Nestled within the southwestern portion of Dallas is the spirited, culturally diverse community of Oak Cliff. The landscape of this large suburban neighborhood is characterized by rolling hills and towering oak trees lining the bluffs overlooking the Trinity River—all the while offering spectacular views of the downtown Dallas skyline. Its location places it within minutes of downtown Dallas’ cultural, educational and recreational attractions and in close proximity to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
While some pioneering families settled in the area as early as 1837, the arrival of William H. Hord and his family on January 12, 1845, is generally considered the beginning of what would eventually become the city of Oak Cliff. By 1846, the aptly named settlement of Hord’s Ridge became a central farming community in the region. While downtown Dallas continued on its path of major growth and development in the 1860s and 1870s, Hord’s Ridge and its surrounding communities maintained their strong agricultural roots.
It didn’t take long for the farming settlement to peak the interest of two entrepreneurial developers, Thomas Marsalis and John S. Armstrong. In 1886, Marsalis and Armstrong created The Dallas Land and Loan Company—one of the state’s first giant land development companies—and in just one year purchased several hundred acres in and around Hord’s Ridge. As a way to better market the community, Marsalis changed the area’s name to Oak Cliff (due to its topography) and began advertising his development through newspaper ads. The Dallas Land and Loan Company conducted auctions for lots in November 1887, with sales totaling nearly $150,000.
By 1890, Oak Cliff had a population of 2,470 people and many small businesses. That same year Oak Cliff was incorporated as a city—but by 1903, the area experienced a financial downturn, leading voters to approve annexation to the burgeoning city of Dallas. While Oak Cliff and Dallas became one in the same, the Trinity River physically separated the entities, giving the Oak Cliff neighborhood an identity all its own.
Growing interest in Oak Cliff around 1910 resulted in the building of hundreds of moderately priced middle-income homes and the expansion of commercial activities. By 1921, the community was becoming a prime place for businesses of all kinds. The economic appeals encouraged the establishment of the Oak Cliff and Dallas Commercial Association—an organization that later became the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.
Oak Cliff’s economy struggled during the years of the Great Depression, but by the end of the war, it began attracting new families and further residential and commercial developments. This growth continued into the early 1960s, slowed a bit through the decade, and picked up once again in the 1970s. The new century commenced positively with the enhancement and expansion of the Bishop Arts District, development of new residential complexes, improvements and additions at Methodist Hospital, ongoing renovation of the historic Texas Theatre…the list goes on.
The strong presence of history in Oak Cliff remains today, from the original city of Oak Cliff on the north to the many smaller communities that became part of Oak Cliff over the years. The dynamic community of today, made up of a blend of Anglos, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians, continues to celebrate its great diversity year in and year out. The strong sense of community spirit is undeniable, with a population that is distinguished by its independent, hardworking and unwavering pride for the place they call home