Arlington Hall at Oak Lawn Park

Community advocate and Take Back Oak Lawn co-founder John Anderson this week sent emails to every member of the Dallas City Council and to every member of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board, encouraging them not to change the name of Oak Lawn Park to Turtle Creek Park.

We are publishing Anderson’s letter — this one addressed to Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Pro-tem Adam Medrano — here, with his permission.

Dear Deputy Mayor Pro-Tem Adam Medrano,

On Thursday [April 4] at the Park and Recreation Board meeting there will be a discussion and vote regarding changing the name of Oak Lawn Park to Turtle Creek Park. I am a resident, property owner, and voter within the City of Dallas and an advocate and community organizer for the Oak Lawn / Cedar Springs area. I am opposed to the name change and support preserving the original name Oak Lawn Park.

Below, I have outlined some of the reasoning behind my opposition and I hope that you will read this and form a similar opinion.

Problems with the proposed name change to Turtle Creek Park by Turtle Creek Conservancy with respect to Park and Recreation Board policy:

Historic Value

    • The name Turtle Creek’s coinage has been attributed a man named James Jackson Beeman. James Jackson Beeman was notorious for his contributions to the eradication of the original indigenous peoples who inhabited the Turtle Creek area. In his obituary published Feb. 5, 1889 by the Dallas Daily Times Herald, he was lauded for his bravery in the fight against “Indian infestations.” To many, this may seem like a long-lost and too-far-gone item, but to Turtle Creek Conservancy this man is very much at the forefront of their reasoning for renaming the creek due to Historic Value – going so far as to name him by name. They also reference the original indigenous populations in their application as if the name attributed to James J. Beeman would give them some sort of respectful nod, when in fact their misinterpretation of history would actually result in a very unthoughtful disrespect for the thousands of indigenous people who were lost to a genocide perpetuated by Beeman and the other founders of the area as well as their families and descendants.

Geographic Clarity

    • In their application, they indicate that Turtle Creek Park would provide more geographical clarity for the park than the name Oak Lawn Park due to their misconception that Oak Lawn is not a community, but a road. Within the City of Dallas, there is a long-standing Special Purpose District established by PD 193 called the Oak Lawn Special Purpose District. The area in which the park lies is within that Special Purpose District. In fact, the entire area is called Oak Lawn by the community. The name Oak Lawn is being reinforced by gateway signage which will be installed later this year by the 2012 Complete Streets bond package, which was developed by members of the Oak Lawn community. This signage will not lie just on Oak Lawn Avenue just as the Oak Lawn community is not just Oak Lawn Avenue. The only Geographic Clarity that their argument provides is that they misunderstand that the Oak Lawn area and community is more than just a road, it is historic, it is constantly being eroded, and its members are not being considered in this name change.

Monetary Gift

    • Turtle Creek Conservancy’s contract outlines the requirements for its monetary contributions. Those contributions are adequate for maintenance of the park, but they do not constitute the 50% of the value of the park and the assets on the park which is stipulated in the Park and Recreation Board policy for the renaming of a park due to financial contributions. The value of 14.1 contiguous acres of land along a creek within the City of Dallas would be very significant and the contribution thus far (which is contractual and not necessarily philanthropy) has not reached that level.

Duplicate Names

    • The Park and Recreation Board policy for renaming parks explicitly states that, “The Board will not consider names which duplicate the identical name of another Park, Trail (or portion thereof), or Recreation Center.” Within the City of Dallas, there are two entities which already bear the name Turtle Creek – Turtle Creek Trail and Turtle Creek Parkway Park.

Problems with Turtle Creek Conservancy:

