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MARCH 1, 2010 1:40AM

Harry Does Dallas: Ghosts Of Deep Ellum (Photo Essay)

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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.

Twisted Root 

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:


Caged Entrance

Velvet Hooka
The sign says "Velvet Hookah". Catchy, huh? Shame it's closed.
Here's some artwork on the side of the building:

Velvet Hooka Art

Deep Ellum has artwork all over the place. Here are just a few examples:

Earth Art

Bone Art 2

Norah  Jones
You might recognize Norah Jones here

Elm Bar Art 

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:


Adam Hats Full

Adam Hats


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!

Art Festival

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

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Afterwards I went to the DMA exhibit "Lens of Impressionism" which was excellent. Then hiked up to the Angelika movie theater for Polanski's "Ghost Writer" which was OK.
Ho ho hum huh hoot hullabaloo.
I think of the lyrics to the song"`
I love You Porgy.
Love Me Leave Me.

The book`The Princess Noire
The Tumultuous Reign Of Nina Simone.
by Nadine Cohodas.
I've only read the review. I love the way Kathy Battle sings `I Love You Porgy.
"Don't Explain" plumbs the depth of the last shade of self-negation.
Madame Simone would love Harry's Ghost. I wish I had high [seed] speed Internet.
Come Take Me Away Sweet Chariot.

What a Moon! I call down a chariot!
What a good night to take a bagel hunting!
It be great to take a pint of milk and climb trees!
Beagles howl at anything and love yellow bananas!
I liked seeing this - thanks.
When we first came back to Dallas, Deep Ellum was one of the first places I wanted to take Paul. It was such a sad sight. Going through the tunnel with all the artwork just brought back so many memories of the blast I used to have there. Tree's, The Lizard Lounge, The Bone, Club Dada, Gypsy Tea Room, Clear-something - man there's so many, I can't even think of all of them, but I can still see where each of them were...Texas-OU weekends. It was such a thriving nightlife for music. It didn't matter what you were in the mood for - jazz, reggae, dance, southern rock - it had it all. I'm so lucky I had Deep Ellum as one of my playgrounds and to be able to see so many bands in such small venues was really cool. Ugh. This still makes me sad to see.

Oh, and yeah, I got my belly-button pierced at Tiggers when I was 17! Which reminds me, I'm not anymore, maybe I should get them to take this sucker out.
I got lost in the pictures...You're bit about the pretentiousness of Dallas is so true. We all joke about it, but even now living here I still have a problem going out without make-up or heels. There was an article in The Observer I guess maybe two years ago - $35K Millionaires, hit's the culture spot on. If it wasn't so late I'd try to find it.

Love this post even though it made me sad. At the same time, it also made me want to get drunk. Weird.
Great Post and Pics Harry. But, when you hear," 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", always DUCK! (I went with a girl named Velvet Hookah, didn't turn out well!)
I agree with Scanner on the"redevelopment" caution. But I'm sorry things didn't work out between the Scanman and his Velvet Hookah. Perhaps there's a story here?

Harry - Enjoyed the walk on the dead wild side. (r)
Art, Madame Simone is my cat.

Julie, did you know that famous tunnel is gone now so they could build the light rail station?

Scanner, I couldn't find the article about the redevelopment but these guys wanted to do it right and keep the character of the place.

Emo, Matt, thanks for dropping by.
Sounds like an excellent day in Dallas! I like your photo essays very much - your commentary sets off the pictures in such a way that I feel like I really SEE the place.
Thanks, Owl. I tried to give a feel for the place using my limited skillz. Maybe you can see it in person someday. All of OS is waiting for what will be your legendary cross country trek as we toast your highly anticipated visit!
Sounds like a blast!
I appreciate this a great deal. When I lived in the Metroplex (before 1983), this area was considered a "no man's land", at least for most middle class white people like me. I had heard it was sort of an "in" place nowadays, but I have not had the opportunity to check it out. One of these days...
Hey, did you see this?

So sad. St. Pat's will be quite different this year.
I heard about it on the radio so I checked the local TV shows and they were all reporting on it. Incredible. At least no one was hurt. Will be interesting to see what the plans are for rebuilding.
I love Dallas! I cant wait to get back to the great city in a few weeks. I have never been to Deep Ellum neighborhood, but have spent a great deal of time in Oak Cliff and Oak Lawn. I just love the people I have met there. Thanks for posting this. This makes me appreciate my past and current stomping grounds even more. I should start taking pictures before they are gone, like you have described Deep Ellum to be. I swear nothing is sacred in this world anymore.
Send me a PM if you post any pics, Jeep. Love to see 'em.
This is no justification for you trying to paint a mural on the side of my house. You better knock it off.
It's funny how recollections of generations makes the viewing a different experience. I lived in Dallas as a teen in the seventies. A little bit before Deep Ellum was Deep Ellum. When I go back to visit it's always striking to me that there's anything at all there but old industry. Still grappling with the idea of multi-million dollar rehabs of warehouses by the farmer's market. Thanks for sharing this. I know it must have taken you a great deal of time to prepare and present. Generous that.
Surly, does this mean you're finally relenting to my body painting request?

Glad you enjoyed it, John.