Arts & Entertainment

Foundation to mark Deep Ellum’s 150th birthday in 2023 with new community center and more

The yearlong jubilee includes a black-tie reception, music festival and parade.

The Deep Ellum Foundation will mark the district’s unofficial 150th anniversary next year with a series of celebratory events, including a black-tie reception, a music festival, a storytelling summit and the opening of the Deep Ellum Community Cultural Center.

The yearlong jubilee comes at a precarious time for Deep Ellum. Even as the neighborhood recovers from COVID-19 business closures, it faces other challenges — including crime, tear-downs and the construction of mid- and high-rise apartments that threaten to “erase an essential segment of Dallas’ Black history,” according to Preservation Dallas, which put the district on its 2020 “Most Endangered Historic Places” list.

Stephanie Keller Hudiburg, executive director of the nonprofit Deep Ellum Foundation, said she hopes the 150th anniversary events will convince everyone that Deep Ellum is a cultural treasure.

“It’s important for us not just to bring the community together, but also to tell everyone the rich history of the music, arts and entrepreneurship that have been born out of Deep Ellum,” Hudiburg said in an interview. “Deep Ellum is still one of those unique places where 150 people can come down and have 150 different experiences.”

Deep Ellum's unofficial 150th anniversary celebration kicks off Jan. 19 with a black-tie...
Deep Ellum's unofficial 150th anniversary celebration kicks off Jan. 19 with a black-tie reception at the historic Pittman Hotel, which was built in 1916.(2020 File Photo / Brandon Wade/Special Contributor)

The celebration kicks off Jan. 19 with a black-tie reception at the historic Pittman Hotel, which was built in 1916, more than 40 years after Deep Ellum was founded as a commercial district by African-Americans and European immigrants. The festivities will also include a parade in June, an indoor-outdoor music festival in October and a storytelling summit in December sponsored by Deep Vellum, the local publishing house and bookseller.

The yearlong series is a collaboration between the foundation and local residents and groups, including Deep Ellum 100, Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner, Mark Cuban, will serve as honorary chair.

Perhaps the most important event in the series will be the opening of the Deep Ellum Community Cultural Center at 2528 Elm St. The two-story brick building began life in 1892 as the City Hotel and Mechanics Hall Saloon.

The new center — a partnership between the foundation and the Deep Ellum Community Association — will feature rotating history exhibits curated by Dallas historian Alan Govenar and listening rooms where visitors can learn about modern Deep Ellum musicians, as well as early 20th-century blues legends like T-Bone Walker, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Leadbelly.

Desiree Vaniecia (left) watched as Joeneal Berry pulled masking tape off of a mural they...
Desiree Vaniecia (left) watched as Joeneal Berry pulled masking tape off of a mural they painted on plywood covering the windows of a friend's apartment on June 1, 2020, in Deep Ellum. The new Deep Ellum Community Cultural Center will include subsidized work spaces for local artists.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

Spurred by a $137,500 grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Cultural Center will also be home to the local mental health organization Foundation 45, the online station Deep Ellum Radio, and subsidized work spaces for local artists.

“We’re excited to finally have a community hub and a launchpad for the type of creative entrepreneurs and artists who’ve been part of Deep Ellum’s success throughout its history,” Hudiburg said.

An exact date has yet to be set, but when the Cultural Center does open, it will be directly across Elm Street from a 26-story luxury apartment tower — the type of mammoth new construction skeptics say is threatening the area’s character and sense of history. Since the city of Dallas doesn’t recognize Deep Ellum on its list of 21 historic Landmark Districts, property owners are free to tear down any building whenever they like.

Hudiburg said the foundation is hoping the National Register of Historic Places will recognize Deep Ellum as a historic district during the 150th jubilee. While that designation wouldn’t offer any protection from the wrecking ball, it would at the very least “reaffirm the importance of the district and the history of all the different voices and visions that have made Deep Ellum such a special neighborhood,” she said.

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