The Last Word: Dezman Lehman on Seeing His Grandfather’s Soul Food Restaurant on a Deep Ellum Streetlight Banner

“It’s pretty dope.”

Dezman Lehman
Grandson of Vern, the owner of the long-gone Vern’s Place soul food restaurant in Deep Ellum
.…on seeing his grandfather’s long-gone soul food place on a Deep Ellum street light pole banner.

That was then. This is now. New streetlight pole banners are hitting the streets in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood, offering looks at the past and present of the historic area east of downtown.

The Deep Ellum Foundation is installing the banners on Elm Street, Main Street, and Exposition Avenue to celebrate the neighborhood through photographs from the Deep Ellum Archive—a partnership initiative between the foundation and the Dallas Public Library

[“Then” photos via Dallas Public Library; “Now” photos by Sam Bortnick]

Last year, Deep Ellum celebrated its 150th anniversary with a year-long series of events and and opening of the Deep Ellum Community Center, which is home to three historical exhibitions as well as the Deep Ellum Archive. 

To snap the “now” photos, three local photographers—Steven Reeves, Sam Bortnick, and Justin Terveen—captured current street scenes at the same spots as photos taken up to a century before. The “pretty dope” photo in today’s Last Word was taken by Reeves where Cold Beer Company and a bike rack now stand, displayed with the “before” photo of  Vern’s Place soul food restaurant from two decades before (below). 

“This is an honor, it really is,” Vern’s grandson Dezman Lehman said in a statement. “When we walked up and I was like, oh, my God. And to see that fresh one, you know. I like that. It’s pretty dope.”

That’s Vern’s Place on the left. Deep Ellum Then & Now photos are hitting the streets on streetlight poles across the historic Dallas neighborhood. [Photos: Steven Reeves except third from left via Dallas Public Library]

Lehman, an entertainer known as Dezi 5, contributed his own memorabilia and photos from Vern’s Place to the Deep Ellum Archive in 2023.

Deep Ellum talk scheduled for Saturday February 10

As a follow up to Deep Ellum’s 150th, the Dallas Public Library will host Deep Ellum Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Keller Hudiburg and Archive Administrator Cathryn Colcer, on Saturday, February 10 at 1:00 p.m. to talk about their efforts to collect the deep history of the neighborhood and archive it with the library, the foundation said.

“In this banner series, we wanted to pique the interest of those who have been coming here for years as well as first time visitors,” Keller Hudiburg said in a statement. “Deep Ellum stakeholders are fiercely proud of our history, and the Deep Ellum Archive continues to grow exponentially as more and more contribute their memorabilia, photos, documents and stories. We’re thrilled to partner with the Dallas Public Library to build this important archive and to share these rarely seen historical photographs of Deep Ellum in a way that everyone can enjoy whether on their way to work or visiting the neighborhood for the first time.” 

For more of who said what about all things North Texas, check out Every Last Word.

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