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Photo by MADISON SIMMONS
Hemphill Street begins north of I-20 and ends just south of downtown at I-30. 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

Hemphill Street runs north to south through Fort Worth, weaving through neighborhoods on its journey between I-30 and I-20. I-35 roars along a few blocks to the east. To the west lies McCart Avenue and, beyond that, TCU country.

Mostly Hispanic businesses and neighborhoods line the street, and loose zoning has resulted in whimsical juxtapositions. Just south of Magnolia Avenue, small family restaurant Paul’s Donuts, Subs, and Gyros neighbors Cassata Catholic High School’s grand stone building. Across the street, you can find an auto body shop next to a mystic doing business out of a bungalow.

A mixed-use development is under construction in what used to be a parking lot next to Paul’s Donuts, Subs, and Gyros on Hemphill Street, one of several similar projects in the area. 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

The diversity, history, and proximity to already-gentrified, quickly growing areas have made Hemphill a hotspot for development. Residents and business owners, many who have been in the area for decades, know change has arrived.

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“I’ve been in this part of this town for a long time,” said Virginia Murillo as she cut hair late Friday morning.

Virginia Murillo cuts regular Frank Colchado. She has been his barber since he was a teenager. Murillo has worked on Hemphill Street since she was 16. She said she has not seen major changes on her end of the street (farther south) other than increased traffic.
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

Murillo owns Straight Edge by Virginia, a barbershop south of East Berry Street on Hemphill. She has owned Straight Edge for 13 years. The Fort Worth native started her career at a shop on Hemphill as a teenager.

“It hasn’t changed much in this part,” she said, referring to the south end of the street, “but it’s in the works. As long as it’s better for the area, it’s not a bad thing.”

Rent for her shop space has gone up, she said, but she does not blame the property owners. Property taxes have increased as the Hemphill real estate market heats up.

Rudy Avitia cuts Venancio Coronado’s hair on a Friday afternoon. Avitia has owned The Barber on Hemphill Street for six years and owned a shop on West Magnolia Avenue for a decade before that.
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS
Born and raised in the neighborhoods along Hemphill, Rudy Avitia is invested in the future of the community. He and brother Ricardo Avitia founded the grassroots organization Hemphill No Se Vende to advocate for and protect the interests of the existing community in the face of new development. 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

Rudy Avitia knows a lot about increased demand for real estate. Avitia ran The Barber for 10 years on West Magnolia Avenue. Just after he had decided to buy the property from his landlord, a new business concept beat him to it. Avitia packed his bags and moved around the corner to Hemphill Street.

He and his brother Ricardo Avitia grew up along Hemphill and still live in the neighborhood. They say they formed the grassroots group Hemphill No Se Vende to raise awareness of changes in the neighborhood and to protect the interests of the community.

A mural of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata graces the side of a building on Hemphill Street. Artist Juan Velázquez collaborated with the grassroots organization Hemphill No Se Vende (Hemphill Not for Sale) to make the mural. Members of the group want to preserve the culture of Hemphill Street, particularly the predominantly Hispanic influence, from development. 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

“It won’t all change right away,” Avitia said while cutting hair Friday afternoon, “but it will change eventually. There will be more density, more traffic,” gesturing out the north window of his shop.

In October, city council approved Tobias Place, a 292-unit apartment complex that will occupy a 10-acre strip at the southeast corner of Hemphill and Biddison streets. Most of the units will be designated “affordable housing,” but Avitia has concerns about the density the project will bring to the already congested area.

Our Lady of Victory Catholic School reigns over a stretch of Hemphill Street. The sprawling 15-acre campus is surrounded by modest one-story homes. The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur shut down the school last year. Though there are no plans for the lot right now, neighbors have concerns over how the neighborhood could change if a large development takes the place of Our Lady.
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

Similar fears exist for the lot one block north. The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur closed Our Lady of Victory Catholic School last year. It is expected the order will sell the sprawling lot. Avitia said he does not think the existing, predominantly Hispanic community has much of a say in the development of their own community.

