There But For The Grace of God
In a small pocket of Oak Cliff, the twin steeples of Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel once rose above a neighborhood unlike any other in Dallas, signaling passersby that they had entered an area known collectively as Tenth Street.
The street which gives the neighborhood its name still winds up hills, upon which sit small, wood-framed houses. Narrow roads--just one car wide--meander between the tiny homes, whose eaves seem to whisper secrets to one another. It is a communal place, haunted by front porch spirits, shared meals, and the missing voices of playing children.
There isn't much left of the 106-year-old church, which stands sentinel at one end of Tenth Street. It is a ruin, a three-sided hull, its back broken, its walls standing only by the grace of God. The once-proud steeples are equally spent. One has been taken down and sits in a clearing next to the dilapidated chapel. The other is still atop the building, but lists to one side.
Once the church and the neighborhood surrounding it were a testament to the ingenuity and determination of Dallas' African-Americans. Tenth Street is the oldest relatively intact freedmen's town in Dallas, with many of its original buildings still standing. It was the place newly freed slaves moved after leaving plantations. Local historians say it was a starter neighborhood where people lived before going "in town" to State-Thomas, another historical black neighborhood considered a rung up on the social ladder.
Most of Dallas' other early freedmen's towns have been bulldozed to make way for high-rise shops and trendy apartments, or have just been lost through attrition and ruin.
Tenth Street is still there, anchored by the Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church--the oldest standing black church in Dallas. It has weathered storms of change--from Jim Crow to civil rights, from rising fortunes to depression--and survived the slow exodus of its children.
For more than 15 years--since the church was first declared a historic structure--various groups have stepped forward with grand plans to save the building and make it the cornerstone of a revitalized neighborhood.
But now a demolition order hangs over the church, and the eaves of nearby houses whisper of abandoned dreams and broken promises.
A postmortem of sorts is under way as city employees take photographs and measurements of the old church, so there will be a record after it's torn down. It is an ignoble end for the onetime freedmen's sanctuary.
It is also an allegory of Tenth Street's plight.
"The church is a symbol of what that neighborhood has become," says Donald Payton, a former historian with the Dallas Historical Society and a descendent of one of the original freedmen's families that settled in Tenth Street. "It is a symbol of the deterioration."
Despite its residue of charm, Tenth Street is indeed troubled. The neighborhood's 15-block core, located on the northeastern edge of Oak Cliff, is showing signs of wear. Most of the houses need work, from a simple coat of paint to a full-scale refurbishing. On every block there is at least one house boarded up or red-tagged by the city for code violations or demolition.
Tenth Street has reached this state in spite of nearly a decade of interest from local, state, and national historical organizations. They've conducted studies, issued pamphlets, and made declarations of historic significance for Tenth Street. They've drafted plans explaining how the area could be salvaged. At least five local nonprofits have proferred ideas for saving the neighborhood, and several city departments have weighed in with their own proposals.
But Tenth Street is in worse shape today than it has ever been, and its historic homes continue to suffer from neglect, awaiting the city's bulldozers.
Why has there been no neighborhood renaissance--even on a small scale, such as that of Winnetka Heights in Oak Cliff? "That is the $64,000 question," says Kate Singleton, a historic preservationist who wrote the first historic designation report for the Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel back in 1978, when she worked for the city's planning department. "We have all been asking ourselves that for the past 15 years. If I knew that, it would be done now."
The biggest problem appears to be the people who say they want to save Tenth Street, but can't stop fighting among themselves long enough to make any headway in actually helping the neighborhood. Rather than coordinating their efforts, Tenth Street's would-be saviors have spent much of their time clashing over who has first claim to to the hero's mantle.
While preservationist groups bicker among the ruins, the neighborhood continues to decline--the church collapsing, the bulldozers coming for aging houses.
The squabbling led to the loss of nearly $200,000 in national grant money that could have been used to fix up houses, and this year, 22 more houses are slated for demolition.
Still, members of the neighborhood groups are reluctant to acknowledge that the squabbling even exists.
Chris Hunter, executive director of the Tenth Street Historic Community Development Corporation, refused several requests for an interview for this story, fearing that a newspaper article might reveal some of the spats his group has had with another preservation-minded organization, Dallas Neighbors. As this article was going to press, Hunter abruptly changed course and granted a brief interview.
"If the two organizations had been able to work together, we might have been able to save many houses," Hunter said of his group and Dallas Neighbors.
As the groups squared off against each other, he admitted, more houses fell to demolition.
