It’s a little before 1 on a wednesday afternoon, and most customers at JR’s Bar & Grill on Cedar Springs aren’t ordering from the grill. TV screens play dance videos and at the bar ashtrays line up in parade formation. A man named Chris orders a Bushmills, neat. He’s an older guy, trim, tailored. He has called Oak Lawn his home for more than a decade. And no—sigh, eye roll—he’s not too happy about the ilume, the huge new retail and residential project going up on the corner of Cedar Springs and Douglas.
“It’s going to bring”—beat—“people like you,” he says, with a laugh and a slap to let me know it’s nothing personal. “Suburbanites. Straight people. There goes the gayborhood.”
Chris and a handful of older gay Cedar Springs loyalists aren’t happy about the ilume—and not just because the development eschews capitalization. Their concern is simple: is Cedar Springs about to become less gay? The answer—well, sure—won’t make them happy. But the more interesting question is, with more straights coming to Cedar Springs—to have a drink, to rent an apartment—what happens next?
Historically, whether you’re talking about Dallas or New York or Chicago or even San Francisco, a pattern has developed with gay neighborhoods. Gays and lesbians create an entertainment and/or residential enclave so they have a place to call their own. The gentrification draws hip straight people and money. Rents and real estate values increase. Crowded out, gays and lesbians migrate to another area, fix it up, then get displaced. Which leads to complaints from folks like Chris.
“Whineybags,” says Nancy Weinberger, a mainstay in the Perry Heights neighborhood and a member of the Oak Lawn Committee. “I understand not being thrilled about the additional traffic, but that’s progress, honey. And the developer has really tried to be sensitive to all the neighborhoods around. We can’t keep it like it’s 1950.”
The neighborhood grew up along the original streetcar line that ran down Cedar Springs, with the historic Melrose Hotel at the south end and Douglas Avenue toward the north. It’s been a haven for gays going back at least to the 1970s. Today, strolling down Cedar Springs on a weekday afternoon, it’s not hard to fathom why a developer would want to make Dallas’ oldest gay neighborhood even bigger. If not necessarily gayer.