Caven/PegasusAblon development will help the gayborhood thrive

Frank Caven opened his first gay bar in 1970, forever changing the Dallas landscape — and the Texas LGBTQ+ community — at a time when homosexuality was widely considered an abomination and the gay community even communing was illegal in Dallas. Frank Caven was a pioneer for equality and inclusion, and many businesses would eventually follow his lead including Round-Up Saloon, which opened in 1980, and in 1984 Hunky’s Hamburgers.

After many years — and many hard fought battles for equality and acceptance — the community solidified around the area on Cedar Springs Road where those bars were located. Frank’s bars acted as an anchor for the community and helped create a place for commerce to develop and thrive. The sense of community that continues to be felt in what is commonly referred to as the gayborhood is the guiding light that shows new generations not only our rich and tumultuous history and the shoulders that we stand on, but also our future and how great life can be as a LGBTQ+ person in today’s society.

I’m confident that there are a number of people that do not fully understand or recognize that this neighborhood is not just a home or a stomping ground but the very heart and soul of the Dallas LGBTQ+ community. It has for five decades served as both a safe space for our community to live, work and play and also as a haven for young folks who had nowhere else to go to feel accepted and appreciated.

I think back to the first drag show that I experienced in the Rose Room so many years ago. I remember watching the incredible Celeste Martinez dazzle the audience while on that historic stage. I can reflect now on how far I have personally grown simply because I had a safe space to grow in and the opportunity to really understand what community means — and how crucial it is for that safe space to thrive and prosper.
I want that same community to be here for generations to come.

Unfortunately, 2020 has taken a heavy toll on not just our community but also on the many businesses that line Cedar Springs, businesses that support hundreds of workers and their loved ones. Governmental mandates closing all bars have caused incredible financial constraints, becoming overwhelming to people in both their personal and professional lives. If it were not for the hard work and quick wit of a few managers, our community would still be locked down today.

Through it all, Caven Enterprises, the company that now owns and operates the bars that originated with Frank Caven, did what few other employers were willing to do: They continued to pay their employees and their employees’ benefits long after the lockdown started. They also created a weekly food bank to ensure that their workers could eat. No one could have expected that this economic shutdown would last this long or that the recovery would still be nowhere in sight.

In an effort to preserve our history and after thoughtful consideration, Caven Enterprises is partnering with PegasusAblon to develop the parking lots behind TMC, S4, JR.’s and Sue Ellens into a mixed-use property, complete with a pocket park, a ride-sharing pick-up and drop-off location, a coffee shop and restaurant retail locations, additional parking and much needed residential space in our booming neighborhood. As things stand now, these parking lots have little-to-no revenue stream, and, in the current real estate market, they create a vacuum in annual costs of maintenance and taxes.

The Ablon/Caven project provides a solution to that ever-growing problem and will create ample — and safer — parking so that patrons of the bars, restaurants, shops and storefronts along Cedar Springs can benefit from convenient, safe and nearby parking.

I have reviewed the plans and attended the meetings. I have done the research. I understand real estate and land use. And I believe this project is a win-win for our community, our neighborhood and the future of Cedar Springs, our gayborhood.

This infusion of capital into our community will be the saving grace of the gayborhood as we know it, and this project will help preserve it for future generations. If this project does not pass zoning, planning and permitting, the only remaining alternative is to sell to another developer that will plow over our neighborhood and end a 51-year legacy. That would be both tragic and devastating.

To preserve our history and ensure the gayborhood survives for future generations, change is necessary. And this is the change we need. What can you do to help save Oak Lawn? Reach out to your elected and appointed officials; let them know that you support this measure and that you want to save Your Community.

Keith W Hefner, a former award-winning photojournalist, is now a Realtor working to better the lives of Texans.