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Uptowns Pike Park Little Jerusalem to Little Mexico 100 Years of Settlement

Uptowns Pike Park Little Jerusalem to Little Mexico 100 Years of Settlement

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Published by: Editor on Jun 17, 2014
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Uptown’s Pike Park: Little Jerusalem to Little Mexico, 100 years of Settlement 
 
June 16, 2014 (Dallas, Texas) The Dallas Mexican American Historical League and the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, in collaboration with the Latino Cultural Center, are proud to announce an important joint multi-media exhibit centered on life around Pike Park.
The exhibit will be on display at the Latino Cultural Center located at 2600 Live Oak from September 12 through October 18, 2014. A press preview will be held on Friday, September 12 and a grand opening reception for the public will be held on Thursday evening, September 18, 2014. Sol Villasana, author of the book,
Dallas’s Little Mexico
, will be one of the guest speakers in the Jesse Tafalla Lecture Series that will accompany the exhibit. The full schedule of speakers and dates will be announced. The exhibit will trace the roots of Jewish and Mexican immigrants, honoring community life in an area of Dallas most recently known as
Little Mexico
.
Many don’t realize that the area surrounding Pike Park was initially settled in the late 1800’s by poor Eastern European Jewish immigrants and was alternately referred to as
Little Jerusalem, Goose Valley
or
Frogtown
. With a solid sense of commitment to one another and strong family ties, the Jewish settlers became established. The area flourished with entrepreneurial businesses, schools, and synagogues and the park was the heart of the Jewish community. From 1910-1930 the Mexican community in Dallas grew rapidly due to displacement during the Mexican Revolution and job opportunities stimulated by the railroads and the
city’s industrialization. During the same period the rising middle class Jewish community
began moving out of old North Dallas to South Dallas, and
Little Jerusalem
began its transition to
Little Mexico
. Albert Valtierra, president of the Dallas Mexican American Historical League said, "The early Mexican settlers, then referred to as
colonists
, followed a similar settlement pattern in developing the area. Neighborhoods, businesses, schools and churches thrived." Pike Park, originally named Summit Play Park, was developed in 1914. Located on Turney Avenue (now Harry Hines), the 4 ½ acres was purchased for $18,085. Though it was in a congested area of the old Second Ward at the time, it was considered a state-of-the-art park. Debra Polsky, executive director for the Dallas Jewish Historical Society and exhibit co-chair, said, "This city project was the first in Dallas to look at the recreational needs of an established neighborhood and design a park to meet those needs
as plan architect George Kessler intended." The magnificent field house which cost $25,000 contained shower baths, reading rooms, an assembly hall, and every convenience for all ages. Outdoor amenities included a wading pool, tennis courts, outdoor playground equipment and baseball fields. In 1927, the park was renamed Pike Park in honor of Edgar L. Pike, a former and longtime serving member of the Dallas City Park Board who contributed to the broader development of the Dallas park system. According to DMAHL co-founder and exhibit co-chair, Albert Gonzalez, "In the early twentieth century, Pike Park provided recreation for Mexican American families, offering
 
baseball, swimming, tennis, boxing teams, arts and crafts, dances, concerts, holiday celebrations, reading, movies and free baths." DMAHL board vice president and exhibit coordinator, Juanita H. Nanez added, "When construction of the Dallas North Tollway began in the late
1960’s, the neighborhood
slowly vanished before our eyes, and unfortunately, so did most of the park." Very little
of the neighborhood’s past remains, such as the four historical cemeteries, including the
original Calvary Catholic and Temple Emanu-El cemeteries that served the Mexican and Jewish communities respectfully, and the now abandoned Pike Park Recreation Center. Janis Bergman-Carton, SMU Associate Professor of Art History, who is assisting with research for the exhibition, has found that Pike Park was one of only a handful of
all year
playgrounds in Dallas. In the early twentieth century it was recognized as one of the premiere play parks in the U.S. Today many consider Pike Park to be part of Uptown but, in fact, it occupies land just outside of the Uptown Public Improvement District (UPID). Once a vibrant social, cultural and recreational space that served the historical communities of Little Jerusalem and Little Mexico, Pike Park now sits silently much of the year, cut off from the UPID, and accessible only via the downtown exit to the Dallas North Tollway. Surrounded by the American Airlines Center, high-rise condos, and upscale businesses, Pike Park today is an underutilized neighborhood resource. This joint exhibit organized by
The Dallas Mexican American Historical League
and the
Dallas Jewish Historical Society
reminds us of the Pike Park that received national recognition as an early twentieth-century model of American neighborhood play park design. It also reminds us of the Pike Park that formed the subject of a 1974 video about innovative Dallas urban design projects that blended citizen involvement with a responsive local government. This exhibition offers a first step toward the revitalization of Pike Park as a living reminder of an important chapter in Dallas history.
The Dallas Jewish Historical Society was established in 1971 with the mission of "preserving the  precious past as a living legacy for our community." The nonprofit is the only organization that actively collects, preserves, and records the history of the Greater Dallas Jewish Community for research purposes. The state-of-the-art archive includes photos, documents, personal and business records, as well as over 500 Oral History interviews with members of the past and  present Dallas Jewish community. Educational events include the annual Andres Family Lecture Series. The Dallas Jewish Historical Society is a partner agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. The Dallas Mexican American Historical League is a not-for-profit organization founded in 2008 by members of early Dallas Mexican American settlement families: Jesse (d. 2012) and Nellie Tafalla and Albert and Frances Gonzalez. DMAHL is the only historical organization collecting

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