From abandoned church to a game-changer in the Dallas theater world
Lola and Todd Lott wanted to give something back to the Dallas arts world.
Lola Lott owns the post-production video-editing studio Charlie Uniform Tango, and Todd Lott restores old houses. The Lotts found themselves in the position to invest in a “legacy project,” Todd Lott says.
The Lakewood couple, who have two grown daughters, bought the 1929 Winnetka Congregational Church in Oak Cliff for $330,000 in 2015. But turning it into the arts center of their dreams has been a struggle.
After nearly two years of zoning battles, painstaking restoration and turmoil with the city, they’re making it happen. Arts Mission Oak Cliff launched earlier this year.
It’s a for-profit arts space, currently funded entirely by the Lotts, that will offer workshop and rehearsal space for theater companies as well as studios and art classes. They’ll host summer camps, and in the fall, they’ll begin offering a conservatory for students at nearby Greiner Middle School. They hope to add a number of one-off after-school classes and events as well.
At the helm is Anastasia Muñoz, an actor, director and teacher with years of experience on the Dallas stage.
The building, beautiful and dramatic as it is, gives the city’s theater community one major thing that’s lacking: Space.
It offers theater companies the opportunity to workshop plays at low cost, with a unique venue where donors can see their new work. It opens the door for experimentation, Muñoz says.
“There’s such limited space available,” she says. “They really have to play it safe all the time. Now we have a place to play again and dive into the unknown.”
Muñoz says she expects Shakespeare Dallas, the Dallas Children’s Theater, Kitchen Dog and many others to take advantage of the space.
Along with theater and performance-art work, Arts Mission Oak Cliff hosts workshops, classes and studio space for technical theater, costuming and set design. They’re finishing out a commercial kitchen where cooking classes could be offered for adults and children. There’s a yoga and dance studio behind the sanctuary. The Richards Group donated a small sound booth. Artists and actors can do their own work and teach classes to earn some cash.
There’s nothing else like it in Dallas, Muñoz says.
The Lotts painstakingly renovated the church to qualify for historic tax credits from the state. One example of their dedication: They hired a craftsman to rebuild many of the church’s dozens of windows onsite.
Besides all new plumbing, electrical and air conditioning, they also had to figure out how to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Architect Alicia Quintans designed a space for a lift in a former electrical closet for that purpose.
The Lotts are spending around $600,000 to get the building up and running. At every turn, there are obstacles. It’s a project that would’ve been impossible to undertake as a moneymaking venture or with grants from nonprofits, Munoz says.
“Todd and Lola are patron saints,” Muñoz says. “They’re independent investors who stayed the course. They’re truly rooted and invested in this.”
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