Ernesto’s Taqueria has held its spot at 4050 Hemphill St. for more than 15 years. Jacinto Gonzalez said Ernesto’s is a family business, adding, “All around here, everything is a family business.” He said Ernesto’s has spent the past two years surviving the pandemic. 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

Down the street at Ernesto’s Taqueria, manager Jacinto Gonzalez took a break from plating up carne asada and al pastor burritos to talk about changes in the neighborhood. Gonzalez, also born and raised in the area, said the biggest change has been congestion.

“Since they did the bicycle thing, traffic is hard,” Gonzalez said, “but you don’t see anyone on bicycles around here. I don’t know why they did that.”

In 2020, the City of Fort Worth converted the four-lane road into two lanes. The extra room went to widened sidewalks and bicycles. The consensus from business owners was this: People still drive too fast and recklessly, traffic is worse, and no one appears to be using the bike lanes with any regularity.

Hemphill Restaurant fits right in on the diverse, eclectic street. “We’re a Middle Eastern-owned restaurant that serves Tex-Mex — that’s diverse,” said owner Mohammad Khan. “It’s just acclimation and seeing how you can make it work.”
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS
Hemphill Restaurant, a mainstay of the street, has been in owner Mohammad Khan’s family for 40 years. “As a restaurant, as a place the community meets up and talks … you know, you see all kinds of faces of the world at a restaurant,” Khan said. “You have to take care of the people who built the city. You have to start slow. People are thinking it’s just going to happen at once, but Rome wasn’t taken over in a day.” 
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

But sometimes changes just take time. Mohammad Khan, owner of area staple Hemphill Restaurant, talked to me in between seating customers, making small talk with regulars, and running iced teas and plates heaped with chicken-fried steak to the tables of his small cafe. Khan’s family has owned the restaurant for 40 years and has seen some of the changes firsthand.

Hemphill Restaurant
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

“You know, change is scary, especially in an old neighborhood,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going on, how is this happening, why is this happening?’ It’s scary, but it’s cool. You see old and new. It’s a really fun combination. I love it.”

Khan said that as a business owner, he does not feel he has much say in the city’s plans for the street.

“Look, when you have an agenda, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’re going to do what they’re going to do, but I love seeing small businesses like myself thriving… You keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing.”

Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

 

Virginia Murillo, working on regular Alex Zamora, said she is not against change as long as it betters the community. “We have a tight community,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s a tight community. You don’t get that anywhere, you know? I’m very grateful, so hopefully that won’t change.”
Photo by MADISON SIMMONS

2 COMMENTS

  1. My family has been living off Hemphill for 50 years. We actually like the lane reduction. It has slowed down all the crazy drivers that kept hitting people.

    We should have passed the zoning to protect Hemphill though. There is a lot of neglected, dilapidated buildings that I won’t miss. If only new development would take the culture of the area in mind with their new buildings. Both architecturally and in what they bring in. Wouldn’t the zoning have protected that?

  2. You know two years ago 2019-2020, the local Hemphill St. neighborhood associations were ready to put in restrictive zoning to protect the neighborhoods, the cool older structures, and limit the height of buildings along Hemphill St. The zoning would have given veto and building modification power to the local community through the neighborhood associations. A good way to help preserve the local culture and family businesses on the street.

    The really sad thing is outside individuals and Hemphill No Se Vende created so much misinformation and hype that they brought more unwanted attention to Hemphill St. from outside investors saying, “Look! Next place to build.” When they pushed to reject the protective, neighborhood-centric zoning, they opened the floodgates to outside investors. Now, a half dozen projects are done or in the works along Hemphill St. and the neighborhoods have no project approval.

    That is just sad that by blocking the previous neighborhood zoning they actually helped speed up development and gentrification in our community.

    We still need more protection for our homes and local family businesses.

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