    • Turtle Creek Conservancy bills itself online as being created by 5 different local organizations. I know that one of those organizations — Dallas Tavern Guild — has never been consulted on any change to the park name. In fact, they did not attempt to get any buy-in from any local Oak Lawn organizations.
    • Turtle Creek Conservancy reluctantly complied with the removal of the General Lee statue after trying to stop the removal and having members on-site yelling at people, but they continue to quietly preserve multiple other lesser-known Confederate monuments on-site. Turtle Creek Conservancy’s exclusive purpose is to maintain and enhance the park. They should voluntarily and openly remove any and all references to Confederate items in the park, especially those whose purpose was to commemorate Confederate people or events. It has been demonstrated that it is the will of the community and the city that Confederate monuments be removed and it is against City Policy to have the monuments there per the resolution passed by Dallas City Council.
    • Turtle Creek Conservancy is out-of-touch with the community and there is a great deal of community distrust and even animosity toward the organization. Throughout the process of getting their signatures, there were many reports of representatives of Turtle Creek Conservancy using anti-LGBT language at HOA meetings and these reports were reported to media contacts as well as vocalized at the LGBT Task Force meeting at City Hall by concerned community members. There are community members that have mentioned that Turtle Creek Conservancy representatives have expressed that their demographic does not want to donate to a park that is called “Oak Lawn” (presumably due to the LGBT attachment to the name). Can you imagine all their previous donors who were proud to donate to “Robert E. Lee Park” continuing to donate to “Oak Lawn Park”?
    • The Turtle Creek Conservancy has ulterior motives that have not been very well communicated. One of the reasons they want to re-name the park is not for the community but for property values. They are a part of a master plan to take the park out of the community and incorporate it into the larger development of the Turtle Creek Corridor to the East. This is why they have changed their name to Turtle Creek Conservancy ahead of the name change. They plan to manage the entire Turtle Creek Corridor park system. The community has not been properly informed about how this master plan would affect them.

Problems with the Usage and Management of Arlington Hall:

    • Arlington Hall is a building on the park’s grounds which is an exact replica of the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s home of 30 years called Arlington House. Arlington House was the venue in which Robert E. Lee was married to his wife Mary Anna Custis Lee. Today, Arlington Hall is not only a replica of the house but also emulates its history as a wedding venue. For the exorbitant price of $50,000 for 200 guests, people today can get married at a replica of the same house Robert E. Lee was married in. The median income of community members living in Oak Lawn is around $58,000 annually.
    • If you look at a map of the Arlington House site in Washington, D.C., one of the most prominent features of the building are the areas reserved for slaves. Arlington House is a beautiful building, but it is tainted by its history. Ask yourself, “What does ‘Arlington House’ stand for and symbolize?” Now ask yourself, “Why does the City of Dallas own and maintain a replica of Arlington House in a city park?”

What the Name Oak Lawn Means:

    • From Wikipedia: Oak Lawn is the epicenter of Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex’s gay and lesbian culture. Cedar Springs Road, between Oak Lawn Avenue and Wycliff Avenue, has numerous businesses, retail establishments, restaurants and night clubs catering to the LGBT community. The area has some of Dallas’ most renowned gay bars and nightclubs, including Station 4 (formerly The Village Station), The Brick(now closed), Woody’s (formerly Moby Dick’s), J.R.’s, Sue Ellen’s (opened in the Throckmorton Mining Company’s old location), The Mining Company (opened in the former location of Sue Ellen’s), Havana, The Round-Up Saloon, Drama Room (formerly Mickey’s and BJ’s — now closed), Alexandre’s (formerly After Dark), Illusions (now closed), Pekers (formerly The Side 2 Bar and Phases), Zippers, BJ’s NXS (formerly Crews Inn), Pub Pegasus, The Hidden Door, The Tin Room, Cross Bar (now closed), Marty’s Live, Cedar Spring Tap House, Dallas Eagle, and others, most of which are located along, or close to, Cedar Springs Road. Oak Lawn is contiguous with the Dallas Design District and less than two miles away from Downtown Dallas. The area also hosts some of the larger city festivals including the annual Halloween street festival, Dallas’ Gay Pride parade, and Easter in the Park at Oak Lawn Park (formerly Robert E. Lee Park). In 2014, Dallas’s Oak Lawn was voted the number one gayborhood by Out Traveler. There is a large concentration of Hispanic-owned businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, nightclubs, and retail establishments on the Maple Avenue corridor between the Inwood Road and the North Dallas Tollway.
    • Notice that a lot of the bars in the Wikipedia article say, “now closed.” Gentrification, the encroachment of Turtle Creek, Design District, So-Hip, Medical District, Uptown and other areas constantly and slowly eats away at the area if not by name but by increasing property values that threaten the safe spaces for the LGBT community through increased rent or demolition for high density development. Preventing “Gay Erasure” is one of the biggest reasons the community wants and needs to preserve the name Oak Lawn. This should also be a priority for the City.
    • Oak Lawn is full of culture, diversity and life. The name Oak Lawn means Gayborhood, Home, Safety, Diversity, My First Bar, My First Kiss, Holding Hands for the First Time in Public, Art, Escape, Community, Acceptance.

I know this was long but thank you so much for your time. Please do what you can to keep outside forces from taking the Oak Lawn Park name away from the Oak Lawn community. Please let me know if you have any questions.

John Anderson
Executive Vice President