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At the Crossroads

One sentence in this Dallas Morning News story about the redo of 20-year-old Plaza at Bachman Creek shopping center on Northwest Highway caught my eye:

"'We are going to try and create a European town square feeling,'" Archstone-Smith's Tom Scaling said Monday."

It's notable mostly to those of who grew up in Dallas--specifically, Northwest Dallas--because just one mile west on Northwest Highway, near Webb Chapel Extension, sits the shell of Dallas' original European town square, the shopping center formerly known as European Crossroads. Vacant for years, save for the random washateria and taqueria and Chinese-food buffet, it was built in the mid-1970s (after the Bachman Lake area was in decline, thanks to the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport) and served for a few vibrant years as a pretty hip hang, a kind of West Village that looked like it had been built in Bavaria. During the '70s, it was a bustling "town," full of quaint boutiques (including a music box store), landmark restaurants (including Jamil's steak house and Blue's Lakefront Cafe) and happenin' nightspots (among them Bachelor's and The Number Three Lift, which looked like a ski lodge). And with its narrow cobblestone walkways and fairy-tale fountain, it looked like a movie set; we went often, probably once or twice a month when I was a kid. There was even a store there specializing in "metaphysical and occult" items called The Constellation. (Last year, some folks with the Dallas Historical Society spent a few days sharing their fond, hazy memories of European Crossroads; this blog recently listed it among Dallas' long-gone pleasures beneath the headling "They Paved Paradise.")

Now it's all but abandoned: Most of the windows are shuttered or covered in burglar bars, and most of the businesses that moved in after the Crossroads' heyday appear to have moved out. Some of the village is gone too, having been turned into a parking lot in the mid-1980s. For years it's been a battleground for community activists, among them Sharon Boyd, who complained it had turned into a bastion of "wild clubs" supported by council member Steve Salazar, whose district extends all the way from Northwest Dallas to Oak Cliff, and even those joints appear to gone now. You can still walk through the place, though it has a dispiriting post-war vibe to it; I imagine this is what much of Europe looked like in 1944. And events scheduled there, like the DFW International Mariachi Festival that was sponsored by DFW International Community Alliance and scheduled to take place April 16, don't take place; it's been canceled.

The redo of the Plaza at Bachman Creek, which is hardly breaking news (a giant sign touting the project has been facing Northwest Highway for months), was a mere inevitablity, given its proximity to bustling Bluffview; maybe Don Henley will walk over from his nearby $5.5 million manse. And neither is the deterioration of European Crossroads a fresh tale. The city long ago abandoned that stretch of Northwest Highway, and that part of the city, to strip clubs (most of which were forced out in recent years) and gang activity. (Accoring to this News story from March 10, a recent nationwide gang sweep conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resulted in 44 Dallas-area arrests, which were "mostly made in Northwest Dallas.") Save for a few bright spots, such as the Crossroads' next-door neighbor, the Greek restaurant Stratos, that spot of Northwest Highway is something you merely drive by on your way to the airport or a topless bar or Don Henley's house.

Three years ago, the owners of European Crossroads tried to sell it off for $4.9 million; according to something called Real Estate Center Online News, "most its tenants are Hispanic, not European, [and] the ground level of the 157,000-square-foot retail center is about 60 percent occupied." It never sold. Dallas Central Appraisal District records show it to be owned by ECRS Corp., which, last year, got the City Plan Commission to approve the rezoning of the shopping center for a mixed-use district that would allow it to be developed "with a mix of multifamily and retail uses." That ain't happened yet and doesn't seem likely in the future.

Also three years ago, Joe Bob Briggs, writing in D magazine about Dallas' "New Puritanism," referred to European Crossroads as "such a colossal failure that it became a symbol of foolhardiness." That seems, at this late date, to be the very definition of understatement. But good luck with that Plaza at Bachman Creek, Tom Scaling; sincerely, best wishes. Just keep in mind that 1.2 miles down the road, there's a fairy-tale village that, long ago turned into a cautionary tale for folks trying to turn Northwest Dallas into Western Europe. --Robert Wilonsky

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