"If you follow the law of natural progression, we will continue to lose valuable housing stock," says one city official who has worked in the neighborhood for almost a decade. "Eventually, there will be no more houses, and you'll lose the neighborhood."
There is good reason to lavish attention on Tenth Street. It offers an opportunity--rare for Dallas--to save an entire historic neighborhood.
The triangle-shaped community--with hard edges at R.L. Thornton Freeway to the west, East Eighth Street to the north, East Clarendon Drive to the east, and Eleventh Street to the south--is one of the oldest intact freedmen's towns in Dallas. Here African-Americans lived their lives, plied their trades, and decided their own fates for 130 years.
Local historians speculate that former slaves of William Brown Miller, a prominent cotton grower in the area, settled on the area's hills in the 1860s, soon after emancipation. During its prime early this century, the neighborhood was home to more than 500 black residents.
Tenth Street today exhibits the remnants of this continuous black history. The neighborhood's remaining historical homes, most built between 1890 and the early 1940s, are of varying folk designs: shotgun (long, slender houses the width of a single room); double shotgun; and camel back (similar to a shotgun house, but with a small, half-story addition on the back). The modest houses preserve the artistry and skill of African-American craftsmen.
But the real history resides in the memories of long-time residents--some who have lived in Tenth Street all their lives, others who have returned to the place of their childhood.
Back in the old days, Tenth Street teemed with life: barber shops, cafes, a small grocery store with a soda fountain, even night clubs livened up the self-contained neighborhood. The people who lived in old Tenth Street wanted for little, despite having less than that.
"It was all settled people here," says Esther Vickers Marsh, describing the homeowners who used to live in the area. "It was the nicest place to live."
Marsh still lives in the house on Betterton Circle where she was born 74 years ago. Tenth Street then, she says, was the sort of place where the pungent collection of aromas revealed what the neighbors were having for dinner. She knew many of her neighbors by name, and everyone else by sight. Looking around now, she says she misses that.
Marsh did leave for a time after she got married and went away to raise her children. But she and her siblings always kept the family home. After her parents died in the 1970s, she moved back. She was shocked by the change. The neighborhood had become a bit of a ghost town, with people dealing drugs from the Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel, which had been closed down and abandoned. It saddened her, but she isn't sorry she returned.
"This is my home place," Marsh says. "It's quiet now. Not too many burglaries now." She pauses.
Perhaps it's a bit too quiet, she muses. "I do miss the sound of children playing."
For Maudrie Crabtree, coming home was a matter of convenience as well as love. The 53-year-old says her fond memories of growing up are all set in Tenth Street.
"Everybody would take care of everybody," she says. "And everything was black-owned: the pool hall, the grocery store, the barber shops. It was just like shopping with your family."
Indeed, the tight grip of Jim Crow laws helped create a vibrant, self-sufficient community. Many say they miss walking to the grocery store and the dry cleaners, and the general camaraderie that comes from living in a community.
"You could go out, tell someone 'I'm leaving my greens on, I've got to make a run. Could you come over in an hour and cut those greens off for me?' And it would get done," says historian Donald Payton. "That's when you know you're living in a community."
On a visit last month, Payton and his father Ernie took a tour of Tenth Street. The elder Payton spent his boyhood and teen years in the neighborhood, "prowling these alleys like a cat," he says with a chuckle. This was the first time he had been back in many years, and each step past a vacant lot or crumbling house reminded him of someone or some place.
"Right over there was a night club," he says, pointing down Tenth Street toward what is now the Interstate 35 frontage road. "I can't remember the name. I don't think it had a name."
Later, passing a vacant lot on Cliff Drive, he begins talking about a man he knew called Poppa Charlie, who owned a boarding house on that spot. Poppa Charlie could always be relied upon to rent someone a room, even if they were broke. "To be back here right now gives me a sentimental feeling," the elder Payton says. "I've taken so many steps here, so many times. And now, so much of it's gone."
David Perry, a former Plano city council member, also grew up in Tenth Street. He recounts it as the birthplace of his own entrepreneurial bug. Perry landed his first job when he was six years old, running errands to the small grocery store for elderly women in the neighborhood. He says he started working so young because he was tired of having to wear shoes with holes in them simply because he hadn't outgrown them. As the youngest of 13 children, he grew up wearing hand-me-downs, he says.
"Things were so beautiful and tranquil around here when I was a child," Perry says. "There were foot bridges [over Cedar Creek, which has long since been filled in], and it was paradise for a young child to play."
