Friends of John Ashley Bellamy say the artist who founded Moon Mansion on Haskell Avenue has died.
Bellamy died Dec. 8 from complications with Alzheimer’s. News of his death spread by word of mouth through the community of artists who lived with him in the renovated church.
“I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Brad Houser, the bassist for Edie Brickell & New Bohemians who lived at Moon Mansion. “He was universally liked and loved by everybody. Integrity was very important to him. He radiated it. He would have been a good king 500 years ago. He would have been Good King Bellamy.”
Bellamy created the de facto artist commune in the 1970s after studying art in Europe. When he returned to Dallas, he bought a Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1905, and rented out studios and living spaces to artists.
Brandon Aly, the drummer for Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, was having trouble finding a place to live when he saw an ad in the Dallas Morning News for a room for rent in an artist community. Aly started out in an apartment across the street from Moon Mansion, but moved into the church’s bell tower when that became available.
“Being a creative, it was a nurturing place for me,” Aly said. “I could just be myself. Ashley’s artwork was such a pleasure to be around all day. To get to the bell tower, I had to walk through the main sanctuary painted with clouds, past a painted rainbow and up a flight of stairs. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I could see Dallas in every direction.”
On special occasions, Aly would ring the bell. During hard times when he couldn’t pay rent, Bellamy would let him work off the shortage in the community garden.
“It was an amazing place and an amazing time,” Aly said. “I made a little piece of artwork for Ashley. He pinned it up in the kitchen, and even years after I moved out, it was still there. That’s the way he was. There were things memorialized there. So many wonderful people passed through there, and Ashley was the one who held it all together.”
For years, the renovated church at 2200 N. Haskell Ave. was surrounded by residential single-family homes but faced encroachment from developers building commercial and multifamily units in Cityplace.
“It was a really cool place to be because it was counterintuitive to what was going on in Dallas,” said Jeff Liles, artistic director at The Kessler Theater who lived at Moon Mansion in the ’80s. “Dallas was a yuppie city blowing up business wise, and Ashley wanted to create a safe place for artists and creatives. He was great to talk to if you needed a creative breakthrough.”
The deed for Moon Mansion was transferred to a trust July 28. The Advocate previously reported that Bellamy hoped to protect the 0.38-acre plot by applying for a historic overlay designation, which would ensure the building never faces a wrecking ball.
“He went through battles trying to make sure that place didn’t get knocked down,” Aly said. “Developers would jackhammer the street at 4 a.m. just to make life uncomfortable for us. It was intimidation tactics to get Ashley to break, and he didn’t.”