For years, the old red brick building’s tenants doused blazes. Now, they fan the flames of creativity. The 5501 Columbia Art Center, formerly Fire Station No. 16, has a unique history, to say the least. It last functioned as a fire station in the early 1970s. Prior to neighborhood resident and artist Kaleta Doolin’s purchase of the building, located one block south of Beacon off Columbia, six years ago, it was home to the Redeemers Fellowship Church.

In what had become a community eyesore, Doolin and husband Alan Govenar saw the makings of a mecca of community culture. Over the past six years, Doolin and Govenar have made this vision a reality.

“We are the art museum of East Dallas,” Govenar says. “We want to provide something that can reach a vast scope of people in the area.”

“What we present has the potential to have a local, national and international audience.”

Throughout the year, the center hosts a variety of artistic exhibits, community meetings and other programs.

In addition to the old fire station, which recently was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Doolin also bought a property across St. Augustine street that was on the brink of condemnation by the City. A haven for crime and drugs, the home on the property was scraped, and in its place is an extension of the Columbia Art Center, a barn-shaped structure housing the Texas African-American Photography Archive.

Funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Meadows Foundation, the archive is home to a growing collection of historic African-American photography.

“It’s one of the only archives in the country devoted exclusively to African-American photography,” Govenar says.

Doolin and Govenar believe the energy from the renovation they have done to the fire station and the neighboring property has ignited a sense of pride among area residents.

“It (the center) is sort of an anchor,” Doolin says. “It encourages growth around it.”

The East Dallas community needs to recognize the intangible value of having the center and archive in the neighborhood, Govenar says.

“East Dallas has a cultural center that is bringing something to the community without really taking anything away,” says Govenar.

“The sheer presence of this facility has increased the value of this area.”

“It should be celebrated and supported for what it is.”

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