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How Bastille on Bishop Outgrew Oak Cliff

The Francophile celebration comes downtown this year.
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The front yard is ample, shaded by two tall pecan trees, the house set back from the sidewalk farther than any other on this street in north Oak Cliff. Still, it’s a little tight for thousands.

It’s here that Pierrette Lacour, a native of Burgundy, France, and longtime Dallas resident, held the first iteration, in 2007, of what would become Bastille on Bishop, a celebration of the July 14 holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison and toppling of the French monarchy. 

In France, the firemen’s ball (bal des pompiers), held at fire stations on the eve or night of July 14, is a joyful, communal affair. Wine flows, confetti flutters, and there’s dancing in the streets. Lacour was paying homage to this tradition when she began hosting her come-one-come-all front-yard party. But when the numbers reached 150, the yard brimming, she approached Jason Roberts, the urban planning activist who had just launched his nonprofit Go Oak Cliff. What did he think of an Oak Cliff Bastille Day? He loved it. For Roberts, general Francophilia went hand in hand with admiration for a European urban planning model he longed to emulate: large sidewalks with cafes, pedestrian-friendly streets. “How do we bring those things to Dallas?” was a perennial question. “Not just the public-space amenities, but also the quality of life?” 

He got busy. Inspired in part by Brooklyn’s Bastille Day, they trucked in 10 tons of sand for a pétanque court. They shut down Bishop Avenue. Lacour thought they’d draw a crowd of 500; more than double that number came. Wine ran short. Lacour’s daughter, who owns the catering business Oak Cliff Crêperie, made crepes. It was a communal effort and a snapshot of a Bishop Arts district just forming. 

The party has outgrown itself again. Roberts estimates last year’s attendance at 5,000, with parked cars clogging streets. “We want to be good neighbors,” he says. This year, for the first time, festivities will extend over two days: a second evening in downtown’s Arts District coinciding with the museums’ monthly Late Night. On Flora Street, Bastille on Bishop will get to stretch its legs. Ultimately, Lacour and Roberts would love to forge greater connections between Dallas and its sister city Dijon, Burgundy’s capital. They want more, both of them charged with the energy of those who take to the streets.