Dallas Area Habitat For Humanity recently announced it would be razing Ollie's Place this morning, a convenience store turned bar turned "hidey-hole for drugs and other criminal activity" . It's the seventh building to be knocked down and eventually rebuilt as part of Fight the Blight, Habitat's 25th anniversary celebration. Announced in October 2010, the goal is to tear down at least 25 blighted structures to mark Habitat's big birthday. We dropped by this morning for a look, where we joined Dallas Area Habitat For Humanity volunteers, former city council member Diane Ragsdale, current council member Carolyn Davis, a whole bunch of cops and a giant bulldozer.
As the demolition crew waited outside, Habitat CEO Bill Hall stepped inside the building for a quick look. Ollie's was a squat, grey bunker-looking place with two tiny boarded-up windows and what must have been the world's smallest bathrooms. A bit of red trim was still evident along the edge of the roof.
"Between here and next door, you'd have 20 or 30 people hanging around outside," Hall said. "Then they'd go through the neighborhood and cause problems. We're really looking forward to knocking this down today." He looked at the lone glass light fixture someone had left hanging in the otherwise-stripped room. "Why did they leave one light?" he wondered aloud, before wandering back outside.
A Dallas police lieutenant said the property had been on the department's radar for quite some time. In February 2010, they asked the then-owner to "come into compliance with community standards." The bar closed altogether in August of that year. Hall said they ID'd the building as part of their quest to find "the worst blighted properties" in the city. "Then we go after those properties and try to purchase them," he said, with the help of funding from investors.
The building smelled something like dirt fermented in especially rancid beer; apparently, the demolition had been a bit delayed while crews removed asbestos from the ceiling.
"We couldn't ask for a better day to tear down such an ugly structure," Hall told the assembled crowd. He said the 25 blighted structures Habitat's planning to tear down account for thousands of hours of city time. "At least $5 million of the city budget goes toward maintaining and mowing these yards," he said. In historic neighborhoods like Mill City, he added, "we have to chase out blight and undesirable aspects. With this bar gone, this becomes a great piece of property, We're thrilled to get rid of this place."
Ragsdale, whose organization Inner City Community Development is a partner with Habitat, asked them to come into this part of South Dallas in 2004. "Your living conditions can affect your psyche, your attitude, and your behavior," she said. "This club has been a major problem. They tried to call it a respectable establishment, but something was wrong with 'em." She detailed the "public intoxication, drug dealing and loitering" residents had seen. "There was even public lewdness," she said sternly. "People would get drunk and disrespect themselves, urinating and even defecating. We're coming together to build lives and revitalize neighborhoods."
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Council member Davis called Ollie's "a source of fear in this area." She started to tear up as she announced that on February 25, she and other District 7 residents would be out in the neighborhood cleaning, painting and planting flowers. "It's time to take out the trash," she said, stopping for a moment and wiping her eyes. "There's nothing wrong with crying. We can do so much in this neighborhood." To the block's residents, she had this to say: "Thank you so much for putting up with this eyesore behind us for so many years."
Soon enough, everyone donned the surgical masks they'd been given to keep out the dust, scurried to one side of the property and waited expectantly. Someone hopped in the bulldozer and nudged it forward; with a tremendous crunching noise, it took the roof off the building. The once-bathrooms disappeared in a shower of wood, then the cinder block walls came down, one right after the other. The bulldozer mowed back and forth over the rubble a few times like a vacuum cleaner.
Across the street, a few young guys standing on the corner watched the destruction. Did they live in this neighborhood, we asked? No, came the reply. Had they ever seen the bar when it was open? Also no.
"Where are you from?" one guy finally asked. The Observer. "That's what we're doing," he said pointedly. "Observing." They watched with arms folded as Ollie's vanished piece by piece under the bulldozer.