NPR for North Texas

Old City Park's 22,000 antiques go on sale to the public this month in Dallas

The Blum House is one of the structures that's been being "restored" at Old City Park. It was moved from Plano to the park — then called Dallas Heritage Village — in 1982. But it's been closed since 2019.
Jerome Weeks

It's an epic estate sale, but not without controversy. The city's park department is taking over and won't be maintaining the site as a history museum.

An estate sale of the more than 22,000 antiques and artifacts in Old City Park will be held April 29th to May 4th. And it's open to the general public.

There's furniture, artwork, quilts, silverware, office equipment, carriages. There's practically an entire history of typewriters and dictaphones. There are Tiffany lampshades -- not the whole lamp, just the shades. There are items that were used, not as historic displays, but just for the employees working there — like an old pickup truck.

The sale's happening because the Dallas Park and Recreation Department will take over managing the park in May. The Dallas County Heritage Society has operated it since 1967, but it's currently in its last days in charge.

What's triggered the sale is that the city's park department says it isn't able to run an outdoor history museum.

So the Heritage Society has already found homes for the two donkeys, Waylon and Willie, who were stabled there. And it's been finding museums, libraries and other non-profits willing to accept many of the park's antiques — like the china and the wedding dress from a Jewish family going to the Dallas Jewish Historical Society.

The only options remaining

But now comes the big sell-off.

The official process of a museum donating and selling items is "deaccessioning." Handling it this way, Michael Meadows said, the Heritage Society is following professional protocol.

Meadows is interim CEO of the Dallas County Heritage Society. With Old City Park no longer being operated as a museum, "the only options that we have," he said, "are either to give the items away, throw them away or sell them."

Main Street in Old City Park on a recent Sunday afternoon. That's the red-brick Citizens' Bank on the corner
Jerome Weeks

So there seem to be no good options. The 20-acre park in the Cedars south of downtown has struggled for years — despite having some 30 buildings, the state's largest collection of pioneer and Victorian homes.

Over the past several decades, it's been re-thought, renamed ("Dallas Heritage Village") and had different master plans laid out to try to alter its decline. It's had to close several buildings for restoration. They've now been closed for years.

Seen in the simplest terms — as Old City Park's former curator, Evelyn Montgomery, put it — the idea of an outdoor history museum located in the Cedars but cut off from downtown by the I-30 Mixmaster "has just not worked."

There is a plan, just not money

"For at least 30 years, it's not worked," Montgomery said. "That's not what people wanted out here. And believe me, it's painful for me to see that is true."

Three other factors are forcing this sale now. The Heritage Society itself is becoming an all-volunteer fundraising organization, Meadows said. It will raise money for the Park but will not have any staff to operate it.

Meanwhile, the city park department has a new "interim operating plan" that includes finding another manager for the park. But that entire process may take up to three years — the plan sets a date of Spring 2026 for "a request for proposal" being issued "to identify a new management partner to operate the park."

Lastly, there was no money budgeted in Dallas' new bond package for the park's upkeep or restoration. This means, starting May 27th, Old City Park's future will be in a kind of limbo. Some buildings will remain open with volunteers. School tours and some other events will continue. The Dallas Park plan says security for the park and its remaining artifacts will be a priority. But a lot of the park's functions will now be re-assessed.

"I was appalled," said Terri Raith, "that there was nothing put in this big bond election for Old City Park. But to have this collection and just act like it's disposable is not surprising. We do not value our history here."

A former realtor, Raith is a preservationist. She was at a public meeting in February in Old City Park's Browder Spring Hall. It was attended by Dallas city council member Jesse Moreno along with staff from the park department.

The mostly empty interior of the Citizens' Bank in Old City Park
Jerome Weeks

The meeting was called to address concerns by residents in the Cedars. The fear was that the park would be sold and become part of Dallas' typical real estate churn, with developers transforming the area by building new apartment block after apartment block.

But the park is being landmarked, Montgomery said, so it's actually protected.

Then the sale of the artifacts was brought up at the meeting.

"That upset a lot of people," said Raith. "And believe me, if I had donated items to Old City Park and now it's going to be in a garage sale, I'd be furious."

Meadows said the Heritage Society has struggled with that issue.

"Many of the donors have passed away," he said. "And it's impossible for us to know who would be the appropriate family member to contact. We have had several people step forward and requested an item back. And in a couple of cases, we've reached out to them. But at the end of the day, when these items were donated to the Dallas County Heritage Society, they became the property of the Heritage Society."

Trying to preserve what's left

Montgomery, the park's former curator, was standing in the park warehouse with the more than 22,000 items that'll go on sale. She felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of artifacts facing her — and by her work with Old City Park coming to this.

"Believe me," she said, "every second of this is painful to me. So I decided I would just stop crying and do the thing that I could do to help preserve what I could."

Montgomery was helping to price the antiques.

The sale will be handled by the Dallas estate sale company, the Jewel Box. It'll be held in five buildings in Old City Park, including the warehouse, the pavilion and two storefronts on Main Street.

Montgomery suggests that anyone upset about the sale and what's happening to Old City Park can come and buy an item.

It will help support the park's immediate future.

The estate sale will be held April 29-May 4 in five buildings in Old City Park.

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks You can follow him on X (Twitter) @dazeandweex.

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Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.