Little Mexico (El Barrio) was a primarily Mexican neighborhood located in Uptown, Dallas, north of downtown, and originally bordered by Oak Lawn Avenue to the north, McKinney Avenue to the south, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas railroad to the west, and Maple Avenue to the east. It originally began as a Jewish immigrant settlement in the late nineteenth century but became mostly Mexican following the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Because Jim Crow laws excluded Mexican immigrants and residents from most parts of Dallas, they formed their own community in Little Mexico. The barrio existed as a city of its own with schools, restaurants, apartments, theaters, churches, parks, and grocery stores. Some residents came to work for the railroad, while others worked at factories or on nearby farms. Many of the city’s first Mexican-owned and operated businesses opened in Little Mexico. In 1918 Miguel Martinez opened Martinez Café, which was later renamed El Fenix and was still in operation as a successful restaurant chain in the twenty-first century. In 1924 Maria Luna began her own business that evolved into Luna’s Tortilla Factory. Little Mexico’s population in 1920 was estimated to be from 8,000 to 10,000.
Despite having better work opportunities in the United States, Mexican residents faced discrimination which prevented them from achieving equal economic success as their Anglo counterparts. The neighborhood was densely congested, and many of the homes in Little Mexico had no yards and little privacy. Railroad workers lived in boxcars along the tracks, and some homes were shacks made of scrap wood and tar.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church was built in 1925 and played a major role in community activities. St. Ann’s Parochial School was constructed in 1927. Pike Park also served as a major gathering place, where residents celebrated fiestas patrias such as Diez y Seis de Septiembre and Cinco de Mayo. Residents fought discrimination regarding use of the swimming pool at Pike Park, but in 1931 joint use of the pool was finally established by the city of Dallas after citizens appealed to the local Mexican consul.
Students attended public school at Cumberland Hill School and William B. Travis Elementary—schools originally constructed in the 1890s with the goal of assimilating Mexican children into American culture—located in the center of the neighborhood. After Travis Elementary burned in a fire in 1955, students were transferred to Cumberland Hill. Students experienced overcrowding, the school lacked basic facilities like gyms and cafeterias, and conditions were generally unsafe for young students. Parents pled with the city to fix the problems, and Travis Elementary was rebuilt in 1958. St. Anne’s Commercial High School for Girls opened in 1947. The school curriculum emphasized the teaching of business skills to increase economic opportunities and jobs for women. The school closed in 1965.
Little Mexico thrived into the 1960s, but construction of the Dallas North Tollway began in 1966 and by 1968 divided Little Mexico in half, marking a shift toward increased commercial development and less protection for the barrio’s Mexican residents. Despite protests, homeowners were forced out by developers and were paid an average of $10,000 to sell their property.
During the 1970s and 1980s rezoning laws raised the cost of living and pushed out much of the Mexican community. St. Ann’s Parochial School closed in 1974. By the late twentieth century and early 2000s few original buildings remained in Little Mexico due to gentrification, increased development, and rising housing prices. Little Mexico Village Apartments, built in 1942 and owned by the Dallas Housing Authority, for example, still stood amidst skyscrapers and upscale condos. Cumberland Hill School received a Texas Historical Marker in 1971, and Pike Park was so honored in 1981. Several sites have been granted Dallas landmark status—Cumberland Hill School in 1988, St. Ann’s School in 1999, Pike Park in 2000, and the Luna Tortilla Factory in 2001—in an effort to preserve Little Mexico’s history.