After decades of neglect, the Oak Cliff section of southern Dallas is seeing a much-needed economic and artistic rebirth. While some of the credit for the turnaround goes to government public projects and infrastructure, much of Oak Cliff’s revival can be credited to small-business owners that used their own resources to change their community.
The Kessler Theater, on West Davis Street in north Oak Cliff, is a prime example of private initiative yielding public benefits. The 1940s-era movie theater sat dormant for decades until Edwin Cabaniss purchased the property in 2009 and began renovations. Today, the Kessler is open for business and according to Cabaniss, is a “cultural center for creatives–part art gallery, part teaching space and part live-performance center.”
In a very short time, the Kessler has become a popular venue for local and regional musicians, providing the kind of live music experience Deep Ellum used to provide. The Kessler recently hosted a CD-release party for nationally acclaimed guitarist and composer Marc Ribot, who also provided a live score to a screening of the Charlie Chaplin silent film classic “The Kid.” When there aren’t concerts being held, the Kessler is hosting community events, as well as dance, guitar and piano lessons.
A few blocks west of the Kessler is the Tyler Davis Art District, home to local artists, art galleries and small businesses who are re-purposing old storefronts. Dubbed “X+” for the unique street intersections in the area, the district often holds events that reach out to and bring in residents in the surrounding transitional community.
Continuing west of “X+” on Davis will take residents to the Bishop Arts District, where the north Oak Cliff arts revival began in the 1990s. There, small business owners like Dave Spence and Amanda Cross brought the storefronts of an old trolley stop back to life. Bishop Arts is now one of the city’s more popular dining and shopping destinations.
Fort Worth Avenue, once one of Dallas’ main thoroughfares before Interstate 30 was built, has also seen its share of new development. In addition to a Home Depot and chain stores moving in, local real estate developer Monte Anderson renovated a 1940s motel into a boutique hotel, The Belmont, near the Dallas Gateway.
Cabaniss says the secret to the Kessler’s success, like many other Oak Cliff landmarks, lies in what he calls a “hyper-local” focus by business owners. Cabaniss has lived in north Oak Cliff for 12 years, and other local business owners like Spence, Cross and Anderson all live in the area and are active in the community. That neighborhood-first concept has led to many residents embracing the local businesses. “I think Oak Cliff has a true sense of self. We all know our neighbors and we take pride in our area.”
The loyalty to local businesses is rewarded by the local owners sponsoring street fairs and community events. Cabaniss believes the support will continue, because the community realizes it is about more than buying local. “No matter who we are, people of all types realize we are pulling on the same rope, and we are pulling in the same direction. We are the next chapter in our neighborhood’s development.”
Source: Interview with Edwin Cabaniss, The Kessler.org, TylerDavisArtDistrict.com