As it lurches wildly out of its Redneck Past, the City of Dallas – now completely strangled by its noose of suburbs – is forced to turn inward. It has to flip over its long-neglected flat rocks and deal with what scrambles out from underneath. It has to somehow transform its neglected barren shadowy hinterlands into fertile soil where it can grow shiny new developments for the future.
Few people in the city fully realize this yet, but the only successful path into the world of tomorrow leads directly and literally to the other side of the tracks and across the river. Success for the city will depend on how well this difficult process is done. It doesn’t have to (and can’t be) done perfectly… but it has to be done and has to be done thoughtfully and has to be done soon (faster, please).
One of the critical junctures in this process is a long-ignored wide spot in the road called Cedars West. If you look at an old aerial photograph of Cedars West from, say the 1930’s, you will see it was an island. The meandering Trinity River split into two branches forming the area that would become Cedars West, and then, only a short distance downstream, they joined back together. The Corinth Street Viaduct, a long, concrete structure joining Dallas North and South, gave access to this swampy little piece of land.
This cheap, almost useless, scrap of land quickly became home to the low-end forgotten businesses that none of the snootier residents wanted in their neighborhoods. Wrecking yards, scrap metal, wholesale auto parts, and oil and grease distributors settled in where they could be easily ignored and for decades thrived in that godforsaken tract.
You see, the City of Dallas wants a developer to build a huge multi-use development nearby. The area was to be transformed into a hipster doofus haven (and I mean that in a good way, I really do) where the modern millennial could work, live, and play. Giant piles of scrap metal, reclaimed wood siding, and tanks of used grease were not considered good neighbors for such a cool crowd.
So, in typical heavy-handed corrupt government style, the City Council simply voted to change the zoning in Cedars West, and give all those ugly, smelly, and un-hip squatters five years to vamoose. This was going to force the present stewards of the land, who had been working their asses off trying to build their businesses, employing the otherwise unemployable, and making use of a part of the city that few others even knew existed (I sure didn’t) for several generations now, into oblivion to make way for the wave of the future.
But, in a surprising move, the businesses of Cedars West decided to fight back… and in a very cool and interesting way.
They organized and went to the council to point out that a new urban development that consisted of all shiny, fancy, clean, pre-planned white-bread construction was doomed to fail. Residents of such an area want to live in an urban environment, not in a high-rise version of Plano. Otherwise, they would live in Plano.
They offered to simply clean up their act. They would put up new, attractive fencing and metal walls to hide the ugly portions of their business and to actively encourage artistic uses of their products and to promote the “Green” aspects of their business. Yesterday’s scrap iron and wrecking yards ares tomorrow’s sustainable recycling.
So they did. And the council, in a shocking bit of intelligence, agreed. They gave the businesses of the area two years to clean up their act. Anyone that succeeded in pulling off a transformation from an ugly old low-tech business to a modern artistic vintage funky sort of urban oasis could stay. Anyone that didn’t… had to go.
A fascinating story… and one, I’m afraid, that I missed totally.
Until, looking through the web for something to do over the weekend, I came across mention of the First Annual Cedars West Arts Festival. At first, I was lukewarm to the idea… another Arts Festival? Haven’t I seen enough of these things? But then I heard that one of my favorite food trucks, The Bomb Fried Pies was going to be there, and I took another look.
It threw me when I pulled up the address (2021 Rock Island) in Google Maps and took a look at the aerial photo. There were the swampy Trinity River Bottoms and a little stretch of road that ran through the most awful stretch of industrial wasteland you will see anywhere. It looked like the last place on earth you would hold an arts festival. So I began to read the history of the area and the reason behind the festival. They were throwing this shindig to show off the work they had done to spruce up their area and to demonstrate to the city at large how these types of businesses can contribute to the cultural life of the city.
And I knew I had to be there.
So Candy and I made our plans. We knew it was going to be a hot day and Candy doesn’t like to be out in the Texas blast furnace heat any more than necessary so we wanted to go right when it opened at eleven. We didn’t want to drive and the festival advertised that it had blocked off a lane of the Corinth Street Viaduct so you could take the DART train to Oak Cliff and walk across. I wondered why they didn’t have folks walking from the Cedars Station which looked a little closer, but that was what they planned, so that is what we did.
It was a long walk; the Corinth Street Viaduct is about a mile long. Sure enough, they had barriers up the entire length, blocking off an entire lane. They went to a lot of expense for us – we didn’t see anyone else using the viaduct to walk in. I enjoyed the trek across and over the trackless wilderness of the Trinity River bottoms, with a view of Downtown on one side and the DART trains/Testle Trail and manmade river rapids on the other – but it was already too hot for Candy.
The Arts Festival was really a lot of fun. The local businesses went all out in making everyone welcome and showing off the work they had done in beautifying, hipster-ing, and funkifying their places. OKON Scrap Metals had a big pile of used iron which their employees were picking from and creating sculptures behind clear yellow welding screens.
I was really impressed with Orr-Reed Wrecking Company. Their business is in tearing down old buildings and homes and preserving as much as they can. Their place in Cedars West is a big, long shed full of salvaged materials. From hardwood flooring, to bathroom fixtures, from vintage lighting to stained-glass windows… they had it all. If you are in the DFW Metroplex and are remodeling a home, be sure and go down there and see what they have to offer. It truly was an amazing place.
Beyond simply saving, preserving, and selling – Orr-Reed Wrecking was touting itself as a home and source for artists. There were rooms full of furniture and sculptures made with materials culled from their vintage collections for sale. They even offer low-cost studio space for anyone wanting to work with what they have to offer. Walking around was an eclectic crowd of relaxed artsy-looking young folks that worked there, both providing labor for the company and providing their inspiration for the aesthetic of their products.
Candy and I wandered around the place for a while, but it soon became too hot and we decided to head home. We were both really hungry and I wanted to find a local place that I had never tried before. Candy dreaded crossing that bridge again in the blistering afternoon sun so I suggested we walk the opposite direction to the Cedars DART station and get something to eat in that area.
We soon discovered why the Arts Festival closed off the lane and suggested folks walk across from Oak Cliff. The stretch along Corinth to Lamar was the most awful, neglected, and scary war zone of urban decay you will ever see. It’s amazing how the city could even think of forcing out the businesses of Cedar’s West while they could let their own streets and sidewalks run down into a horrible condition like that.
Intrepid and idiotic as we are, we made it through, hungry and dehydrated. We ate at The Cedars Social bar and restaurant, a really nice cool oasis in the urban wasteland. It felt like stepping into the set of Mad Men… with a brunch menu.
I’m going to be keeping an eye on Cedar’s West going forward. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, there are surprising things happening in places you don’t expect, and I think this may be one of them.
Cedars West Now – Call for Artists
Dallas council lets longtime Cedars West businesses stay after hearing beautification plans
Cedars West businesses plan arts festival as they approach two years after zoning show-down with Dallas City Hall
The Cedars Social – bar, restaurant, and club
The route we walked out along is so God-Awful that there is a proposal for a pedestrial bridge to skip over the whole thing. I doubt it will get built – but wouldn’t this be cool?