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When Music Found a Home in East Dallas

During the summer of 2008, Annex House was alive with the sounds of local artists jamming and BYOB musical performances.
By Dick Sullivan |
The Annex House (left) and the O's performing (right). photography by Sara Kerens

The six members of the Laughingstocks moved into what would come to be known as Annex House in the summer of 2008. They turned the gray, ramshackle two-story house at 1207 Annex Avenue into a kind of Bohemian flophouse. They made patios out of roof overhangs and turned unfinished attic space into studies. A mural of a merman and legged fish was painted across the living room wall. The house became a sanctuary for a variety of transient characters, including two train-hoppers named Uncle Mom and Satan, who themselves invited four more hobo friends to stay.

The Laughingstocks disbanded after several shows, but the four members who still lived there remained musically involved—as did the house. Ray Weyandt, one of the residents, says the first musical event at the house occurred during a going-away party they threw for a friend. The gathering ended as a candlelit song circle that included many of the up-and-coming musicians in Dallas who are now beginning to record and tour. “It was beautiful,” Weyandt says. “It was gorgeous.”

Around the time of that first inspired jam session, Scott Hawthorne, a musical booster in Dallas and Denton, moved into the house. The Laughingstocks boys loved music, but Hawthorne had higher ambitions. He started actively booking and staging shows at Annex House. Within a month, the little place in East Dallas was regularly hosting musical performances.

Both local acts and touring bands performed at the house in its heyday. Musicians and fans alike, including me, were drawn to Annex House’s aesthetic: music for its own sake and BYOB. It existed as other house-show venues had and still do, without the blessing or support of advertisers, owners, or city officials. It was unfettered by cover charges, dour doormen, and wristbands—excepting one regrettable attempt. Show dates and times spread by word of mouth, aided by online networking, and the popularity of the venue grew as the social circle widened. (I discovered the place as most did, through a friend.) Annex House ran on populist principles. If you had found the house, you were welcome.

The fans piled in nearly every weekend, leaning over the banister, peering through windows behind the bands, peeking around the walls of adjacent rooms. Everyone strained for a view.

I have witnessed much hand-wringing over the state of the music scene in Dallas. A familiar, almost scripted cynicism prevails in these conversations—usually. I’ve run into a few people who evince cautious optimism. Annex House was the first time I saw fans and musicians unselfconsciously give themselves over to a performance without reservation. Which is not to say the shows were always bacchanal. The house hosted everything from gritty punk to desperate blues. It hosted beer-swilling country singers who stomped their boot heels, sending small ripples through the Shiner in my bottle. We would hammer our shoes in response. It was a religious devotion. But Annex House also hosted some beautiful songsmiths, and for them the audiences sat quietly and listened, watching them casually go about that mysterious alchemy of creating music. The jar was passed and cash was given, but these were spontaneous acts of appreciation. I think we were all conscious of what a privilege it was to be present.

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In the year or so that Annex House was up and running, only once did it get a noise complaint from neighbors—mostly just because of where the house sat. The across-the-street neighbors were merely curious about the shows. To the north, there was a vacant lot. And what of the Annex House’s southern neighbor? “Some hoarder,” Weyandt says, smiling. “We watched the hoarding like an episode of television.” The woman never said a peep about Annex House or its late-night shows.

Eventually, the place got so popular that the Dallas Observer used Annex House for a photo shoot for its 2009 Music Awards issue. The shoot was a sweat-drenched, beer-fueled affair that ended with an impromptu show in the dead of a Dallas summer. (The residents had turned off the air conditioning months prior, the draftiness of the house precluding any effective cooling.)

In July 2009, not long after the photo shoot, the music was abruptly silenced. The owners of the house were being foreclosed upon, and the leasing agent informed the five renters that their lease was being terminated as a result. Annex House treated it as a gift of free rent until the new owner, Ryan Lane, appeared in his Mercedes. It was a bizarre scene, a standoff between the buttoned-down businessman and five ragged Bohemians. Lane refused to shake Weyandt’s hand. “He just looked at it like he’d never seen anybody offer a handshake,” Weyandt says. He admits to being “a day’s worth of dirty” at the time, wearing a white tank top, his Wranglers rolled to his knees. “He looked at us like we were stupid,” says former resident Travis Daniels. “We might have been all forms of careless, but not stupid.” Lane handed them a homemade notice to vacate and left.

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The residents of Annex House took legal matters into their own hands. Daniels says, “Everybody went into home-school lawyer mode.” Weyandt says, “We spent all day, every day, at the library. We’d hike down there and be drenched in sweat.” What the Annex House boys found at the library was the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009, which had been passed into law by the Obama administration two months earlier. The law gives tenants 90 days from foreclosure to vacate. A judge sided with the residents, ruling against Lane. Outside the courtroom, the residents agreed to leave within the week, and Lane remitted the back rent, thus ending Annex House’s memorable one-year run.

Coincidentally, I moved to Annex Avenue six months after the dissolution of Annex House, a mere two blocks away. Walking by it recently, I noticed it is still waiting for a new tenant. A “For Sale” sign is planted out front, supporting a tube emptied of brochures. It will take someone special, or desperate, or both to buy it. Across the street is a junk-strewn, dusty yard enclosed by a 6-foot chain-link fence. On it, a sign warns passersby, not just of dog, but of “trained attack dog.” There were actually three of them, barking wildly at me. On Annex House—now just 1207 Annex Avenue—someone, likely a fan in mourning, has scrawled “Viva la Annex” across the glass of the front door. The bands that germinated in that space have gone on to play club shows, with many of their fans in tow. Other house shows do pop up now and again in the area. But most who were there for that one short year of love and music would admit the newer shows lack the excitement of those in that old, gray house.

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