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Dallas' Pike Park Turns 100 - Celebrating Little Mexico's Past And Future

The park that was once a centerpiece of Dallas' Little Mexico turns 100 this year. Although it hardly resembles the cultural gathering place it once was, Pike Park hasn’t been forgotten. 

Today the neighborhood around Pike Park is called Uptown. Albert Gonzales, who lived here in the '50s, still calls it “El Barrio,” or Little Mexico.

“Little Mexico to me was my town," Gonzales said. "All our friends were here. As a boy, all my enemies were here, too."

Thousands of Mexicans moved to Dallas in the early 20th century. New homes and Mexican markets sprang up in what used to be the Polish-Jewish neighborhood. By 1920, El Barrio grew to more than 10,000 people. Even though Mexican kids had few places to play besides the dirt streets, they were allowed into what was then called Summit Park – but only at specific times.

Whenever they were let in, music rang out.

Families would gather to hear Mexican singers who settled in Dallas, like Belen Ortega.

Eventually, in 1931, the city established rules for the joint use of Pike Park for whites and Mexican Americans. That was when the Fiestas Patrias – celebrations of Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence Day – really took off.

Nellie Tafalla lived in the Little Mexico housing projects with her eight siblings for more than a decade. Every afternoon, Pike Park became her backyard, a place for her to play baseball and softball, even to swim.

“We had everything here available for my community here," Tafalla said. "I loved it here.”

Tafalla said she hardly recognizes the four-acre space today. The main basketball court and swimming pool are gone, and the rec center is boarded up. Also missing: the skyline.

“Over there, on the side of the park now is big, old housing being built up. This used to be a place to just sit and look at the city of Dallas. We were the city of Dallas.”

Credit Lauren Silverman / KERA News
Nellie Tafalla and Albert Gonzalez grew up next door to Pike Park, in "El Barrio." The park was where they played sports and hung out with friends.

On Saturday, city officials and the Dallas Mexican American Historical League will celebrate Pike Park’s centennial with a dedication of $400,000 in renovations. They’ve already fixed up the gazebo, which means they can turn their attention to the mission style building behind the plaza. It’s one of only three buildings with a Mexican-American history to be declared a Dallas Historical Landmark.

“There’s no reason why it couldn’t be revived just to serve as a small little rec center," Tafalla said. "I mean, the green space in Dallas is needed. We’re growing so fast and we’re covering up the past so fast and we’re not preserving these little green spots.”

Tafalla and Gonzales want to be able to show off the park.

“Because this park belongs not just to the history of the Mexican people and the Jewish," Gonzales said. "But all the city of Dallas.”

Saturday's dedication, Gonzales said, is a step in the right direction.

More: Watch the KERA TV documentary, Little Mexico: El Barrio

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.