Thank Goodness the "Wedding Venue" on Live Oak Is a Pile of Rubble at Long Last

A sigh of sweet relief escaped my lips when I saw the ruins on my way to work Monday.EXPAND
A sigh of sweet relief escaped my lips when I saw the ruins on my way to work Monday.
Jim Schutze

Kept my mouth shut until it was said and done. Best I can do for you, conflict of interest-wise. Now I have to blurt it out. I am so glad that damned house near me on Live Oak Street, the “wedding venue,” is down and reduced to rubble at long last.

No vicious feelings here for the people involved. I can always tell when people just don’t get it, and when it comes to Old East Dallas and neighborhood preservation, most people don’t.

You know what I’m talking about, right? I mean, you’re not required by law to know about it, but there have been so many blubbery, moist-eyed, nose-honking, Kleenex stories about it on TV and in the daily paper by now, I thought you might.

Young couple with successful, cool shop nearby wanted to turn an old mansion on Live Oak into a wedding venue, for event-planning and some related retail and maybe the observances themselves. The problem was that the owners wanted to get the residential zoning on their property changed to commercial.

The nearby Swiss Avenue Historic District, in which I live, offered them a deal including historic designation and a planned development district, which would have allowed them to run their business without doing violence to the surrounding zoning. The house is not in the Swiss Avenue Historic District (SAHD). But it’s on residential zoning near SAHD in an area SAHD watches closely.

Alicia Rico, one of the previous owners (they flipped it), told Robert Wilonsky at The Dallas Morning News last week that she and her husband had refused to accept the offered historic designation because they didn’t want people telling them, “what kind of doorknob you can use.”

Yeah, there’s that, although there is also the fact that with historic designation and a planned development district, it might also have been harder for them to flip their land. And that’s sort of the point.

Over the decades, what East Dallas has learned is that everybody who wants to bust the zoning is always going to do only the finest, hoitiest and toitiest, crystal-and-lace wedding venue with small, appended, Alsatian-style wine-tasting porch. But 10 years later, after the zoning has been changed, once the alcohol license is in place, when the economy tanks again, East Dallas will be left with yet another shoot-‘em-up beer-joint and gambling-house and a major law enforcement pain in the posterior.

It’s the inner city, people. Swiss Avenue, on which I do not live because I couldn’t afford it, only exists as the gorgeous urban boulevard you see today because of decades of leadership from urban-savvy activists like Virginia McAlester, whose mother, Dorothy Savage, helped bring it back from the doorstep of permanent slumdom in the 1970s.

This is the house in "better days."EXPAND
This is the house in "better days."
Jim Schutze

My smaller adjacent street is incredibly changed and charming today compared with what it was when we moved in during the early 1980s. I get bored now with urban pioneer war stories, so I won’t bore you, except to say that a visitor once sat in our living room wringing her hands in anxious silence until finally, whispering while looking over her shoulders at the door, she asked, “Why do you live here?”

Forget historic neighborhoods. It’s any desirable neighborhood, but especially in the city. Look, we’ve got neighborhoods nearby that used to be considered very plain-Jane, where the houses now are going for 50 percent higher or twice the square-foot price ours will fetch.

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Sure that’s a desirable market. Lots of people would like to get next to that market. And, hey, what if you could get right in the middle of it? Buy a house on land zoned residential. Go downtown, fill out some forms. Get it rezoned commercial. Now the lovely neighborhood that they fought for decades to save and improve is your apple.

The people who propose that sort of thing almost always mean well. But they don’t know the history. And they don’t know City Hall.

If it were up to City Hall, Swiss Avenue would be a junky, commercial and cheap multi-family strip by now, probably blown out to the proportions of a 35-mph thoroughfare. My neighborhood exists, Munger Place exists, Junius Heights exists, the M Streets exist, Hollywood-Santa Monica exists in spite of City Hall, not because of it. At one point or another we all had to fight City Hall’s attempts to wipe us off the map in the name of sprawl.

Sorry, but we see it the way we see it. We see that wedding venue idea on Live Oak as a sweet-faced, well-intended, ruby-cheeked cancer. Once those guys were allowed to bust the residential zoning, the city manager’s staff would have argued that a new precedent had been set, no matter what kind of flimsy deed restrictions were appended. And then all of the lobbyists and lawyers and special-seekers whom the city manager system lives to serve would have charged our borders, waving the precedent in their hands and screaming for more of the same.

The way neighborhood people saved East Dallas was by hardening the zoning and then defending it with eagle eyes and battle cries. Nothing less would have brought yesterday forward into today.

I don’t mean to beat up on or accuse the wedding venue people. As I said at the top, very few people get how this works, and most people mean well when they ask for special favors. But the way it works is with rules and discipline and with everybody agreeing to subjugate his own personal ambitions sometimes to the communal good.

That’s too tough a swallow for some people, I know. For those people, many of whom I admire and love chatting with, I cannot and do not recommend Old East Dallas as their field of dreams. I was about to suggest another place they might try, but a sudden and unaccustomed impulse has caused me to eschew saying something ugly about the suburbs. Gotta go Google this and see if it’s a warning sign for something medical.

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