Of course, the church was there. Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel CME holds a special place in Perry's memory. The church was founded in 1890 by Anthony Boswell, Perry's great-great-grandfather, who honored his wife in the chapel's name. Perry grew up attending services in the church. His mother once taught a private preschool for neighborhood children in the church basement.
One of two historic churches in Tenth Street, Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel was a focal point for the community. Its bell tolled on the hour, and whenever neighbors passed away.
Tenth Street began to decline--like many freedmen's towns--during the Depression. People left in search of better jobs and better lives. The loss of residents accelerated during the 1940s and '50s as more African-Americans migrated to other, newer neighborhoods in Dallas, or even to other states. The starter neighborhood held no more allure for the young, and many of its jobs disappeared with the closing of a nearby paper mill.
With desegregation, African-Americans were able to do their shopping in Dallas' major commercial centers, and the small neighborhood businesses eventually perished. Now, just over a third of Tenth Street's homes are occupied by their owners. The rest are either rented or empty.
Efforts to save Tenth Street actually began with a push to save Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel in the late 1980s. David Perry, who now lives in Plano, says he returned from an eight-year stint in the Air Force to find that the old congregation had moved out of the chapel, and it was being rented by another congregation, which wanted to buy the building. Perry says he couldn't let that happen.
"That church, when you walked in there, you felt like Jesus was there," he says. "That church was built to last forever. I felt it would have been the greatest slap in the face for us as the so-called 'Now Generation' to turn our backs on their efforts."
In 1981, the church was designated as a historic landmark, Perry says. Several years later, in 1988, Perry met with Craig Melde, owner of ArchiTexas, a historical architecture firm, to devise plans to salvage the building. At the same time, Perry created a nonprofit foundation to spearhead preservation efforts: the Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel Foundation.
From the beginning, the foundation waged an uphill battle. The historically black church no longer had a congregation. Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel's members had moved out in 1969, eventually relocating to a new sanctuary on Michigan Avenue. The congregation which rented the building for a while did little maintenance, Perry says.
Preliminary estimates for the cost of saving the church were high: It would take more than $1 million to refurbish the building. As Melde and Perry worked on raising money--and awareness of the building's plight--they had difficulty convincing anyone to invest money in the church when the whole neighborhood was falling into ruin, Melde says. So, Melde helped draw boundaries for what is now known as the Tenth Street Historic District, hoping that a more defined neighborhood and a better revitalization plan would attract some funding.
"All of this was kind of an effort to shore up the area around the church, so the church could receive funds, and the people in the area could feel good about it," he says. "Then the plan for the district began to gain appeal to some outside interests."
The outside interest quickly gained steam. In 1991, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced a new emphasis on preserving minority communities. The organization was compiling a list of endangered historic places, and placement on that list would make communities eligible to receive federal funds for housing rehabilitation and urban design. Eight neighborhoods in Dallas--including Tenth Street--eventually made the list. It was the only freedmen's town on the list.
Three local nonprofits and a city committee helped make that happen. Dallas Neighbors, a group of architects, attorneys, and historians, led the campaign. The organization tried to create an umbrella organization to coordinate efforts to preserve all eight neighborhoods on the endangered list.
The Dallas Landmark Commission, a city-based organization, and the Historic Preservation League of Dallas (now Preservation Dallas) also helped put together an application for national trust monies. Black Dallas Remembered helped compile historical information on Tenth Street.
If nothing else, the preservation groups' efforts produced a great deal of paperwork. Black Dallas Remembered organized the historical information on Tenth Street which was later used in both the state and national applications for historic designation.
Architects from Dallas Neighbors and other companies cataloged the neighborhood's stock of historic buildings. The Landmark Commission, as well as Dallas Neighbors and Preservation Dallas, led the charge to get the city council to change the zoning in the neighborhood from retail back to residential. The Landmark Commission also convinced the city council to create some development incentives for the area, including a 10-year tax break on renovated structures and grants for facade improvements.
There were studies, small-scale ones done by Tenth Street CDC and the city's Target Neighborhood department, about how to revitalize the area. Dallas Neighbors also came up with a plan to rehabilitate five houses in the neighborhood for about $50,000 per house. An architecture student at the University of Texas even devised his own revitalization plan for the neighborhood as part of his master's thesis. His recommendation was that development should be swift and immediate, lest the neighborhood go the way of State-Thomas and be razed for new, high-cost development.
