As one of Dallas’ first commercial districts for African-Americans and European immigrants, Deep Ellum is one of the most historically and culturally significant neighborhoods in the city. Deep Ellum was established in 1873 as both a residential and commercial neighborhood. Originally called Deep Elm as much of the activity centered around Elm Street just east of downtown Dallas, the pronunciation “Deep Ellum” by residents gave rise to the district’s current name. Deep Ellum is home to a community of over 400 businesses that represent an ever eclectic range of commercial interests. The district boasts over 20 historically recognized buildings. In 1888, Robert S. Munger built his first cotton gin factory, the Continental Gin Company, in a series of brick warehouses along Elm Street and Trunk Avenue. The business grew to become the largest manufacturer of cotton-processing equipment in the United States. After several years serving as artist lofts, the Gin building has been converted to a mixed-use space for office, food and beverage, and retail use. The district’s businesses are comprised of independent businesses, mom-and-pop shops and start-ups as well as regionally and nationally recognized brands.
Deep Ellum’s main claim to fame has always been its music. By the 1920s, the neighborhood had become a hotbed for early jazz and blues musicians. Over the next several decades, it would host the likes of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Texas Bill Day, Blind Willie Johnson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Alex Moore and Bessie Smith, among others. During this time, nightclubs, cafes, theaters, and domino parlors dominated Deep Ellum’s landscape. Deep Ellum is now home to more than 30 live music venues, making it one of the biggest entertainment districts in the state and the heart of the music scene in Dallas. Following World War II, the growing presence of the automobile led to the removal of the Houston and Texas Central railroad tracks to make way for Central Expressway. By 1956, the streetcar line had been removed. Businesses closed, residents moved to the suburbs, and the music all but stopped. In 1969, a new elevation of Central Expressway truncated Deep Ellum, completely obliterating the 2400 block of Elm Street, viewed by many as the center of the neighborhood. By the 1970s, few original businesses remained.