Wynnewood Village: Too quick to change? - Oak Cliff: Talk of retail center's overhaul raises fears of losing 'real art'

Dallas Morning News, The (TX) - Friday, April 21, 2006
Author: FRANK TREJO, Staff Writer
Wynnewood Village shopping center opened nearly 60 years ago as the crown jewel of a master planned community aimed at attracting returning World War II veterans.

But the 80-acre gem has lost its sparkle, and Dallas City Council member Ed Oakley wants to redevelop it with hopes of attracting upscale shops and businesses to Oak Cliff that he says his constituents want. His efforts, though, are meeting firm resistance from some area residents who fear that it would forever change one of the city's most unique retail communities. They note that some structures in the center already have been lost, including a stylish professional office building being demolished.

"There is a real art to Wynnewood Village, and it would be a shame to lose that," said Oak Cliff resident David Klempin, whose background is in historic preservation. He is trying to get the center included in Preservation Dallas' endangered lists site. "It has the architecture and a concept of real merit, and that should be preserved."

Mr. Oakley said he is merely trying to give residents what they say they want - a West Village-type retail location. "The point of all this is to see if economic development staff can make the numbers work enough to convince a developer that it's worth investing the kind of money that's needed," Mr. Oakley said. He added that infrastructure problems - including drainage issues - also need to be addressed at Wynnewood Village.

"You can't make an omelet without breaking the eggs. People would have to make a choice about what they want," he said.

'Shopping in a garden'

Wynnewood Village, at the corner of South Zang Boulevard and West Illinois Avenue, started in 1948. It was built by developer Angus Wynne Jr., the man who later built Six Flags Over Texas and the Great Southwest Industrial District.

The open-air shopping center, with its series of small shops in separate buildings, also boasted beautiful landscaping, expansive parking lots and then-modern stores such as a Safeway supermarket and Montgomery Ward, Volk's and Titche's department stores.

"It was shopping in a garden; that's how it was advertised," Mr. Klempin said.

By the 1980s, however, maintenance of the elaborate landscaping began to suffer and into the 1990s, a couple of the buildings, including the old Montgomery Ward, were torn down. Many of the current businesses are aimed at lower-income consumers, including several "dollar" stores.

Connie Briggs, a resident of the Elmwood neighborhood, said she recently noticed that the professional building was being fenced off and appeared to be on the road to demolition. Then, she said, the front of the old Titche's building was being redone.

"There's nothing wrong with this shopping center, especially with the way it's laid out," Ms. Briggs said. It just needs good retail in there, and people will come. ... Destruction just for the sake of destruction is just not what we want to see."

Stacy Slater, a spokeswoman for New Plan, the New York-based company that owns the shopping center, said the Wynnewood Professional Building, built in 1950, is being demolished because it "was functionally obsolete and primarily vacant." She said the company is "continuing to invest in the center," and it will eventually "be a far superior facility for the community."

Disputed history

Mr. Oakley said he supports historic preservation but remains unconvinced that Wynnewood's series of "strip shopping centers" falls into that category.

And he rejected claims by critics that he had not consulted residents about his efforts, which he said have been known since he campaigned for office.

"I haven't talked about a plan right now, because there is no plan. We're just trying to get developers to first base," he said.

Among those who support Mr. Oakley's efforts is Joseph Hernandez, vice president of the Wynnewood North Neighborhood Association and vice chairman of the city's Landmark Commission.

Mr. Hernandez said he believes that the center's history is important to Dallas but that the actual buildings are not.

"The concept and environment that Wynnewood Village was built on can still be preserved and brought to the table," Mr. Hernandez said. "I don't think any developer would have an interest in completely demolishing everything that's there."

Barbara Barbee, president of the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League , said her organization has not taken a position on the matter. But she has concerns of her own.

"Dallas has a history of tearing down wonderful old buildings," she said. "I think that's what people are asking, that we just don't go in willy-nilly and tear down something that's meant a lot to lots of people."

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