DJCF, DJHS visit once-Jewish South Dallas
Photos: Submitted
At Fair Park, hearing from Brian Luallen, CEO of Fair Park First


Before there was Forest Lane in North Dallas, there was Forest Avenue in South Dallas. In the early part of the 20th century, South Dallas was home to a thriving Jewish community. Shearith Israel, Tiferet Israel and Temple Emanu-El were all located there. Many Jews attended Forest Avenue High School and attended events at the Forest Theater.

As the neighborhood changed — with the Julius Schepps Freeway being constructed — the Jewish community moved to North Dallas, taking the street name “Forest” with them. What had been Forest Avenue became Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Today, the Forest Theater, a hub of events when it opened in 1949, is a shell of its former self. However, changes are afoot for the theater and its surrounding area. On June 22, a group from the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation (DJCF) and the Dallas Jewish Historical Society (DJHS) got to learn about these plans when it toured the theater.

Several members of the group recalled seeing performances at the theater in its heyday and the whole group enjoyed learning about Forest Forward’s vision for the area. Forest Forward aims not only to restore the theater itself but to create new opportunities for education, housing and the arts in the area.

At the Forest Theater, listening to Forest Forward’s Elizabeth Wattley (right), president and CEO, and LaSheryl Walker (left), director of community engagement

The second stop on the DJCF/DJHS tour was Fair Park, where the group heard about another revitalization plan for South Dallas — this one led by the nonprofit Fair Park First. Plans for Fair Park envision renovated performance, education and event spaces with improved accessibility and functionality, as well as green spaces where the community can gather.

The tour offered insight into the once thriving, now reviving South Dallas area. It was also a testament to the work of the former DJHS executive director, Debra Polsky, z”l, who came up with the idea for this tour. The DJCF, along with Heather Stevens of Rise360 Consulting, was proud to be able to fulfill Debra’s vision.

The DJCF will host a related panel of speakers Oct. 4. The event will feature several experts on historical tax credits, a tool that both Forest Forward and Fair Park First are using to return up to 25% of their projects’ costs to the organizations. For more information about this panel or about how to plan your charitable giving to support organizations like DJHS, Forest Forward and Fair Park First, email Risa Gross at

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