Shapes Scars Make

Shapes Scars Make

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James Adams
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James Adams

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Shapes Scars Make: Protests That Shaped Our City

A young city, Dallas is not without its share of protests that have catapulted it onto the national stage. Over the past century, issues of race, equality, urbanization, and preservation have all resulted in public outcries. Many of these have forged a better built environment for the citizens of Big D.

Pioneer Park Cemetery: 1900s

Located next to today’s Dallas City Hall, Pioneer Park Cemetery has endured encroaching development and vandalism since its grounds were dedicated in 1857. The Santa Fe railroad expanded onto the western edge of the cemetery in 1907. Per The Dallas Morning News, workers “hauled away dirt strewn with bones by the wagonload.” This event sparked public outrage that only grew as plans to relocate the remaining bodies and headstones became public in 1922. Protests stopped the development, and eventually civic leaders persuaded the private Masonic ownership to relinquish control to the City of Dallas in 1951.

An Unjust State Fair of Texas: 1950s

At its inception in 1886, the State Fair of Texas was segregated. Black residents were allowed only one day of attendance: Colored People’s Day, later renamed Negro Achievement Day. This racial disparity created a battleground for civil progress. By 1953, African Americans were given daily general admission but no access to food or rides. Two years later, protesters led by Juanita Craft, the Youth Council adviser for the Dallas chapter of the NAACP, picketed and boycotted the State Fair. These pickets continued until full desegregation occurred in the 1960s. Fair Park remained a protest site throughout the 1970s for anti-apartheid demonstrations and the fight against eminent domain as the city of Dallas sought to force gentrification in the area and displace minority residents.

Texas School Book Depository: 1960s

In the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination, calls came to demolish the Texas School Book Depository. The urgency to distance Dallas from the City of Hate reputation was palpable; Stanley Marcus, Hon. AIA, the legendary Neiman-Marcus retailer, took out a full-page newspaper ad entitled “What’s Right With Dallas” to counter the stigma. In 1970, when the Depository abandoned the building, many citizens again sought its destruction. Preservationists pushed back, and Dallas city leaders eventually protected the building and created Dallas’ first commercial historic district.

Old Dallas High School: 2000s

Purchased in 2000 by a California investor, the now historic Lang & Witchell-designed Dallas High School lay dormant for five years and was at risk of demolition. The City of Dallas quickly gave it landmark status for the 1907 structure to prevent its destruction. The owner protested this restriction and lost at the Texas Supreme Court. He let the building rot until its eventual sale in 2015 to Matthews Southwest for redevelopment. Today, it houses the Dallas offices of Perkins&Will and its restoration ensures it will thrive for another century.

Dr Pepper National Headquarters: 1990s

Dr Pepper moved its headquarters to Dallas from Waco in 1922. After significant growth, the soft drink company relocated in 1948 to Mockingbird Lane. There, it occupied a massive new industrial Art Moderne style building. Preservationists and city officials fought to save the building to no avail after it was sold in 1993. The new owners voluntarily worked with the Landmark Commission after it started the process of preserving it. Dr Pepper fan club members bolstered protest efforts and studies were undertaken to reposition the structure for new retail. But after demolition completed in 1997, all that remains today is an homage monumental signage on the corner.

Trinity River Toll Road: 1996-2017

The beautification and a desire for a park within the levees of the Trinity River has been an ongoing goal almost since the Trinity River was rerouted away from downtown in the 1930s. In 1998, voters approved a toll road through the proposed park. The battle that resulted over the next nearly 20 years pitted the perceived establishment of Dallas against progressives who feared a highway would hinder the quality of any future park space. Former City Council member Angela Hunt, Hon. AIA Dallas led unsuccessful efforts to kill the toll road in 2007 but, eventually, its detractors prevailed and the project was canceled in 2017.

Omni Hotel: 2009

On May 9, 2009, voters defeated a measure to prohibit the City of Dallas from owning a convention center hotel. A lively and bitter public debate, the argument centered on whether it was fiscally responsible for the city to build such a hotel and whether it would even be a profitable business. Harlan Crow, owner of the Hilton Anatole hotel, led the petition drive to allow voters to decide on the viability of the project. Critics of this protest said it was serving self-interests, but defenders countered that Mayor Tom Leppert benefitted politically from its construction. Nonetheless, the hotel was built and enveloped with color-changing LED lighting, which started another debate about the quality of our skyline.

South Oak Cliff High School: 2015-2020

In the late 1960s, South Oak Cliff High School had seen a dramatic shift in demographics from a nearly 100% white student body to a nearly 100% black student body as a result of segregation. This change led to a long, systematic decline in the maintenance of the 1952 school. Dallas Independent School District began renovating the interiors in 2015 using funding from a bond program. However, after a gas leak in December  2015, students David Johnson and Lizzett Godinez staged a walkout demanding better learning conditions. These protests resulting in DISD spending $52 million in upgrades. After four years of construction, students returning from winter break were delighted to see the refurbished high school in January 2020.

Confederate Statues + Black Lives Matter: 2017-2020

Nationwide protests last year reignited calls for the removal of Jim Crow-era Confederate statues. A swell of protests in 2017 led to the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and the eventual rechristening of the park where it stood to Oak Lawn Park in 2019. Public dialogue that arose from this event also resulted in the decision to decommission the Confederate War Memorial, located in Pioneer Park since 1961. The 65-foot-tall granite and marble monument, originally erected in 1897, maintained its presence as the largest Dallas Confederate memorial for another year because of pending lawsuits. Concerns that its destruction might result in injuring protesters led to its removal in June 2020

I-345 Tear Down: 2013 - Present

Completed in 1974 at a time when urban roadways signaled progress, this one-mile highway only divided the urban core further. In 2013, Patrick Kennedy and Brandon [l8] Hancock launched an initiative to present the case for demolishing the highway. Armed with the slogan 86 / 345 and a strong argument, the issue became the impetus for the Coalition for a New Dallas, both a political action committee and a nonprofit urban research group co-founded by the late Wick Allison, the owner of D Magazine. As awareness of the issue expanded, the Texas Department of Transportation did a feasibility study for the future of the highway in late 2019. The future of this highway is unknown, but public protest online, in the press, and at townhall-style meetings has shifted the needle toward its possible demolition.