Dallas banks on the arts to draw tourists
by Matthew S. Bajko
Dallas will probably never shed the image it gained from the eponymously named 1980s primetime soap opera in the minds of many Americans. But you can't fault the Texas metropolis for trying.
And in a state with a reputation for its love of superlatives, Dallas leaders are reshaping their hometown's reputation in a truly spectacular way. The city's Dallas Arts District, a 68-acre development in the heart of its downtown, is the country's largest urban arts district.
Last fall saw the opening of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts comprising of five different venues offering everything from opera and music to theater and dance. The most visually stunning of the facilities is the candy-apple colored oval that is home to the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House designed by Foster and Partners.
The complex also is home to the new Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, co-designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of the New York firm REX. The building is a double-inverted cube and houses the 550-seat Potter Rose Performance Hall and the more intimate black box Studio Theatre.
This summer the Dallas Theater Center will present a revival of the 1960s musical It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman . And the theater is now the performance home of the acclaimed Dallas Black Dance Theatre.
This being Dallas, the 34-year-old dance troupe boasts that it is "the oldest, continuously operating professional dance company in Dallas." It also ties the arts district to its historical past as being the city's black neighborhood for much of the 20th century when it was known as "North Dallas." The troupe's rehearsal space and offices are housed several blocks away on Flora Street in the historical Moorland YMCA building.
Constructed in 1930, the facility served as a cornerstone for the city's African-American community until 1970, when the YMCA relocated to Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood. The dance troupe bought the building in 2002 and, after a five-year-long renovation process, moved into its new home in 2007.
Also within the cultural district is the Crow Collection of Asian Art, which houses more than 750 Asian artifacts representing the artistic heritage of China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia. For budget conscious travelers, the museum is free to the public.
In early 2012 the arts district will expand once again as its envelope stretches over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, a thruway built in the 1960s that bisected Dallas's downtown from its residential neighborhoods to the north. The $100 million project, likened to San Francisco's Yerba Buena Park near its business district, will create 5.2 acres of urban parkland above the freeway adjacent to the city's arts offerings.
Gay business leaders are hoping that Dallas and its artistic offerings will draw more LGBT tourists to town.
"We have now what can be arguably called the greatest arts district in the world. They are even saying we are better than Australia now," said Scott Whitall, a gay man who owns Cafe Buli in the heart of the gay commercial corridor known as Cedar Springs. "We love it. Who loves the arts and are in the arts? The gay community; we are the arts."
Bill McCartney, who left San Francisco two decades ago for Dallas to start his own business selling handmade American crafts to museum stores, said the new arts district is helping to reshape the city's image.
"It's tremendous. It sets us on the cultural map like any big city in the world," said McCartney.
But lest anyone despair that a visit to Dallas will be more akin to a vacation in Chicago or New York, the city hasn't lost its cowboy charm.
My visit last October coincided with the annual football match-up between fierce rivals the University of Te
A visiting UT fan had rented a Texas longhorn steer who came with handlers dressed as cowgirls.
Dallas' LGBT scene
The Bay Area's LGBT artistic and political circles have long had ties to Dallas. Last year Tim Seelig, the former longtime artistic director of Dallas' acclaimed gay men's Turtle Creek Chorale, stepped in to guest conduct the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus after its conductor, Kathleen Maguire, broke her arm.
Having its world premiere Friday, April 30 at the Winspear Opera House will be Moby Dick, written by Bay Area gay composer Jake Heggie. Even San Francisco's most famous gay politician, Harvey Milk, has a Dallas connection.
Milk was known to have lived in Dallas for several years during the late 1950s, and recently, the local gay paper the Dallas Voice reported he also lived there in 1969 at the apartment complex known as Turtle Creek Gardens at 2525 Turtle Creek.
And the local LGBT scene has its own bragging rights. With the majority of its gay bars clustered around the intersection of Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street, called The Crossroads, the area is said to have the highest number of gay bars located in a one-block area.
There can be found all in one mega-complex gay hangout JR's Bar and Grill, The Rose Room drag shows, after-hours club Station 4, the men's bar The Mining Co. and the two-level Sue Ellen's, one of the country's largest lesbian bars.
Nearby are country-western dance club The Round Up Saloon, dance club Drama Room, and Woody's, a gay sports bar.
Over in the city's burgeoning Deep Ellum district is the Tex-Mex restaurant Monica's aca y alla. Owned by Monica Greene, a transgender woman who once ran for Dallas City Council, the eatery has become a must-see stop for visitors gay and straight alike as well as a sought after location by Texans for all manner of parties and events.
Like other gayborhoods across the country, Dallas' LGBT community has begun to shift to other areas outside Oak Lawn. Many younger LGBT people have landed in the Bishop Arts District in north Oak Cliff, seven miles south of Oak Lawn.
A popular Sunday brunch spot is the lesbian-owned Jack's Backyard in Oak Cliff, a short drive from downtown Dallas across the Trinity River. A former automotive repair/ body shop, the restaurant has both inside and outdoor seating; its bar is open most nights until 2 a.m.
If you go
Southwest Airlines flies from San Francisco into Dallas' Love Field, a 10-minute drive from Oak Lawn, but doesn't offer any direct flights currently between the two cities.
American Airlines and United both offer nonstop flights between San Francisco and the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport.
Both The Rosewood and the Warwick Melrose Hotel on Oak Lawn Avenue offer luxury lodging near the heart of the gay district; while the Belmont Hotel in Oak Cliff is a boutique hotel close to downtown with more affordable rates.
For a more comprehensive list of hotel, dining and LGBT nightlife in Dallas, visit http://www.edgedallas.com.