After a fruitless search in a scorching hot Dallas commercial real estate market, Ben DuBose had just about given up buying a property in which to relocate his plaintiffs personal injury law practice last year when he spotted a shuttered office building on North Central Expressway.
The empty, white, one-story 1954-era brick building wasn’t listed for sale. But the faded sign above the entrance read “Adelfa B. Callejo”—a name that any native Dallas lawyer instantly recognizes.
“I asked my agent, ‘Hey, look at that building.’ I knew she had passed away,” DuBose said. “I remembered her as a kid, and I knew she was a historic figure in Dallas.”
Callejo in 1961 was the first Hispanic woman to graduate from Southern Methodist University Law School and became the first Hispanic woman to practice law in the city. When no law firm would offer her a job, Callejo proudly started her own firm with her husband, Bill, in the nondescript building in the early 1970s.
While Callejo practiced criminal law, personal injury, immigration and family law, she became best known in Dallas as a tireless advocate for Hispanic rights. And that building was the center of her activities.
Callejo led protests over the fatal police shooting of a Mexican-American boy in 1973, pushed for Dallas City Council redistricting in the 1980s and helped strategize a successful attack on suburban housing policies banning illegal immigrants in 2006.
She also was extremely active in Democratic politics and was often courted by state and national leaders seeking the Hispanic vote. Texas Govs. Ann Richards and Mark White walked the halls of the 6,000-square-foot building, Dallas Mayors Annette Strauss and Tom Leppert courted favor with Callejo there, and Ross Perot Sr. stopped by the law office during his campaign for the presidency in 1996.
“That building at one time was the headquarters of any Hispanic activity in the 1980s and 1990s. She gave office space to groups that did voter registration drives and gang prevention. They were there for a long time,” said Domingo Garcia, a Dallas plaintiffs attorney and former city councilman and state representative who was one of many Hispanic politicians who considered Callejo a mentor.
The building continued to be the center of Callejo’s professional and political life until brain cancer claimed her life in January 2014 at age 90. Her husband, Bill, died months later at age 88.
The couple, who never had children, amassed a collection of real estate holdings—including the law office—that was worth millions. So DuBose’s agent eventually contacted J.D. Gonzales, who was in charge of liquidating the couple’s estate to gauge whether he’d be willing to sell the building.
While Gonzales is a commercial real estate agent, he had emotional connection to the building. He was treated by Callejo like the son she never had. And Gonzales wasn’t quite sure he wanted to let go of such an important piece of his aunt’s legacy to just anybody—but he was willing to talk.
“I think it was a late afternoon when he brought Ben over. When I found out he was an attorney, it was a plus. And when I found out it was a plaintiffs attorney, it was an even bigger plus,” Gonzales said.
“We talked about it. And Ben said, ‘You know I would like to name the building in honor of your aunt.’” Gonzales said. “And for me, that closed the deal.”
DuBose bought the building, completely gutted the interior, replaced flooring, reconfiguring a few walls and created a stunning courtyard near the office’s large conference room that replaces the former view of an off ramp to one of Dallas’ busiest freeways.
But more important to Callejo’s legacy, DuBose permanently affixed her name to the building. Visitors to the Adelfa B. Callejo Building are now greeted by a plaque near the office’s south entrance that lists both her accomplishments and the long list of important people who held court with her in the office.
DuBose reopened the building this year and held an open house in April to show off his work to Callejo’s many admirers.
“This was more than just a real estate transaction,” said Marcos Ronquillo, a former law partner of Callejo and recent Dallas mayoral candidate, who attended the open house. “It’s wonderful what he did. The plaque, the landscaping the architecture. It’s a first-class job.”
And DuBose did it for a revered woman that, sadly, he’d never met.
“I didn’t realize until after were under contract that she lived a few blocks from me,” said DuBose who lives in the same impressive East Dallas neighborhood that Callejo called home. “Getting to know her family, it’s almost like I did know her. It seemed like we would have been friends.”