All About Oak Cliff

By Common Desk - October 13th, 2016

In a 2010 article for the Dallas Observer, Jim Schutze described Oak Cliff thusly:

Blessed with topography but cursed by abandonment, North Oak Cliff has always been the kid who should have had a date but didn’t.

Well, like the geeky kid who grew up to own his own microbrewery and celebrated tattoo shop, we’re glad to say that Oak Cliff, Dallas seems finally to have come into its own.

At Common Desk, we’re pretty proud to be operating in two of the coolest neighborhoods in Dallas. When we first got the blog up and running, one of our first posts was about the cool blue history of Deep Ellum. Now that Common Desk Oak Cliff is up and running, we thought we’d take a look at the history of the new ‘hood.

Posh Beginnings

Before Oak Cliff became an area of Dallas, it was actually a township of its own, one of the area’s first planned communities. It all started in 1886 when a couple of guys – John Armstrong and Thomas Marsalis – bought a farm on the west bank of the Trinity River. Their sights set on creating (and profiting from) an elite residential development on the outskirts of the city, they divided the 320 plot into 20 acre blocks and started building.

All went well for a short while, but very soon the partners had the inevitable falling out and Marsalis took his toys and went to build his own elite residential development, a very successful development that remains an elite town within a city today – the regal village of Highland Park. Oak Cliff went in a different direction.

Within the first couple of years, Oak Cliff Texas had attracted about 500 fancy residents and by 1890, when it became officially incorporated, it boasted a population of 2,470. To encourage growth, Marsalis also developed a 150-acre, complete with a lake and a pavilion that would host events like opera performances and community dances (we think we should get this started again). Marsalis hoped to promote Oak Cliff not just as a residential area for fancy pants, but as a resort destination for their out-of-town counterparts and, to this end, also commissioned the Park Hotel, modeled after San Diego’s popular Hotel del Coronado.

For several years, Marsalis’s vision of grandeur seemed to be becoming reality. But in 1893, a depression caused the vacation resort aspect of the plan to falter, and Marsalis soon declared bankruptcy. His fancy hotel became a College for young Ladies and by 1900 much of the land in the area was sold to middle and working class families. A few years later, Oak Cliff was annexed into Dallas with a population nearing 4,000.

Oak Cliff Characters

Famous folks associated with Oak Cliff include:

Stevie Ray Vaughan, who hails from our esteemed neighborhood and performed here frequently.

Lee Harvey Oswald, who took shelter in Oak Cliff’s Texas Theater after shooting President John F. Kennedy just a few miles north. The theater, incidentally, was built by the infamous Howard Hughes in 1931 and now hosts the Oak Cliff Film Festival and other great cultural events under its new management.

When acclaimed blues musician T-Bone Walker (born Aaron Thibeaux Walker) made his debut with Columbia in 1929, he lived in Oak Cliff, and actually recorded as “Oak Cliff T-Bone”.

Folk/ rock/ pop musician Edie Brickell was born in Oak Cliff and has done the neighborhood proud. Her album “Ghost of a Dog” with the New Bohemians includes a song “Oak Cliff Bra”.

Yvonne Craig, TV’s first Batgirl, spent her teenage years in Oak Cliff, and much-recognized character actor Stephen Tobolowsky grew up in Dallas and graduated from Oak Cliff’s Kimball High School.

Oak Cliff also had its own radio station, KLIF. It was founded in 1947 and was wildly successful in the ’50s and ’60s, becoming one of the nation’s biggest Top 40 radio stations.

Oak Cliff Today

Which exact neighborhoods of Dallas are rightly considered as parts of Oak Cliff remains continually up for debate, and the debate tends to be a passionate one. Oak Cliff residents are proud of their unique home, and we can understand why.

The Old Oak Cliff Conservation League (OOCCL) has put together this map of Oak Cliff neighborhoods. We can’t vouch for its strict accuracy, but it can give you a good idea of what constitutes today’s Oak Cliff.

You can take a tour of some of the historic homes in the area this weekend. Tickets can be purchased at the OOCCL website for $12 (seniors), $20 or $30, depending on how much you want to see.

o find out what else is happening in the ‘hood, check out the Bishop Arts events calendar. If you’re not into old homes, you might head down for the Urban Bazaar this weekend. Also coming up is a Wine Walk, a great way to end a day of coworking at Common Desk Oak Cliff. Check out the new digs and the Bishop Arts wine scene all in one glorious day.

More about Oak Cliff

All about Oak Cliff History

Oak Cliff Historic landmarks

Roy Appleton’s Oak Cliff Blog for the Dallas Morning News

Oak Cliff Floral postcard image courtesy of Boston Public Library via Flickr, some rights reserved.

Aerial photo of Oak Cliff taken circa 1930, from Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, Southern Methodist University, published online by The Advocate Oak Cliff.

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