In 1998, Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield published Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where Cultures Converged. Last year, just in time for the neighborhood’s 150th anniversary, Deep Vellum republished the book. It tells the story of Dallas’ most important cultural community, from before the railroads converged and created what we now know as Deep Ellum.
Their book was an important reference for a story I wrote in the January issue of D Magazine about the Deep Ellum of today, which we today published online. The neighborhood is, once again, undergoing a dramatic change. Residential and office towers now surround the “core” of old warehouse buildings that have been turned into all manner of businesses. It’s no longer just a nighttime destination; the landlords have begun renting to businesses that make the daylight hours just as busy as when the sun goes down.
Deep Ellum built its reputation as a cultural center. Can these things coexist? The boosters sure think so, but the reality is more complicated. Crime concerns, which business owners say are largely unfounded, have kept people out of the bars and restaurants. The office tenants haven’t returned after the lockdown, and the new apartment residents don’t appear to be spending money in the neighborhood like many had hoped. Business owners I spoke with are hopeful for the future, but many are also realistic about the challenges they’re facing in a post-pandemic Dallas.
Govenar and Brakefield’s book argues that the foundation of the community was different people, from different places, coming together out of necessity and creating a place unlike any other in Dallas. With all the new money and investment, there is concern about whether there will be room for the musicians, artists, and other creators who helped the neighborhood earn its reputation.
“If this whole neighborhood is going to start becoming chains, then we’re really losing out on something,” Will Evans, the head of Deep Vellum publishing, told me. “It’s a change. Is it all good? No. Is it all bad? No. But businesses are still coming back.”
That’s the conflict I tried to suss out in the story. What is Deep Ellum’s future? And who will be there to experience it? As I said, the story went online today, and you can read it right here. Afterward, pop over and read my colleague Holland Murphy’s piece that revisits Skip Hollandsworth’s 1987 D Magazine cover story about Deep Ellum and the people who populated it.