Photography by Kristi and Scott Redman

Why I Love Oak Lawn

The longtime center of Dallas' gay and lesbian community is Uptown's humbler older brother.

Oak Lawn is famous for a lot of loud things. You’ll find most of them on Cedar Springs Road along a stretch of restaurants, clubs, and shops with wigs and glitter and plastic in the windows — a sensory anthem of the LGBTQ community in Dallas. People will tell you first about Station 4, the multi-level dance club with pulsing light schemes and friendly partiers. Upstairs in the Rose Room, I once watched a performer so mesmerizingly like Beyonce — her boss step-out, the flip of her hair — the question became who was pretending to be whom?

There is the volume of the annual Pride Parade on Cedar Springs and Turtle Creek that shuts down traffic in the vicinity completely as volunteers from Oak Lawn United Methodist Church pass out water bottles to members of the lesbian color guard. And the Monday karaoke at Round-Up Saloon and Dance Hall, where you’ll hear audition songs from Phantom of the Opera delivered as if a part in the show’s touring company were at stake.

One loud neighborhood amenity no one seems to talk about: the planes. Proximity to Love Field means intermittent washes of noise overhead as jets arrive and depart. The sonic boom can startle a new resident, especially one who senses impending doom on the regular. But after a while, the noise becomes part of the ambience, the engines melding with a dinnertime record or punctuating a conversation. After I returned from a weeklong trip to New York recently, I slept outside on my upstairs screened-in porch, waking on the couch to gaze at the sunrise through the latticework and just listen. I had missed the planes.

Fitting, this seeming omnipresence of motion. Oak Lawn has always been a place of movement. It was the first stronghold in the city for gays who came out in the ‘80s. The Dallas Voice produced its first edition from its Oak Lawn office. Dallasites who suffered from AIDS, or who were watching their loved ones suffer, had the Oak Lawn Counseling Center as a haven. What came of this was organizations that led gay rights fundraising nationwide, at a time when some Dallas women heard about HIV and promptly switched hairdressers. Activists’ ability to tap into the city’s pools of wealth — and the progressive generosity of donors — is still known affectionately by LGBTQ leaders as “The Dallas Way.”

This inheritance shows itself in a quiet kind of excess, a fanciness amidst the ordinary. An estate sale announcement in Oak Lawn is a periwinkle feather boa draped across a cardboard cutout of Aretha Franklin, painted sign duct-taped to her hand. A tiny Episcopal church service in Oak Lawn is also a free champagne brunch afterward, advertised with a vinyl banner so large one could perhaps see it from a passing jet. A grocery trip in Oak Lawn is walking circles around Eatzi’s, where staffers in chef’s coats greet couples in gym attire and the braided challah bread wrecks paleo diets if the Friday night pizza doesn’t.

As charming as the shaded drive through the neighborhood is, it’s the easy way out of Oak Lawn that’s just as much a comfort. Avondale turns into Fitzhugh and you cross over 75 to the lower-key East Dallas in seven minutes. The sidewalks that move into the long streets of Highland Park stretch on and on without the interruption of a broken block, those neighborhood runs almost canopied completely by green.

And there’s the easy access to Interstate 35 and the Dallas North Tollway, which can’t be discounted. I will never forget excusing myself from a holiday party table full of coworkers at the original Ojeda’s on Maple Avenue as the gruesome news broke out of Sandy Hook. I was never so relieved to be just around the corner from the highway as I raced to greet my son at the gate of his preschool.

A small thing, yes, just a little bit of time saved. But you have to save time to spend it well, and when all else in life is competing for it, a safe place to be — and an easy way to get there — is everything.

Lyndsay Knecht, associate producer at KERA, moved to Oak Lawn in 2014.

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