In a city full of fascinating neighborhoods, the Dallas Design District has carved out an identity all its own. Eclectic yet upscale, the Design District is a key piece of Dallas’ cultural fabric comprised of its namesake interior design showrooms, art galleries, fine dining establishments and, most recently, luxurious apartments and a vibrant live-work-play community.
The area began as a warehouse district in the years following World War Two. A former floodplain, the existence of the Design District was made possible by the city’s construction of several levees and the diversion of the Trinity River away from downtown. When the federal government completed I-35, Trammell Crow, a well-known Dallas-based real estate developer, began construction on several warehouses and industrial buildings in the area and for many years, an industrial area is what the Design District remained.
In the mid 1980’s the area began its gradual metamorphosis as high-end design and furnishings businesses began moving into the area, converting the existing warehouse spaces into showrooms catering to the design trade.
For several decades the area remained relatively isolated from the rest of the city due to lack of easy access, and its collection of design showrooms (and the several art galleries located on Dragon Street,) were frequented almost exclusively by credentialed interior designers. Then, in the early 2000’s, when Trammell Crow added to his Design District portfolio, his team determined the time was right to develop a plan for the burgeoning area.
The Trammell Crow company went on to develop a master plan for the area and create a TIF to assist in defraying infrastructure costs as the plan, which called for residential, dining, retail, hotel and an improved streetscape, began to take shape.
Another important development occurred around the same time as Design District landowners and stakeholders, beginning to realize the area’s true potential thanks in no small part to its proximity to the new Victory Park development and a brand new OakLawn exit off of the Dallas North Tollway, lobbied to rezone the area for retail and residential.
In 2007, the Lionstone Group in partnership with PegasusAblon purchased a large portion of area from Trammell Crow, a good chunk of which sits at what has become the crossroads for the neighborhood, Oak Lawn Avenue and Hi Line Drive, and picked up where Crow left off.
In 2014, Dunhill Partners acquired a large portion of Dallas’ iconic Design District with more than 30 acres and roughly 700,000 square feet of buildings along Oak Lawn Avenue, Hi Line Drive and Stemmons Freeway.
The acquisition included the 7.5-acre Decorative Center complex at Oak Lawn and Hi Line, the 18-acre Dallas Design Center on Stemmons Freeway, as well as a dozen retail and showroom buildings along Oak Lawn Avenue and Hi Line.
What You’ll Find Today
If all of the new development has you wondering whether the neighborhood’s namesake industry has retained traction, one trip through the streets of the Design District will assuage your fear. Interior design and home furnishings are still king in the Design District. World-famous fabric houses, stone galleries and lifestyle designers all call the Design District home, allowing the area to boast of its status as the fourth largest consolidated portfolio of designer showroom space in the country.
Decorative Center Dallas was developed over 50 years ago and was the very first center for wholesale design in the country. Today the complex, which sits right at the corner of Oaklawn and Hi Line, is on the cutting edge of the design industry’s advances. In an age of declining showroom sales, the businesses in Dallas don’t seem to be touched by declining in-store sales, instead spearheading industry leading innovations including many formerly trade only businesses opening to the public, bridging the gap between trade and retail.
If you travel further into the neighborhood however, wholesale design trade businesses are still flourishing, many calling the Dallas Design Center home.
But the Design District has grown to become much more than the design industry, the area is now seeing its first apparel retailers who are selling everything from custom tailored men’s suits to women’s fashion.
Art galleries have been migrating to Dragon Street and the farthest corners of the Design District for nearly a decade, making the area the epicenter of the gallery scene in the city, and a place for art lovers to find everything from French Impressionism painting to contemporary installation art.
Slocum Street, sandwiched between Dragon to the west and Hi Line to the east, is internationally renowned for its antique shops which still define the street, but Slocum too has diversified in recent years away from predominantly French and classical antiques (although there are still plenty of those to choose from) to also include mid-century modern furniture and just steps away on Howell Street, some of the coolest vintage and thrift shops in the city.
As the Design District continues to expand to the west over the next few years, into the new and old Trinity Districts that abut the Trinity River, look for more residential and mixed-use development. Entertainment options have diversified with the recent addition of a bowling alley and plans for a large outdoor entertainment facility on Irving Boulevard. Long term plans originally called for a boutique hotel so who knows, in a few years the Design District could very well undergo another significant change but one thing is for sure, development doesn’t look to be slowing anytime soon.