Tenth Street is a neighborhood which could easily be swallowed by new development. The neighborhood is ideally situated, with easy access to downtown and splendid views from its hilltop homes. During the early 1980s, Perry says, real-estate speculators bought up lots in the area, hoping to see some kind of profitable development for Tenth Street.
Hoping to best the developers, preservationists staked out the area for their own purposes. Five groups planted their flags in the 15-block area, all envisioning the same goal: revitalizing Tenth Street without pricing the neighborhood's low- to moderate-income black residents out of their homes. The groups were eager to make a run for newly freed tax dollars that could be used to improve the decaying community.
But the preservationists soon clashed with each other over whose vision would prevail for Tenth Street, Perry says.
"Each organization felt that they are the most capable" of helping the community, Perry says. "But no one had a special privilege there."
The groups' squabbling not only compromised revitalization efforts, but soured the area's remaining residents. What they saw was a lot of bickering about whose plan was best--even as bulldozers were ripping down the area's history, house by shotgun house.
Thelma "Po" Harris, 65, who has lived in Tenth Street her entire life, echoed the thoughts of many of her long-time neighbors. "These people always come around here saying they are going to fix up something, but I ain't seen them fix up nothing," she says. "All they do is talk and don't get nothing done."
The men and women who've worked to save Tenth Street say the little freedmen's town has worked its way into their system. Even now, years after they first got involved, they feel passionate about its future.
"I nearly scuttled my practice spending time on that," says Norm Alston, an architect who specializes in historic redevelopment. "It was an all-absorbing thing for me."
Alston was a member of Dallas Neighbors and served as its executive director for the last year and a half before the group disbanded in early 1996. The group's mission was to revive the city's historic inner-city neighborhoods. It focused on Tenth Street because it "was the most neglected and in the most danger," Alston says.
Indeed, Tenth Street holds some sort of allure, enabling one to see beyond its dilapidated facades, numerous vacant lots, and red-tagged houses. Maybe it's the hillside location and narrow streets--which resemble rural East Texas more than inner-city Dallas. Whatever it is, it brings out the Don Quixote in preservationists.
Consider the chapel. It is, for all intents and purposes, a ruin. There isn't much left to refurbish. Yet Perry and others who've devoted themselves to the cause have managed to stay its execution several times over. He and others have pleaded their case before the city's Urban Rehabilitation Standards Board, pointing to the church's history and importance to the city as reasons for lifting demolition orders on the property. Perry told the URSB that preservationists were raising funds to refurbish the church--it was just taking a while. But each time Perry or others appeared before the board, the church was still in the same state--or worse. In 1990, the stained-glass windows, valued at $50,000, were stolen. Then in 1995, the church's roof--a subject of much worry and planned expense in repair estimates--suddenly caved in.
Last December, the URSB decided it had waited long enough and ordered the church demolished. It is unlikely that Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel will see a bulldozer in the next few months; it must undergo a historical review, during which the city will review the historical significance and viability of the building before tearing it down.
And although this looks like the end, the church's supporters are still fighting the wrecking ball, trying to raise money to save what little is left of the building. "Nobody is ready to give up yet," says Gregory Laird, an attorney who is donating his time to the church.
Even Laird, a latecomer to Tenth Street preservation efforts, has succumbed to the neighborhood's pull on the imagination. "I am very excited about this project," Laird says. "I think we can do it."
David Perry adds: "There's magic there. People just don't want to quit it."
Perhaps this fervor explains all of the territorial posturing that has gone on among Tenth Street's champions. When Dallas Neighbors was formed in 1990, it wanted to help all of the city's historic neighborhoods, Alston says. But Tenth Street's needs were so critical that it soon became the group's preoccupation.
"We didn't see lots and lots of people involved in the neighborhood," Alston says. "Those that were did not appear to be that well organized."
Dallas Neighbors was methodical in its approach to revitalization. First it helped get Tenth Street on the National Trust's endangered places list in 1993. Dallas Neighbors then applied for and received money from the trust to attend to what it saw as the most pressing need--new housing.
"We thought our role would be to help with the housing stock and bring new families into the neighborhood and be a stabilizing influence," Alston says.
As it turned out, that was the same plan Perry's group had for the area. While working to save Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel, Perry decided the area needed its own advocate. He founded the Tenth Street Historic Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to saving the neighborhood. A scrappy, grass-roots group, it too envisioned saving the community through housing rehabilitation, as well as economic incentives for small businesses. Since it was created by people who had lived in the community, it claimed a greater right to be the community's representative.
