The Dallas Morning News

 

Closing time for Crossroads,

center for gay activism

Crossroads plans to shut its doors, turning a page

on a group traditionally isolated

 

By DAVID FLICK, dallasnews.com on the Web, December 1, 2007

 

If, as expected, Crossroads Market closes in the next few weeks, Phil Johnson has to remind himself that the cause of its death is something its founders always wanted.

"We are being integrated, and that's a good thing," said Mr. Johnson, a local gay historian and one of the original owners of the bookstore, once the epicenter of gay activism in Dallas.

"That is what we were working for so long.  On the other hand, it's a sign that gay identity is fading away."

Richard Longstaff, the current owner of the 27-year-old Oak Lawn institution, said he will shutter the business when his lease expires Dec. 31.  He has posted "Going Out of Business" signs in the windows.

The building's owners, he said, are raising the rent beyond what he can afford.  A representative of Eagle Equity Management, which represents those owners, declined to comment.

But the bookstore has also fallen victim to a national trend in which gays and lesbians feel less need to shop or live in a neighborhood they can call their own.

Don Sheets, the owner of a cafe inside the store, said he has proposed expanding the cafe to include a sandwich shop that would carry on the Crossroads name.  But he said he has had no response from the management company and considers the store's continued existence a long shot.

"At this point, it's a possibility, but it's not much of a possibility," he said.

Opened as a junk store on Dec. 5, 1980, Crossroads Market initially functioned as much as a community center as a business enterprise.

Its founders included a who's-who of early Dallas gay leaders including William Waybourn, Craig Spaulding, Terry Tebedo, Bill Nelson and Mr. Johnson.

"It became a safe place where people could go and discuss issues.  We had an area in the back for political meetings," said Mr. Waybourn, who later became owner of the Washington Blade, the nation's premier gay newspaper.

It was in the back room that Mr. Nelson decided to run for Dallas City Council, the first viable openly gay candidate to do so, Mr. Waybourn said.  After the AIDS epidemic struck, the AIDS Resource Center was born in the Crossroads Market, as was the AIDS Food Bank.

A place to mingle

When Jake Jacobs was president of the Turtle Creek Chorale in the 1980s, he used the bookstore to conduct business.

"I came in here to use Bill and Terry's computer.  A lot of people did.  This was before many people had a computer," he said.  "The store was casual, not particularly well organized.  It was a place to go on a Saturday afternoon and meet people."

Besides the computer, the store had a copier that cranked out political pamphlets.

"The idea was to charge people two cents a copy.  It was the community copier and it was a great idea, but nobody ever paid their bills," Mr. Waybourn recalled.

The start of the gay political movement is generally traced to 1969, when a raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village sparked several days of protests.  But the movement was slow coming to Dallas.

After two tentative starts in the early 1970s, Dallas' annual gay parades didn't permanently get under way until 1980, just months before Crossroads Market opened.

With its cheap apartments and proximity to Lee Park, Oak Lawn had been a counterculture magnet in the late 1960s.  The tolerant attitude of the hippies, in turn, attracted gays and lesbians over the following decade.

By 1980, Oak Lawn was Dallas' gay neighborhood.  Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Road, where Crossroads Market is located, became its center.

The Cedar Springs strip was filled with gay-themed bars, restaurants, clothing stores and gift shops.  Its wide sidewalks bustled.

"The bars would close early in the morning, and the bookstore would open a few hours later, so Cedar Springs used to be busy 24 hours a day," Mr. Johnson remembered.

Despite the ravages of the AIDS epidemic and a six-alarm fire that swept the strip in 1989, the area flourished.  Meanwhile, the status of gays and lesbians in the city improved.

After Mr. Nelson was defeated in 1985 and 1987, Craig McDaniel became the first openly gay person elected to the Dallas City Council in 1993.

The Turtle Creek Chorale became one of the city's highest-profile cultural institutions during that period.  The Cathedral of Hope grew to be the largest gay and lesbian congregation in the world.  In time, Mr. McDaniel was joined by other openly gay council members, including Ed Oakley, who ran for Dallas mayor.

Other gays and lesbians have been elected to office, including Dallas County Judge Jim Foster and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

Less separation

But social and political acceptance helped end Oak Lawn's status as the city's signature gay neighborhood, a trend that has affected such enclaves across the country.

Greenwich Village long ago lost its image as a predominantly gay neighborhood, a phenomenon repeated in San Francisco's Castro District, along Chicago's North Halsted Street and around Washington's DuPont Circle.

A report released last month by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, documented the declining importance of the older gay enclaves.

The greatest growth in the number of same-sex couples over the past two decades, it found, were in parts of the Midwest, Mountain and Southwestern states that were long considered socially conservative - among them, Fort Worth.

Oak Lawn has been affected by the Uptown boom, with many of its inexpensive apartments replaced by upscale condominiums.  Young mainstream professionals - less concerned than previous generations about the stigma of living in a gay neighborhood have moved in.

Meanwhile, many of Oak Lawn's longtime gay and lesbian residents have left, sometimes priced out of the market, and sometimes leaving voluntarily for suburbs they no longer consider hostile.

The intersection of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs still functions as the symbolic center of the local gay community.  This year's parade attracted thousands of people there, as did the annual Halloween block party, where drag queens now share the pavement with suburban couples pushing strollers.

Signs of change

The Cedar Springs bars remain popular, but daytime foot traffic is down, and several retail stores along the street have closed.  The Dallas Voice, now thick with mainstream ads, still serves as the community newspaper, but its editorial offices have moved uptown to a building near Cole Park.

This week, the Cedar Springs Merchants Association instituted a new monthly event called First Wednesday, which will feature street bands, store discounts and free refreshments.  The events are designed to raise sagging midweek sales, which association president Scott Whittall believes are a result of an influx of new residents to Oak Lawn.

"With all this new development, I see the area changing rapidly, more rapidly than I thought," said Mr. Whittall, co-owner of the Buli restaurant.  "I'm gay and my partner is gay, but my customers are not."

He said the merchants association is seeking ways of drawing more straight people to the strip, in addition to the longtime gay clientele.

Cheryl Daniel, 41, said she has continued to patronize Crossroads Market out of loyalty.  But she moved from Oak Lawn to Farmers Branch, in part because it is a shorter commute.

The comfort of living among other gays and lesbians is no longer so important, she said.

"Our neighbors are wonderful," she said.

Mr. Jacobs has moved to the Knox-Henderson area in search of more reasonably priced housing, he said.  He returns to Crossroads Market, if only to buy a cup of coffee and work at his laptop.

Where once the store was one of the few places he could buy gay books or cards, mainstream bookstores now compete for his business.

"To be honest," he added.  "I buy whatever I want wherever I can get it, and a lot of that includes the Internet."

Mr. Johnson hasn't been to Crossroads Market in several weeks, he said.  He now lives in Plano, in part to escape the thickening traffic in central Dallas.

"There are a lot of gay people here in Plano.  You'd be surprised," he said.  "But we're not cohesive.  We don't need to be."

 

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