Revisiting Dallas History: Deep Ellum Before the Highways

As part of our office’s Second Nature Initiative, we’re refocusing on our neighborhood of Deep Ellum to discover potential future opportunities to preserve the neighborhood’s unique character and provide a toolbox of potential opportunities for future development in the area. As part of that study, I was challenged with investigating the historical context of the area, tasked with responding to questions on the neighborhood’s original street layout, the role that Deep Ellum (or Deep Elm as it was originally called) played in the overall context of the city, and looking at dramatic changes to the built fabric of the place that have occurred throughout its history.

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Historical Maps are Cool: Did Our Office Used to Be a Veterinary Hospital?

1918: Expo Park, a little slice of Old East Dallas.

Recently at Studio Outside, we’ve been interested in discovering more about the history of our neighborhood, Exposition Park in Dallas. Expo Park, as the locals call it, is comprised of a small wedge between Fair Park and Deep Ellum. A neighborhood dominated by early-1900’s-era brick industrial buildings and tree-lined avenues, Expo Park is architecturally interesting yet receives little fanfare in relation to its big brother, Deep Ellum.

I’ve been interested in maps for as long as I can remember, specifically historical maps. Seeing “what was there” and imagining your city, neighborhood, or home in an entirely different era is an exercise I really enjoy, especially when it comes to unearthing and wandering through old (and sometimes cryptic) maps. 

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are especially useful and interesting for urban historical exploration. Sanborn Maps, created at various intervals from around 1885 through the mid 1900's, are hand-drawn color representations of streets, alleyways, buildings, and major topographical or ecological features in dense urban areas throughout the United States. Luckily, Sanborns are available for Exposition Park for the years of 1899, 1905, 1922, and 1950, giving a few points of reference ranging from the neighborhood's origins to the booming businesses of Fair Park's heyday. 

Below are those maps, all rendered at the same relative scale. A red dot points out the current location of Studio Outside's office. (click to enlarge the image)

Current aerial of the office and surrounding area, Fair Park far right, Interstate 30 far left. 

1899, Detail

By 1905 the creek (Haskell Branch) has been buried in locations where it crosses the street as the area continues to develop.

By 1922, the neighborhood is almost fully developed, with a Cinema, Veterinary Hospital, and multiple manufacturers populating the area.

1922 Detail. Notice how close our office is the the old Veterinary Hospital! However, the current office building has not yet been constructed. 

By 1950, the current form of the neighborhood is beginning to take shape (see the original aerial view). 

The Studio Outside office building has been constructed, and is in use as a bottling factory. The Cinema has been converted into a hotel (far right), and a post office has been constructed. 

We'll be posting more about Exposition Park as our investigation into the history of this unique area continues!

All maps are via The University of Texas - Sanborn Collection. Use of Sanborn Maps City of Dallas: 1899, 1905, 1922 and 1922-1950 reprinted / used with permission from The Sanborn Library, LLC.