Retro Active: The Bishop Arts District
Bishop Arts District: Dallas' bustling, bohemian backyard
By June Naylor
When you’re in North Texas and crave a dose of inventive, hip cool, you don’t have to hop on Interstate 35 for a trip to Austin. Just point the car a minute or two southwest of downtown Dallas. There, you’ll find the North Oak Cliff quarter known as the Bishop Arts District, a neighborhood with spruced-up, century-old buildings and a wealth of vintage chic. The destination proves ideal for anyone craving a leisurely day (or evening) of gallery-browsing, boutique-dawdling, pub-crawling and cuisine-sampling.
Bishop Arts’ growing fan club comes also for the mood, best described as liberal and inclusive, engendered by the diverse, creative population living and working here. Nothing about Bishop Arts feels contrived or fabricated; instead, the neighborhood hums with authenticity. Perhaps best of all, the district’s low-gear pace serves as a welcome counterpoint to downtown’s hustle, less than five minutes away.
'People from places like Austin and Chicago say this reminds them of their little old neighborhood center because of its funky, small-town feel, right next to downtown.'
Although the buildings wear plenty of age, the district’s
current incarnation began to take form in 1996, when Bishop Street Market owner
Michael Harrity opened shop. At that time, only a couple of brave restaurateurs
had decided to give the long-shuttered neighborhood in the shadows of downtown
Harrity, a longtime Dallasite who’d been living in Oak Cliff for about a decade, longed for weekend diversions right in the neighborhood. Although the stretch of Bishop Avenue reaching south from Davis Street had fallen on hard times, people like Harrity believed potential awaited within the old storefronts.
“People would walk around, admire the old buildings, and wish there was something to do here,” he says. Upon graduating from SMU, Harrity decided being his own boss held the most appeal, and he opened Bishop Street Market, a gift and home accessories store, on a shoestring.
Harrity helped form a business association, which launched Jingle Bells on Bishop, an increasingly popular, old-fashioned, holiday festival that just marked 14 successful years. Varied celebrations came along to keep the merriment going throughout the year, and city leaders finally took notice.
In 2000, an improvement project with $2.5 million in city funding brought upgrades, which included planting live oaks alongside the street, bricking the sidewalks, and installing trolley-era lampposts. The completion signaled that Bishop Arts District had truly arrived.
“People from places like Austin and Chicago say this reminds
them of their little old neighborhood center because of its funky, small-town
feel, right next to downtown,” Harrity says.
Set aside at least an afternoon and evening for exploring Bishop Arts so that you can enjoy its relaxed vibe.
Bishop Arts District
The funky charm of the Bishop Arts District is just minutes southwest of downtown Dallas in North Oak Cliff, near the intersection of Bishop Ave. and Davis St. Call 214/942-0690; www.bishopartsdistrict.com.
From the February 2010 issue.