by Steven Monacelli

A new art and community space in Oak Cliff is not yet open for business, but that didn’t stop the proprietors from offering a sneak peak at what is to come. On Saturday, July 9, the Oak Cliff Assembly opened the doors of the former Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church to anyone willing to sign a safety waiver for an art show featuring 41 local artists.

The art was displayed beautifully in the space. Broken down church pews recycled and repurposed by local artists were hung from ceiling and wall mounts in the sanctuary church service was once held, imbuing each piece of art with a portion of the building’s history.

The new owners are seeking to restore and give life to the defunct church building that needs a lot of work but has a lot of history. Somewhat resembling a lighthouse due to its cone shaped rock entrance topped with a glass belfry, the charming building sits atop a hill on Morrell Avenue, just east of the Dallas Zoo. It was first built in 1942 by the Oak Cliff Assembly of God. In 1967, the building was acquired by Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, making it the site of one of the first Black congregations in Oak Cliff.

The site of the former Zion Hill Missionary Baptist, now the location of the Oak Cliff Assembly. Photo via City of Dallas Landmark Website.

Zion Hill occupied the space for several decades, and drew prominent politicians like Governor Ann Richards and Dallas County John Wiley Price, first Black Dallas County Commissioner, as guest speakers.

The building was purchased in March by a partnership that includes husband-and-wife team A.J. and Michaella Ramler, who specialize in renovating historic homes in the area.

The space is still an active construction site, hence the waivers. The ceiling rafters are exposed, the walls unfinished, and in general there’s much left to renovate. But the structure itself still features a number of beautiful features, including stained glass windows and a terraced balcony overlooking the sanctuary stage.

Holding an art event was a part of their plan to draw attention to the space, which they plan to rent to a variety of creatively inclined tenants as the renovations come to a close. Exactly what that will look like is still in the works, but in the meantime, the owners are open to ideas. If you’ve got a possible idea for how to use the space and are serious about leasing, check out their website:

Steven Monacelli is an independent investigative journalist based in Dallas. He has been contributing to Dallas Weekly since 2021. He is also the publisher of Protean Magazine, a nonprofit literary publication.