If you want to experience a neighbourhood feel, come to Oak Cliff. A short distance from downtown Dallas, yet the atmosphere feels like it is a million miles away.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, there was a community south of the River Trinity by 1845. In 1887, two developers, one of whom was Thomas L. Marsalis, bought land there including that community. Their idea was to create an elite residential area and vacation resort.
It went well until the economic depression of 1893. By 1900, middle- and working-class families had bout subdivided plots. An independent district thus far, Oak Cliff voted for the annexation to Dallas in 1903 due to the area’s depressed economy.
Oak Cliff is made up of many different neighbourhoods, like the trendy Bishop Arts District or the historic Winnetka Heights. However, I am going to focus on Jefferson Boulevard.
My first impression was that Jefferson Boulevard is the hub of the Mexican American community. Many businesses cater to their needs, like a panadería (bakery) or stores that sell quinceañera and wedding gowns. Most signs are bilingual. There is a cluster of brightly painted storefronts on the Texas Theater end of the boulevard that I find particularly attractive. Unfortunately, at the time of writing (December 2020), I noticed that a few stores stood empty.
I enjoy walking along Jefferson Boulevard. It has a neighbourhood feel that is hard to find in other areas. It looks unspoiled by modernity. It lacks the pretentiousness that other parts of Dallas like to flaunt. Here, you can relax and be you.
One of the landmarks on Jefferson Boulevard in the Jefferson Tower. Built in 1928, it was the first high-rise on Oak Cliff and it still dominates the boulevard. I love its striking Art Deco architectural features.
The other landmark is the Texas Theater, opened in 1931. Although it was Dallas’ first air-conditioned theater, it became famous for being the place where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested on 22 November 1963.
The Oak Cliff Cultural Center is right next door. Although it is now closed until further notice due to the pandemic, it holds art exhibitions from various local artists, both established and up-and-coming. I interviewed two of the artists for the Dallas Observer last year.
Jefferson Boulevard is one of the last original shopping streets in Dallas. Its architecture, from the 1920s and 30s and mid-20th century, remains more or less intact. It is pedestrian-friendly, another feature hard to find in the city, and there is lots of parking. What more do you need?