In South Dallas, a Plan to Turn a Former Hospital, Hotel and Home Into a Kids' Theater

If you were to drive by 4526 Leland Avenue, near the intersection of Hatcher Street and S. Central Expressway, you'd think nothing of it -- as you can see, it's two stories of stucco worth, according to the Dallas Central Appraisal District, a few cents more than $90,000. But tomorrow, it's among three properties the Landmark Commission's Designation Committee will consider for historic designation. I called Preservation Dallas exec director Katherine Seale, also on the Designation Committee, to find out why.

Says Seale, the house "is an amazing story." She explains:

In the early 1900s, a German immigrant named Martha Schultz and her husband bought the property and built, in 1916, a community hospital, which were common back then. But the hospital became, for the most part, a maternity ward -- says Seale, it's where "wealthy unwed young mothers would go to have their babies." Schultz and her husband would use their European connections to cover for the mothers.

"She and her husband would send letters to Europe in bulk," says Seale. "They would then be returned, individually, to Dallas families. And the letters were all about how these women were enjoying Europe, while they were having their babies in secret." In the 1950s, Vanessa Baker's parents bought the property and turned it into a residential hotel for African Americans new to the neighborhood. Vanessa, an English instructor at Mountain View, still lives upstairs.

And, says Seale, she's hoping for historic designation so she can raise grants in order to restore the former hospital and hotel and "turn it into a community theater for neighborhood kids. Historic designation would help get grants to redo the place. She would preserve the exterior and turn the inside into a place for rehearsal and plays." Seale says she thinks Baker, who's collected plenty of documentation about the building's original use and appearance, "has a really good chance" at getting designation -- and, fingers crossed, opening her theater.

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