In 1994, Dallas Neighbors scored a coup, landing a $20,000 grant and $100,000 loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation through the trust's Inner-City Ventures program. The group eventually landed matching funds through lines of credit with local banks to boost the amount to $200,000. The money was to be used to rehabilitate houses in neighborhoods on the endangered list. Dallas Neighbors decided to channel all of the money into Tenth Street.
But the plan soon ran into roadblocks. Josephine Mitchell, an attorney and former Dallas Neighbors board member, says the group had lined up a builder to refurbish several homes at cost, but needed the city to help cover the closing costs on five homes. The loans from the the banks and the trust would only cover 80 percent of the cost for the houses. Dallas Neighbors had to come up with the rest, she says.
But when Dallas Neighbors asked the city, it got nothing, and the work was never done.
"I don't think the city wanted to work with us," Mitchell says. "Our efforts at trying to obtain equity money or being able to put together a partnership at restoring these houses was never successful. We just couldn't get the cooperation. I never understood that."
City housing officials say they don't remember any of this because they weren't there. Carlos Herrera has been the manager of special projects for just over a year. He says he doesn't know about Mitchell's allegations.
Mitchell says the group met many times with city officials, going as far as handing them reports about the five homes they wished to rehabilitate. The cost to the city would have been $50,000. But the group never heard back from the city.
Meanwhile, Dallas Neighbors found itself running afoul of the Tenth Street Historic Community Development Corporation. David Perry's group had the same vision as Dallas Neighbors--but the two sides could never agree on how to work together, Alston says.
"We were never able to come up with a working relationship that gave us each distinct roles in the neighborhood," he says. "They wanted to do what we were doing, but we had to do what we were doing because of our obligation for financing. And there was also the question of who was really representing the neighborhood."
Perry demurs when asked about the clash between his group and Dallas Neighbors. "I don't want to scratch open old wounds," he says.
Chris Hunter says, however, that Tenth Street CDC and Dallas Neighbors had a meeting in 1992 in which Dallas Neighbors expressed an interest in seeing a development plan that Hunter's group had written. Tenth Street CDC wouldn't let them look at it.
"Frankly, we weren't crazy about showing it to them," Hunter says. "It would be like the 49ers meeting with the Cowboys and asking them for their playbook the day before the big game."
Hunter adds that Dallas Neighbors had an image problem in the Tenth Street community. Residents saw Dallas Neighbors as an outside group, breezing in to tell poor people what to do and throwing money at the problems. They didn't like it, he says.
"There exists a measure of apprehension in the black community about development, Hunter says. "I heard quite a lot of that from people."
There were also murmurs that Dallas Neighbors was a white organization trying to impose gentrification and change on a predominantly black part of town. Alston resents that complaint.
"I don't know if anyone ever characterized us as a white organization," Alston says. "We had technical people on the board who were Anglo, but they contributed great amounts of time, effort, and money. We had people from the neighborhood on the board. I don't think that was a legitimate issue. It wasn't with us."
Virginia McAlester, a preservationist who served as a member of both Dallas Neighbors and the Landmark Commission, says the fears about gentrification were unfounded. Several safeguards exist to keep property taxes from spinning out of control in Tenth Street, and grants and low-interest loans were available to low-income families for refurbishing homes. It was simply a matter of making use of the opportunities.
Around the same time, the city was creating Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDO) to carry out similar work in neighborhoods needing revitalization. The CHDOs were envisioned as neighborhood-based nonprofits that would use federal money to do things like build new houses, rehabilitate existing ones, and create economic incentives to bring businesses into targeted areas.
Alston says Dallas Neighbors was interested in becoming the CHDO for the Tenth Street neighborhood. But so was David Perry's group. After months of talks with city staff, Alston says he knew the city favored the other group. He says Dallas Neighbors eventually threw its support behind Tenth Street Historic Community Development Corporation and even wrote it a letter of recommendation.
But there was still the matter of the National Trust money, and how it would be spent.
Dallas Neighbors had managed to raise enough equity money to refurbish one house--a 60-year-old shotgun home at 1029 Betterton Circle. When the work was finished in 1995 at a cost of about $47,000, the group couldn't find anyone to buy the house. It dropped the price to around $30,000, willing to take a loss--but still there were no takers, Mitchell says.
Then in March 1995, Mitchell received a phone call from the Dallas Fire Department. The house had been set on fire. Arson was suspected. "I think I cried, it made me so sick," she recalls.
