In the heart of North Oak Cliff, the Bishop Arts District is a unique mix of the old made new again, and the new taking on the feel of a nostalgic small town.
It’s a community filled with renovated buildings serving as homes to a new generation—a place where entrepreneurs operate restaurants, shops, and specialty stores. There are more than 60 independently owned ventures including theaters, a record shop, antique stores, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, a wedding venue, and art galleries, to name a few.
The home of Dallas’ busiest trolley stop in the 1930s, Bishop Arts is returning to the vibrant nature it had in bygone times.
It’s a transformation that has been led by visionary developers and community advocates — people like David Spence of Good Space.
In 1995, Spence brought his company Good Space to Bishop Arts, and he has helped lead the neighborhood’s resurgence with thoughtful development that pays homage to the community’s history, independence, and potential.
“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” Spence says.
Spence, a Waco native, married his wife, Cindy, right out of college, and they made their way to Dallas after serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Guatemala and a return stateside to the University of North Carolina.
There, Cindy studied public health, and Spence pursued his Master’s of business administration and a law degree.
“We had notions of getting a master’s and going back overseas in development,” Spence says.
“Cindy and I then decided, ‘let’s save the world stateside,’ and I got a job in Durham, North Carolina at a place called the Center for Community Self Help [now called Self-Help], which was a very innovative nonprofit.”
There, he was mentored by community development strategist Martin Eakes, who later won a MacArthur Genius Award.
“I was using all of my MBA tools for the Lord’s work, and I thought, ‘cool,’” Spence says.
Eakes urged him to combine his MBA with his law degree.
Spence then worked for an affordable housing nonprofit in Raleigh, North Carolina, but in his last year of graduate school, he became homesick for Texas and asked Cindy if they could move back to the Lone Star State.
“She grew up in Houston, and, of course, she said ‘anyplace but Dallas,’” Spence says.
But the only job offer was in Dallas at the Southern Dallas Development Corp. Spence assured the nonprofit’s management that the couple would live in southern Dallas — and that’s when he discovered Oak Cliff.
That job didn’t work out, Spence says. Neither did another nonprofit job.
Spence decided he needed to be his own boss, and he put together a business plan that would have made Good Space a nonprofit.
He talked with the late Bennett Miller, the first person to develop in The Cedars and a pioneer in Dallas loft living.
Miller advised him to make Good Space a for-profit firm that would bring new life to distressed buildings, telling Spence, “If you think these buildings are worth saving, then put your own money in it.”
About that time, Spence says his grandmother died.
“My share of the proceeds from the family farm was $85,000,” Spence says.
It was the stake he needed to found Good Space.
Following Miller’s advice — a for-profit company based on a nonprofit model — has served Spence well.
“In that respect, Good Space has been a success,” Spence said.
First, he restored three 1920s-era apartment buildings, and in 2000, Spence opened his first commercial space at the Bishop Arts Building at 408 W. Eighth St., the largest renovation yet in the neighborhood and the home of the Good Space offices.
Besides his offices, the building includes apartments upstairs, as well as Lucia restaurant and Dude Sweet Chocolate on the ground floor.
“I kind of like retail, office, and apartment all in one building,” Spence said.
Next, Good Space turned its attention to industrial and automotive buildings on West Davis Street, the onetime brick-paved section of an early 20th-century transcontinental highway — U.S. 80, which connected downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth as part of a 2,900-mile roadway commissioned in 1926 that once stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
In 2003, Route 80 Studios and the Bishop Arts Co-op opened as flexible office space for newcomer design firms, as well as affordable studio space for artists.
Good Space rehabilitated a 1926 residential hotel in 2004, to serve as Bishop Gate Apartments, and in 2006 and 2007, Spence bought Settles Garage and Kemp Garage from their longtime owners. Now, those re-envisioned venues are home to Bolsa’s restaurant, grocery, and catering operations.
Spence’s latest project in Bishop Arts is The Cliff House, a restored historic church that was built by its members in 1936 at 610 N. Tyler St. The venue is available for weddings, receptions, performances, and other types of events.
He kept much of the church’s original look and honored its legacy.
To Spence, Bishop Arts isn’t just a place, and his properties aren’t just buildings.
“Bishop Arts is a state of mind,” Spence says. “It’s been a lesson in how things evolve.”