Deep Ellum is Dallas's own little slice of a Bohemian arts district. Were my location one of choice in the DFW area, I would hope to find a home near there for artistic people lower my guard and ease my breathing. Dallas is a corporate city with unflattering insecurities lying underneath. There's much of a "Please like me for my BMW" mindset here which like all pretensions is fatally boring. But that ain't Deep Ellum.
I'd decided on spending the day in Dallas, starting it off with an always fantastic turkey burger from Twisted Root Burger. Here's a helpful tip on going there: get there early, like five-minutes-before-they-open early. I was fourth in line and by the time I finished my meal the line was 20 deep - and that's just the people outside on the sidewalk.
But it was while I was sitting there munching away, reading a delightful article in the Dallas Observer about a resurgence in the Oak Cliff area that I got the idea to do a photo essay on Deep Ellum. Hell, I was there already and I make it my custom now to bring my camera along. Bad news was the temperature had dropped 15 degrees and a very steady drizzle soaked my unprepared ass as I strolled along the streets. But we artists must suffer!
Unfortunately, Deep Ellum as of 2010 is dead:
The sign says "Velvet Hookah". Catchy, huh? Shame it's closed.
Here's some artwork on the side of the building:
Deep Ellum has artwork all over the place. Here are just a few examples:
You might recognize Norah Jones here
The area was originally an industrial one: From wiki:
The area got its start in 1884 when Robert S. Munger built his first factory, for the Munger Improved Cotton Machine Company, in what is now Deep Ellum. In 1913, Henry Ford opened an assembly plant here to supplement the manufacture of the Ford Model T at the Detroit plant. In 1916, the first building built for and by blacks in Dallas—The Grand Temple of the Black Knights of Pythias—was built in Deep Ellum at Good-Latimer and Elm Street, later turned in to the Union Bankers Building
Remnants remain from its original roots:
Deep Ellum is situated due East of downtown Dallas. Its name stems from a corruption of "deep Elm street". Elm street cuts all the way through downtown, leading past the School Book Depository at the other end. The de facto dividing line between downtown and Deep Ellum is the I-45 highway and its merging overpasses.
A straight shot down Elm.
But Deep Ellum's richest tradition, though, is its heritage of blues music and back in the day it had its share of heavy hitters:
Deep Ellum became distinguished as a prime jazz and blues hotspot in the South. Artists such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, and Bessie Smith played in Deep Ellum clubs like The Harlem and The Palace.
In 1937, a columnist described Deep Ellum as:
“ ...[the] one spot in the city that needs no daylight saving time because there is no bedtime...[It is] the only place recorded on earth where business, religion, hoodooism, gambling and stealing goes on at the same time without friction...Last Saturday a prophet held the best audience in this 'Madison Square Garden' in announcing that Jesus Christ would come to Dallas in person in 1939. At the same time a pickpocket was lifting a week's wages from another guy's pocket, who stood with open mouth to hear the prophecy.
Deep Ellum in more recent times has cycled between thriving and dying. And while it's more dead than alive now, there are some large scale plans in the works by a couple of developers to buy up huge swaths of real estate and restore things to their former glory. The timetable for that depends on when (if?) the economy gets rolling again. In the meantime, some legendary places have closed:
The Bone (Club Dada to the right)
Club Dada, proving ground for the Old 97s and the New Bohemians
Daddy Jacks, an upscale eatery
Some places have thrived even through the down turns, having developed a loyal following:
I actually went to church camp with the owner, Pete Zotos.
I haven't looked him up because he, uh, might remember me.
Tattoo joints do well here.
This place is straight out of Austin with its cool funkiness
Regardless of what its current condition may be, Deep Ellum is always a must-see stop when visiting Dallas. So if you get the chance, come on down!
Walked up Ellum an' I come down Main,
Tryin' to bum a nickel jes' to buy cocaine.
Ho, Ho, baby, take a whiff on me