor Mike Rawlings seriously now, his "suspicions" have not been confirmed regarding some kind of "secret Marxist, Kenyan, Sou' Dal', Ragsdale revolution a.k.a. black markets and radical means of making money outside established systems controlled by you-know who". 

Washing white cars or whitewashing white elephants: what's the difference? 

Were "The Rawling" to know any little bit about how black market activity tends to rise out of the realms of Nowheresville in terms of poor neighborhoods that have been left to just plain rot because "it's not profitable" to build commercial infrastructure like grocery stores, drug stores, clothing stores, even as the gentrification goobermenches continue to crowd-out poor people who apparently have the "gall" to live close enough to the center of downtown business activity that they can walk there, maybe he might want to take a second look at what happens when alternatives to Scary Rick Perry's Medicaid nullification traveling medicine show don't seem to be appearing, and when all the privatization prattle is never backed up by honest, straightforward action. 

No alternatives?  Sell drugs!  If the so-called "Establishment" or "the System" wants to sit on you like a 350-pound, platinum blonde dominatrix named Big Momma, mouths off a lot about "violence in the inner city" and then goes off the rails when anybody at all even dares to think about something as simple as a "weapons registry" (is gun control really about weapons or not?), then as far as I'm concerned the Kings in the Klown Kar can kick it. 

You think good people sitting on car seats on their porches is "stupid"?  Better think again, Dallas puppet-masters.  Pulling the furniture out of the machine is what it's all about. 

Now, DCC, you are free to go buy some more "detailing material" for your vehicles the rest of us usually call "our wives and girlfriends".  Should I suggest Loreal?  We can smell your feet from miles away, even if The Dallas Morning News and the local television and radio stations want to put the clampdown in place so the "groundlings" can continue to live in ignorant bliss. 

roo_ster
roo_ster

Blight, blight, blight, my backside.  Sound like folks who are trying to make some honest money.  And a damn sight less blighty than most the lots along that stretch of MLK.

And, yes, that neighborhood is rough.  Volunteered my meager carpentry skills a few times when House of Hope was up a street on Grand.  A job well done(1) is its own reward, but I also got a 3-hour spirit-filled service and some terrific chow as reward.

So, yeah, there are criminals, addicts, and all that sort down there.  But, there are also decent folks working and working to improve the neighborhood.  It would be a shame if the city stepped in and crushed that.

.

.

.

(1) Or in this case, "well enough," since I am no Norm Abrams.  It is one of those things: no matter how poor or lacking you are, someone else is likely to be poorer and grateful for even inexpert constructive help.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

It's both - a blight and a family.

The reason the neighborhood is a hell-hole is because that's what the people there want it to be.

They've been very clear on this point and have consistently elected officials who would help them "preserve the culture".


junegenis
junegenis

Clearly Dallas City Hall would prefer that these hard workers join the dole and become dependent on government handouts to survive rather than become self-supporting. This business probably does more to truly help those who have gone trough hard times than any welfare program the city has come up with.

debraclakin
debraclakin

Sounds like a place for a great car wash service.

manpanties
manpanties

does the northpark beat include vickery meadow?  

gordonhilgers
gordonhilgers

Oh.  And happy "Thor's Day".  It's also called "Thursday" because people of good sense decided to change the "O" to a "U", and when the little birdie flew out of the egg....

...we shot that little buzzard down easier than shootin' skeet. 

VernBytes
VernBytes

@bvckvs i.e. Carolyn Davis. The true blight of the neighborhood and Dallas City Council.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@timdickey @gordonhilgers 

This is a standard response Gordon sends to all items in which I use the terms "car wash" and "detail."

 
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