Artists, architects, utopian doers — and not a starchitect building in sight
by CHARISSA N. TERRANOVA | photographs by NAN COULTER
Much about the Cedars is a secret hidden in plain sight. While this swath of urbanism just south of the city was once a long and wide rectangular residential neighborhood, today it is a mixed-use trapezoid, hemmed in by downtown and lopped off by Interstate 30. An outgrowth of City Park — today’s history-themed Dallas Heritage Village abutting the highway — it was named for its cedar trees and, by the 1890s, was the tonier side of the tracks. Though a denizen of the Cedars in its less posh times, Dallas native Aaron Spelling of Charlie’s Angels producer fame was its most pivotal inhabitant — until now.
“We are essentially sharing our lifestyle with others,” artist Eli Walker says, “kind of like a lower-class Rachofsky House.” Walker rents, along with artist Kelly Kroener, the space for their art gallery, Homeland Security, which doubles as their home, at 1715 Gould St. in the heart of what remains of the residential stock of the Cedars. Graduates of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Walker and Kroener recently moved into the small, wood-frame shotgun house with a will to push the Dallas art scene in new, edgier directions, while also striking an economically feasible lifestyle. Like their compatriots in S.C.A.B., an artists’ collective (see “Socialized Medicine,” page 74, this issue), they migrated to Dallas for its vibrant contemporary art scene and its affordability.
Though artists have been trickling into the neighborhood for more than 30 years, today the Cedars is host to an emergent critical mass of creativity. Homeland Security is flanked by RE gallery + studio — Wanda Dye’s effervescent live/work/show art space in an almost identical wood-frame shotgun house she rents at 1717 Gould — and Shipley Architects, Dan Shipley’s architecture practice inside a provocatively stark, corrugated-metal box at 1709 Gould. By and large it is a combination of utopian vision and pragmatism that brings creatives to the Cedars. Says Shipley: “I chose the Cedars because I wanted to be near downtown — and the Cedars is all that was affordable.”
Owner of the two shotgun houses, and two Quonset huts around the corner on Gano Street, Mark Martinek is the instrumental force in the affordable live/work/show spaces. Trained in architecture and economics at the University of Texas at Austin, Martinek is a utopian doer: His visions come to life. His company, M.O.D. Construction Services, will soon have its headquarters in one of the two Gano Street Quonsets, which will also host a collection of raw studio spaces and live/work residences for artists.
Martinek thinks of building broadly, like the German Bauhauslers once did, as it includes architecture, the environs and greater social cosmos. A local leader in the trend of urban farming, Martinek brings live chickens to his renters in the Cedars, encouraging them to use the eggs and the droppings — and sawdust and woodchips from their coops — as part of an ecological cycle. “I will implement an organic living system,”
he says of his plan for the Quonsets, “in which we will harvest rainwater, compost waste, keep poultry, build soil, garden, harvest and share the yield.” The lithe, 180-degree steel arches of the modular huts and the systems of organic harvesting strike a unique totality of design-based sustainable living.
Another utopian doer, Shane Pennington, is both artist and impresario whose live/work compound is at 1410 Sullivan Drive, within walking distance of Martinek’s. Like the other actors in the current incarnation of the Cedars, Pennington has many talents and irons in the fire. Painter, sculptor and new-media artist, Pennington is also an urban pioneer, having rehabbed his space over the last 15 years and, quite uniquely, spearheaded Aurora, the giant, public moving-image, light and sound exhibition in downtown Dallas, 2010 to present. (This year’s Aurora is scheduled for Oct. 18.) For Pennington, the much-tried soul of the Cedars is also its core energy. The neighborhood for him “is a historic, diverse and edgy melting pot of creative individuals and businesses.”
It is a history that lives in the neighborhood’s remaining built fabric.
“I believe,” Pennington says, “the Cedars is our city’s soulful jewel and is worth preserving.”
CHARISSA N. TERRANOVA is assistant professor of aesthetic studies at UT Dallas and a freelance writer and curator. Her book, Automotive Prosthetic: The Car and Technological Mediation in Conceptual Art, is forthcoming this fall fom the University of Texas Press. She is writing a book of flash fiction on the tripartite theme of “urbanism, technology and the body.”