The typical reaction of a new visitor from the suburbs to the Bishop Arts District is gape-mouthed surprise: “I didn’t know this kind of place existed in Dallas!”
It’s been here for one hundred years. Bishop Arts is the city’s largest intact trolley-era shopping district, dating back to the arrival of the streetcar line in 1904. The forty-or-so historic buildings that grew up around the trolley stop survived demolition when highways and development in Dallas marched north. In the 1970s, artists in search of studio space rediscovered the light-filled storefronts. Soon locals opened restaurants and boutiques to serve their neighbors in North Oak Cliff. The City of Dallas brought Bishop Arts into the 21st century with a complete upgrade of streets, sidewalks, and landscaping. With new infrastructure, Bishop Arts began attracting independent chefs, becoming a haven for culinary mavericks. First, visitors came from “across the river,” then from the suburbs, then from all over Texas, until today ambassadors at D/FW’s international terminal know how to give directions to Bishop Arts.
Though Good Space champions Bishop Arts’ commercial success, we are mindful to preserve the district’s pre-automotive scale and the humble neighborhoods that surround us – elements that distinguish Oak Cliff from Dallas’ sprawling suburbs. Old-timers call the neighborhood to the north Kidd Springs, after an Indian watering hole that became the city’s first modern swimming park. Surrounding that park are narrow tree-shaded streets lined with breezy California-style bungalows. Kidd Springs is a National Historic District with protective zoning and a vigorous homeowners association. South of Bishop Arts, the neighborhood of working-class cottages is a barrio in transition, its immigrant residents bemused with the influx of hipsters. So far, each group seems to have a high tolerance for the other.
Among locals (but only among locals) debate continues over what is Bishop Arts and what isn’t. The district’s most recognizable elements – inventive cuisine, one-off retailers, and an enthusiasm for adapting odd little commercial buildings – have spilled up and down West Davis Street, which is rich in its own history as a Model A-era highway. Former trolley stops downstream from Bishop Arts, at Tyler Street and at Edgefield Avenue, are well into redevelopment as destination-districts themselves. A moment unique in the transportation history of Dallas is forecast to occur in 2017, when the new $50-million streetcar line arrives on the eastern edge of the Bishop Arts District at Zang Blvd.