Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
3:58 pm
Thu March 1, 2012

Neighbors Work for La Bajada's Part in New Bridge's Promise

Dallas business leaders will showcase the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge this weekend. They say it will breathe new life into long-neglected areas of West Dallas.

One of the most spectacular views of Dallas’ new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge isn’t from an upscale apartment or office tower. It’s from the ground, in the humble neighborhood of La Bajada.

This community of small, modest homes backs up to a Trinity River levee. Like many here, 41-year old Elizabeth Castillo grew up in this poor but proud area. She raised her own children here, and now babysits her grandchildren here. In short, she loves where she lives.

"The view of downtown, I mean, the neighbors, you know they’re nice. It’s peaceful I mean…it’s just, I feel good here," she says.

Castillo is excited about the new bridge because she hopes it will mean new jobs, but she’s also concerned about developers who see her view of the bridge and want it for condominiums. Some of her neighbors have already had offers to sell.

"My husband is working hard for us to pay off this home and then people coming over and trying to take our home away, is…I don’t think it’s fair…because it takes years for someone to have something of their own just for someone else to just come say, ‘Hey I’ll buy your home for whatever,'" she says. "It’s hard, it’s very hard."

Castillo’s neighborhood is trying to gather enough signatures to petition the city for an NSO, or Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay. That would protect La Bajada from high-rise condos.

Randall White chairs the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce. He’s an economic ambassador for the area, driving potential investors around to personally point out good spots for new business.

He’s confident developers will integrate existing neighborhoods into their plans.

"We have a different spirit here. It is about bridging, no pun intended, cultures, classes, types of business together to create a new model," he says.

"We are past the point in Dallas where the scrape and burn approach to development and that kind of big box retail development that you can’t walk to or bike…we’re past that, can’t happen anymore."

White says developers won’t tear down Singleton Avenue storefronts like Cordova’s, a bright yellow taqueria, or Estrella’s - a small bakery painted blue and orange.

White points to The Workroom, a once-vacant industrial building which is now an upscale home decor shop filled with antiques, original art and a floral design studio. It’s the first new business along the street.

Owner Nick Troilo says he feels like a modern-day pioneer.

"I’ve already had people come in ask me about what they thought about opening stuff over here. And I give them the real truth,” Troilo says.

"You have to be brave. It’s a risk," he says. "I’ve gone a week with nobody walking in, but, you know, I think it’s gonna take a more couple years.”

Longtime business owners in La Bajada hope to see more customers sooner.

At Wimpy’s Hamburgers, owner Lupe Zarate wraps up an order of fries in brown paper. This small walkup hamburger stand has been part of West Dallas since the 1970s. The Zarates also own another nearby neighborhood restaurant – the Dog House. Lupe’s daughter and namesake, Lupe Guiterrez, says both places need new customers badly.

"The street is mainly a freeway, a lot of people use it mainly not to stop by or look around it’s mainly for traffic, so they won’t go through the freeways," she says. "That’s mainly what this street’s been used for right now. I’d love it to stay around."

Owners of Wimpy’s, the Dog House, and the other local business that dot Singleton are hopeful the bridge proves to be the shot in the arm planners envision. But new development can also bring higher property taxes, and longtime owners say that would force them leave. 

For more on the festivities this weekend celebrating the bridge's debut, visit bridgeorama.com.