By | January 11, 2019

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Mateo Perez — a native of Monterrey, Mexico — said he’s been living in Dallas for about eight years. He’s made an effort to learn more about his new home during his time living here, but he’s always wondered about the Little Mexico Village Apartments on the northern edge of downtown.

The apartment’s peach Spanish-style buildings that sit next to multi-million dollar high-rise condos catch his eye each time he drives through the neighborhood.

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“This seems to be out of place and out of time,” Perez said. “It has always caught my eyes. The colors are pretty loud and easy to spot.”

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The northern fringe of downtown Dallas where the apartments are located used to be a mostly Jewish neighborhood known as “Little Jerusalem” that later transformed into a vibrant Hispanic neighborhood.

Poor Jewish families who could not afford the pricier real estate in South Dallas, where other Jewish families lived, settled into what was called Frogtown in the late 1880s, The News reported in 2014. The area gained its named from its nearby the abundance of frogs in a nearby creek.

Housing in Dallas’ Little Mexico / Little Jerusalem area from the 1912 from the Dallas Municipal Archives. [Little Mexico in Dallas]

The neighborhood began to change in the 1920s when Mexican immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution and Hispanic crews from the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad mingled and settled there. Jewish and Mexican families lived side by side at first, but the neighborhood eventually was recognized by residents as “Little Mexico.”

Dancers at opening of Pike Park, 1978 / Chita Guerrero (center) and her daughters Veronica (left) and Rebecca.

Jim Crow laws kept many Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants from going to several areas in Dallas, so these Hispanic residents created their own thriving community with schools, grocery stores, a theater, barber shops and restaurants.

At its peak, the neighborhood extended from Oak Lawn Avenue to Ross Avenue.

The Uptown neighborhood economic boom eventually pushed out most of Little Mexico’s residents by the 1970s and 1980s.

Real estate "for-sale" signs are shown in the Little Mexico neighborhood of Dallas in 1981. The World Trade Center can be seen in the background.

Only few of Little Mexico’s historic venues remain. These include St. Ann’s Catholic School, which was converted into a restaurant; Cumberland Hill School, which is now a state landmark; Luna’s Tortilla Factory, which moved from its original location on McKinney Avenue to northwest Dallas; and Pike Park and the Little Mexico Village Apartments.

The apartments were built in 1942 to replace the neighborhood’s shacks. The 102-unit housing project is owned and operated by the Dallas Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing to low-income families in North Texas.

Little Mexico Village’s connection to Dallas’ Hispanic community had made it a landmark, but its proximity to upscale Uptown condos and the American Airlines Center has turned its land into a goldmine.

Little Mexico Village on Harry Hines Boulevard.

The DHA considered selling the housing project in 2006 but eventually dropped the controversial plan. The agency’s Board of Commissioners, president and chief executive were conflicted about the idea to demolish the project for private development, The News reported in 2006.

Housing advocates were also concerned that selling Little Mexico Village would mean the loss of safe, decent public housing in a part of Dallas without a high concentration of poverty.

At the time, the property was appraised at more than $40 million.

The DHA announced in 2018 that it was seeking redevelopment proposals for seven of its properties — including Little Mexico Village — and selected a dozen real estate companies in January to help them do this, The News reported.

The agency said it hoped to parlay the funds generated by its redevelopment plan to build more affordable housing.

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