The house wasn't insured at the time, and what hadn't burned had to be torn down. No money was left to rebuild it. And after three years of nonstop frustration, Dallas Neighbors' board members decided to back out of Tenth Street at the end of 1995. Enough was enough.
After deciding to bow out, the group tried to transfer the National Trust money and the bank lines of credit to the Tenth Street CDC. But the trust refused to go along with the plan, saying only that Tenth Street CDC was welcome to apply for money on its own. It hasn't so far, although Chris Hunter has stated in the group's newsletter that it plans to do so.
Looking back, Mitchell still has trouble understanding what went wrong. When Dallas Neighbors began its work in Tenth Street, it had the money, the expertise, and even a contractor who was willing to do the work at cost. But nothing ever got started. When the house was torched, she began to think in terms of conspiracies.
"If I were a conspiracist, I would think that there is something or someone that may not ever want this neighborhood to be revitalized," Mitchell says.
Tenth Street CDC is the only preservation group that remains committed to Tenth Street, and it's now engaged in a last-ditch effort to help save Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel. But many fear that the church is beyond repair.
The demolition order has been temporarily stayed for now, as the chapel foundation scrambles to show it means business in its money-raising efforts. But even the architect who worked on the church restoration in its early stages believes the cause may be hopeless. Little work has been done on the structure. A fence was put up to keep vagrants out. A steeple was removed and placed to the side, and some of the remaining windows were boarded up.
"No, I don't think the church can be saved," says Craig Melde of ArchiTexas. "I think there are elements we can pull off, like the towers, that can be integrated into a reconstruction. I think visually, when the church is gone, it is going to take a lot of the identity away from Tenth Street. It's really very sad."
A recent December day found Tenth Street quiet. Few people walked along its streets--which have no sidewalks--and fewer cars passed by. Donald and Ernie Payton continued their tour of the neighborhood, but were rueful about its future.
"When they finally decide which developers are going to pay the most money and which group is going to benefit, they are going to sit down at the table...and draw up a sweetheart deal," Donald Payton says. "They might save a street. Might save a house. They will historically develop it to death."
But demolition--not greedy developers--is the real problem. During the last four years, Tenth Street has lost 11 percent of its historic homes. If the neighborhood reaches a point where less than 50 percent of its buildings are historic, it could lose its historic designation. The loss of the church would present a further blow; without it, the neighborhood loses its heart, says Bruce Jensen, an architectural historian with the Texas Historical Commission.
Sunshine Elizabeth Chapel, however, has already lost its heart. The church's three cornerstones--testaments to three rounds of renovations--are still visible. But the most recent cornerstone dates to 1926.
"It doesn't matter what color your skin is or where you live, that wonderful building represents a lot to the community," says Kate Singleton, the planner who wrote the historic designation report for the chapel. "To lose it will either galvanize the community or it will be the last straw."
The Tenth Street Historic Community Development Corporation has finally published an economic development plan for the neighborhood.
Chris Hunter says it provides for housing rehabilitation, economic development incentives, and social programs. The group has already done some rehab work on a couple of houses in the historic district and sponsored a neighborhood cleanup day. This year, Tenth Street CDC plans to build some new homes.
"In five years, you'll see rehabbed houses; a stronger, cleaner community; and a much better quality of life," Hunter says.
But even the best-laid plans go astray when there's no one left to believe in them. These days, some two-thirds of Tenth Street's homes are leased to renters or have been abandoned by their owners. The remaining homeowners have a diminished impact on the community; for each home that's fixed up, there are two that remain terminally decayed.
If there is any future for Tenth Street, it lies in people like Bernard Williams.
Williams was raised in Tenth Street, but like most of the area's young people, he moved away as soon as he was old enough. He and his wife have lived in several Dallas suburbs over the years, but decided, five years ago, that it was time to come home.
Williams' wife found a house at 1113 Ninth St. She fell in love with the 87-year-old, two-story Queen Anne-style house. It was red-tagged, slated for demolition. Still, she could see its potential.
It took a few more days to convince her husband.
"The place just lay heavy on my mind," Williams says. "The place was in bad shape, but eventually I could see it."
Williams and his wife bought the former boarding house and have lovingly refurbished it, room by room. Their house is adorned with refinished wood floors, tall windows, and flourishes usually seen only in houses in more upscale Dallas neighborhoods.
"When I close my door, I can just as well be in Las Colinas or Irving or anywhere else," Williams says. "The key thing about living here is that I know my neighbors, and we look out for each other.
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