Houses of blues

To people already in a state of posttraumatic stress from dealing with the boozed-up, belligerent, peeing-in-the-shrubbery nightclubbers who visit their street every weekend, the idea sounds particularly cruel: Turn an old Baptist church that has worked as a weak buffer between their homes and the bars on Lowest Greenville into a 12,000-square-foot, 500-seat blues venue.

"Yeah, the acoustics are great," says would-be club operator Spencer Edwards, who, with several other partners, has acquired a long-term lease on the former Segunda Iglesia Bautista of Dallas, a brittle old red-brick church at the corner of Sears Street and Summit Avenue, one block west of the Arcadia.

Edwards' partner, Albert Imhuelsen, says the working name for their home-grown version of Los Angeles' House of Blues is Deacon Blues, after the Steely Dan tune, and it too will be a restaurant and club.

"We'll have a dress code and an upscale clientele," says Imhuelsen. "These aren't gonna be people who puke in the neighbors' bushes."

Greenville already has plenty of those, the neighbors assert, and residents are flabbergasted about both the proposal and what they say is the particularly thoughtless way Edwards and company have gone about making their plans.

"One day you wake up and find out that instead of living next to church, you're living next to the Hard Rock Cafe," says Cheryl Kellis, whose well-kept, one-story frame house sits directly across the street from the proposed club.

Kellis, who sells radio advertising and bought her two-bedroom bungalow in 1982 for $44,500, says she learned about the project by wandering into the three-story church and spotting the plans stretched out on a table. She met Edwards last Friday, when he drove up in his shiny black Mercedes S500 and took a look around the property as workers clambered about.

Edwards--in his taupe suit, two-tone shoes, and wet-look hair--said upon meeting Kellis, "Someone told me they spoke to you, and you sell radio advertising. I'd like to talk with you about that. We're gonna do a lot of advertising."

Kellis, who says she got the feeling that the neighbors' concerns never crossed Edwards' mind, said later, "I'm not selling out that cheap. 'Oh, you sell radio.' He can kiss my ass."

The neighbors say their lack of charity comes with their considerable experience with Lower Greenville bar patrons--and the broken promises of myriad owners and managers. Their stories would be comical if these weren't people's homes.

"I had a man not too long ago banging on the door, almost breaking it down, asking if he could come in and use the bathroom. He thought he was at a friend's house in Oak Cliff," recalls Sue Embry, who rents a two-bedroom house on Summit for $450 a month. "When the police got here, he was passed out in my front yard.

Parking is so tight that she has had people park in her driveway behind her car--and Greenville is a full block away.

Jan Browning, who owns a brick house across Summit from the club site, says so many people stop to relieve themselves in her front bushes that she boarded up the window so she doesn't have to see or hear them. She says the church is so poorly insulated that organ music could be heard throughout the neighborhood before the congregation disbanded.

"People act like they're out in the woods," says Richard Rembert, who lives one house away from the proposed club.

Rembert says he had guys throw cans of beer at him and threaten him for having the gall to ask them to stay away from his windows. His weekend ritual includes picking up two or three six-packs worth of cans and bottles left in his lawn and along the street. "It amazes you, but then you realize these people are drunk."

Rembert, who put wood floors and a new roof and lawn in his attractive brick house, says the neighborhood is mostly working-class Hispanics mixed in with yuppies. They are renters and owners, poor and middle class. "I've been here since 1991, and there's some upward movement in the neighborhood. People are taking pride in their houses; we've had some very positive changes," he says. He believes that expanding the club universe a full block west, directly into the neighborhood, can't do anything but kill that trend, he says.

"They're here to generate cash; we're of no concern to them, or maybe just a slight inconvenience," he says.

Edwards and Imhuelsen said that their project has all the proper zoning and all the permits it needs to plug in the amps and boogie. "We already have a permit; we're ready to go," says Edwards. "We're zoned for it, so I don't know what else to tell you."

The zoning on the block has long been "community retail," according to city records, a designation that permits alcoholic beverage establishments. But Carri Barboza, a zoning code consultant with the city of Dallas, says no city permits have been granted, nor have any applications for permits been received. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission officials in Dallas and Austin say they haven't received an application for a liquor license.

Beyond a building permit, Barboza says city zoning codes require a special-use permit to put a bar at that location, which would require approval of the city planning commission and Dallas City Council. Much like a zoning change, the process requires notification of property owners within 200 feet and a public hearing, where questions about noise, traffic, and parking could be raised.

Roger Andres, an East Dallas real estate developer who is part of a partnership that purchased the 70-year-old church last month, says he has assurances from city officials that he could put a restaurant in the building "and not add one more parking spot."

Homeowner complaints along Lower Greenville are old news, Andres says. He also wondered why the Dallas Observer would want to run a story that might hack off a potential advertiser. (That advertising bit again.)

Edwards insists he has the zoning "to do what we want to do," which leaves the rather legalistic question of what Deacon Blues will be defined as--a club, a restaurant, or a bar.

"We're gonna improve the neighborhood," Edwards says, pointing out that some houses on the block have piles of trash in their front yards. "We're gonna put a half a million dollars in there."

Edwards, who owned a club in the 1980s but makes his money in the oil business, says he plans to pave several open lots across the street from the church for parking, erect lights and fences, and spruce up the long-in-the-tooth area.

"Right," says Kellis. "They think we should be thrilled to death that they are putting a concrete parking lot over there with lights. I'm not thrilled.


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