A funeral was held in the Dallas 10th Street Historic District Friday by residents who pray it will help promote revival of their community.
They were mourning the December 9th demolition at 1121 East 9th Street in the Freedmans Town neighborhood where emancipated slaves once settled.
“It was like they were tearing a part of me away,” said Residents Association President Patricia Cox. “We are trying to keep that, keep 10th Street as it is.”
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A Dallas City Council resolution in August forbid city spending on any demolition in the neighborhood to help support preservation. But the latest demolition was paid for entirely by the property owner.
“It is a loop hole. What it means is the neighborhood really has no protection,” resident Robert Swann said.
Swann is also a member of the Dallas Landmark Commission, the panel charged with preserving history.
“We're removing interest from this neighborhood every time we demolish another 120 year old house,” he said.
In some neighborhoods, removing decayed buildings is considered progress. Longtime residents of 10th Street consider it the opposite.
About a third of the 250 structures in the neighborhood when it was declared a Dallas Historic District in 1993 have been demolished.
“We’re trying to get funds to repair the houses, bring them up to date, not just slap paint on the house but to restore the houses,” Cox said.
The neighbors point to one house on Betterton Circle that seemed beyond repair.
“This was the worst,” Swann said. “It was so bad I wasn’t fighting for it.”
Now the homeowner lives in the house and it is a model for others on the street that need work.
“It looks great. We need more of that,” Cox said.
One area of vacant lots about a square block in size where homes once stood has a for sale sign posted.
Neighbors worry expensive new homes like many other older Dallas neighborhoods are seeing will price lifelong residents out of 10th Street.
“I see it coming and I see it coming fast. Even though they said no more demolition for a year, we have it going on now,” Cox said. “We want new buildings, yes. But, we want them to resemble what’s here.”
Swann promotes the idea that saving the 10th Street Freedmans Town District can become a Dallas attraction.
“It could be an example for the rest of the country. Dallas could do what every other city has failed to do,” Swann said. “There is no place in the country that had a more meaningful concentration of African American historic places.”
At one house that used to be a church, Swann met resident Robert Hampton Friday. The tenant said he was surprised to learn from Swann that Blues legend T Bone Walker is said to have heard some of his first music in that church.
“I think that's stuff more people should hear, you know what I'm saying? Historic stuff like that,” Hampton said. “It could be an attraction, like the zoo. Close to downtown, it could be a tourist type neighborhood.”
The R.L. Thornton Freeway that runs beside the neighborhood is currently being reconstructed with a new deck park over the freeway planned at the nearby zoo.
“I think a restored walkable 10th street could help justify the deck park,” Swann said.
The current freeway construction includes the support structure for the deck park but money is still being raised for the park itself.