Jackie Briseño’s family business burned down, but she’s already rebuilding

Photography by Jessica Turner

Jayne Lumbley was up early on a Sunday morning when she saw a flash against her living room wall. It seemed strange – lightning was not in the forecast. Then she smelled smoke, ran to a window, and saw sparks flying from an electrical transformer nearby. She shouted at her husband – “Joseph!” – and rushed to the phone.

The Lumbleys moved into their North Bishop Avenue home on August 16, 1977 – “the day Elvis died”, recalls Joseph.

In the years that followed, they saw some interesting and shocking things about the adjacent property, 825 N. Bishop, a single-family cottage style that operated as a business venture for as long as the couple can remember.

For the past 12 years, the occupier has been Agencia Hispana, a notarial family business that caters to the Spanish-speaking community of Dallas.

And on this cold morning, barely three days into the new year, Agencia Hispana was on fire.

The Lumbleys had gotten to know owner Jackie Briseño, her family and her staff. Even though it was the weekend, Joseph couldn’t be sure that everyone had left. So, as Jayne was talking to a 911 operator, he walked through the door in his pajamas.

“I couldn’t even believe how fast it was burning,” he says.

He smashed a side window and yelled, “Is anyone in there?”

First responders arrived within minutes and brought the fire under control before it reached nearby properties. To everyone’s relief, no one had entered.

A family business

Agencia Hispana has been serving Oak Cliff residents for 30 years. Carlos J. Romero operated out of a West Davis Street address in the 90s before his daughter Jackie Briseño split up and eventually opened the Bishop Arts store. Now, at 89, Carlos works for her.

“It’s really a family business,” says Briseño, who has lived his entire life in Oak Cliff.

The 48-year-old, at least on the surface, has hardly missed a beat since taking the heavy hit from her agency (although she cries when it comes to it). She postponed plans to sell her home in Montclair, a bespoke abode reflecting her style and personality – luxurious, honest, a bit whimsical and totally welcoming. This is where we meet and she tells us that she is considering renting it out until she and her business are on better financial footing.

Briseño explains that his mother, Antonia Romero, immigrated from Monterey, Mexico in the 1970s, just before Jackie was born.

For as long as she can remember, her family has advocated for immigrants and formed strong bonds in the Dallas area.

“Even as a kid, I didn’t know what I was doing back then, but dad used to take us on these walks,” she says. “My parents were very involved in immigrant rights. We had close family friends who were immigration lawyers, so I saw a lot of what they did. We would volunteer in churches, work with Catholic charities. It is a passion around which I grew up. As they say, it’s in your blood.

In a nutshell, Agencia Hispana provides notary services to the Latinx community. But such a generic description belies the company’s importance to its range of clients – for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, notary, translation and other services are essential for a wide range of documents. legal.

Since 825 N. Bishop, Briseño had helped people with all of these things and countless others.

Politics and changing regulations can lead to confusion and a backlog that affects its work and clientele.

For example, President Barack Obama signed into law the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act in 2012, which protects those brought into the country illegally as children from deportation. President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in 2017. Joe Biden reinstated it in January 2021, but months later a federal judge halted new requests. Now there are millions of requests in limbo from those seven months or so, Briseño says.

This is just one example of the type of issue she needs to stay on top of and help others navigate. If the need goes beyond what it can provide, Briseño has a network of trusted relationships – lawyers and doctors, etc. – to whom it refers clients.

A house with a story

By the time she arrived at 825 N. Bishop on the day of the fire, everything had been destroyed.

A demolition crew tore down what was left of the structure, leaving the house, built in the 1920s, a smoldering pile of papers and rubble.

Although it has operated commercially for as long as neighbors can remember, it has blended in with the other residences in the neighborhood.

Its sky-gray exterior and freshly painted white columns surrounding a wide porch — not to mention the emerald green accent wall inside — added to the agency’s welcoming feel.

Before Jackie Briseño moved in, a group of young lawyers – including police station 5 Justice of the Peace Juan Jasso and Domingo Garcia served there.

Jasso says it was this office that brought him to Dallas in 1986 when he finished law school in Houston.

“A lawyer owned the house and the rest of us rented space from him, so there were three, four, maybe five lawyers in that little building, that little house. That’s where I started. I think that may be where Domingo got his too.

Jasso came over just the morning of the fire and gave Jackie and the rest of the staff a big hug.

“She is resourceful, resilient and was already making plans to rebuild. She even grabbed me for a selfie — “a selfie with my judge,” she said — before I left.

The Lumbleys next door say the property had a colorful, sometimes tragic, history.

Once in the early 90s, while a divorce lawyer was working there, a man, ostensibly upset by the separation, shot his wife right there on the property. “She was dead in the car,” recalls Joseph Lumbley.

Jasso, who had moved by then, says he remembers the story well because a partner was still working there when it happened. The man had told his wife’s lawyer that he was ready to sign the divorce papers and that she should meet him there. He arrived early, and when she stopped, he went to the car, shot her in the stomach. Then he walked into the office – bleeding, waving the gun – and told the secretary he just needed the phone and called his wife’s mother to tell her what he had done.

“Then he apparently shoots himself again but I’m guessing he doesn’t die because after he’s recovered enough and gone to jail he’s there for a while and then calls our family law friend to ask if he’s going to help her with the child care case,” Jasso recounts.

Jasso says that, quite understandably, this particular associate left private practice soon after and “joined the EPA or something.”

In another era, the Lumbleys recall, 825 housed a so-called “massage parlour.”

“There were lots of cars, people coming and going at all hours,” Jayne recalls.

They put in “hot tubs and stuff,” the Lumbleys had heard, but that didn’t last long.

Joseph, who works in the real estate industry, says he has seen significant change over the past 40-plus years on this street and throughout this part of Oak Cliff.

He was part of a Mini Cooper club whose members refused to come to Oak Cliff because “they didn’t have body armor,” he laughs. Now, property values ​​here are among the highest in the city.

The woman is non-stop

One of the very first things Jackie Briseño did after her business burned down was to plant handwritten signs in the scorched earth of the property, so customers knew how to reach her.

“We make an appointment. We are entering tax season. There are people who have relied on us for 30 years to do their taxes. It will be a bit complicated. We just ask them to be patient with us,” she says.

A few days after the fire, she was looking for a new location. She found the perfect building at 125 Center Street, about a mile from Bishop’s location.

“Paul Lockman, the owner of the building – he saved the day,” she says. “There’s even a ramp at the front of the building for my dad, who now uses a wheelchair. I saw this and knew this was the right place.

She has already painted the accent wall inside – bright pink. That’s how she feels, she says. From the moment she got the frantic call from Jayne Lumbley, Briseño wasted no time wallowing in loss.

Jasso, for his part, says that while seeing his old office in shambles was disturbing, he is grateful to Agencia Hispana and its employees for being safe and motivated to move forward.

“We worked in the same circles for many years,” he says. “What she does is important to our community.”

Head held high and counting on his blessings, Briseño moves on with his life and, as promised, rebuilds himself.

“All of my amazing neighbors from day one came to help, including my best friends, Gregory Barker, Peter Guira, of course the Lumbleys were there the whole time, and so many other people in the neighborhood, bringing food, pastries – that’s how we mourn a loss in my culture,” she says. “My building burned down, and it was a tragedy, but all the love and support I received from my community and my Oak Cliff staff – that’s what it’s like to be an Oak Cliff resident.”

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