Next Wednesday, the neon arches will return to the West End. Sort of.
They won’t be the Dallas Alley connector between the now-shuttered West End MarketPlace and the old Coca Cola Building. And they won’t burn neon; they’ll be filled with tiny LEDs and controlled via a computer program, which will allow them to reflect the colors of the Dallas Mavericks or the Stars or whatever design a young artist might come up with. They’ll be under Woodall Rodgers at Lamar, the new pass-through between the West End and booming Victory Park.
“As long as I’ve been aware of the West End or if I’m talking to anyone who grew up here, you mention Dallas Alley and immediately people’s faces change,” says Jennifer Sanders, the executive director of the Dallas Innovation Alliance, which is leading the project. “There’s such a deep, nostalgic attachment to that and what it represented for the district.”
The arches have been under the freeway for at least a dozen years, but they’ve never been lit up. There’s a small painted walkway under them, but it doesn’t exactly help you forget that you’re walking under a freeway. Sanders hopes the new lights will encourage pedestrians to feel more comfortable walking between the West End and Victory Park, which, in the last year, has welcomed about a dozen new bars and restaurants. You’ll recall the Dallas Alley had a beautiful view of Bank of America Tower; our Catherine Downes said it reminded her of a neon-drenched Yellow Brick Road. It came down during construction of the buildings it bordered. Here is what it looks like now.
The Dallas Innovation Alliance is a nonprofit that brings together organizations to help institute technologies that improve how Dallas residents live and interact with the city. The arches project was paid for with a $25,000 grant from Downtown Dallas Inc. The other $25,000 came from a partnership with American Airlines Center, VisitDallas, the West End Association, and YO Ranch Steakhouse. The West End is the DIA’s “living lab,” an experimental zone to test out technologies that might be able to scale elsewhere in the city. This is its attempt to show easy ways to activate a dead zone to improve connectivity.
“When I started working down here in the West End, I did not understand that the American Airlines Center was a seven-minute walk away,” Sanders says. “It didn’t even occur to me because the access was not particularly friendly or welcoming, and it didn’t feel safe after dark.”
They’ll get turned on at an event next Wednesday. The default will be the same rainbow you remember from the Dallas Alley, which led you to the long-defunct club complex that once attracted what the Dallas Observer coined “the A-list.” The West End has changed significantly in recent years, shifting from a kitschy tourist trap into a home for co-working spaces, startups, and other tech-focused spinoffs of larger companies, like Blue Cross Blue Shield’s C1 Innovation Lab. The new LED neon will still lead you to the bars and restaurants—they’ve found a new home in Victory Park, just beyond the freeway.