How Dallas’s West End died…

Why did the West End Die?  – Wendy

I begin with the obligatory statement that the West End is not completely dead. There’s still some life there but definitely not what it was twenty years ago when Van Halen played a free concert that Bruce Willis MC’ed at Planet Hollywood (how 1989 is that sentence).

 van halenThere’s even a DVD of the show for you super Van Halen fans out there

Anyways the reason why the West End is almost completely dead is pretty simple once you understand a few simple aspects of urban life in American Cities.  But first a little history on the West End, don’t worry it’s not boring there are prostitutes, saddles and pillows involved.

e88725a45a73032005026ac88729d495This is the most PC version of a picture that involves two of the three topics from the previous sentence.

Most histories of the West End begin in the early 20th century when the West End was a center for warehousing and manufacturing along the railroad. For the most part this makes sense; most of the buildings that are still standing there were built around that time. There was a cracker factory (boring and unappetizing), a saddle factory (intriguing), and a pillow factory (kinda depressing when you realize your pillows are made in a factory).

crackerFrankly, that’s an awful lot of smoke to be coming from a “cracker” factory

Unfortunately this view of its history ignores West End before 1913 or so, which is even more interesting than a pillow or cracker factory.  Back then the area was known as “Frog’s Town.” Not because of a large population of Frenchmen, but because the area was prone to flooding and hence it had a very large population of frogs.  You know what else it had a large population of?

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That’s right  19th century prostitutes. Frog’s Town was one of a few so called red lights districts in Dallas.  Keep in mind that prostitution was legal in Dallas all the way up to 1913. When the state literally had to intervene and force Dallas enforce the state law(Austin always was so prude). If this comes as a little bit of a surprise keep in mind Dallas as a long history of providing outlets for carnal delights, and that Dallas was still very much of a frontiers town back then. One with 100,000 residents albeit, but one of those residents was Doc Holiday of the OK Corral fame, who ran a crooked dentist office and a straight card game.

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He’ll be your Huckleberry

Anyways fast forward some 60 years to the 1970’s and West End’s “revival as an entertainment district.” Downtown Dallas post WWII had expected a building boom. And because it was pretty much reigned in on all side by freeways, that building boom went vertical. The majority of Dallas’s skyscrapers were built at the expensive of many of the older mid-rise buildings or historical buildings which were torn down. By the 70’s many of those older historical structure were gone. Preservationist, fresh off victories along Swiss Ave and in Old East Dallas began pushing efforts to save the historic buildings in the West End.

imagesSaving these buildings

At the same time as the Preservationist efforts were taking hold, many civic leaders in Dallas were becoming aware of another problem. Retail, dining, entertainment and other so called built cultural amenities were fleeing downtown. This was in part because the new skyscrapers were replacing the venues for entertainment. But also because during the 60’s and 70’s Baby Boomers were fleeing urban areas and central cities.

runningThere’s a new mediocore subdivision in Plano?!?!?  Last one there gets shunned by the PTA and HOA leaders

That was the era of suburban shopping malls and chain restaurants. Many civic leaders in Dallas wanted to chase those fleeing suburbanites, compete with the suburban shopping mall and regain those tax dollars. A strategy that most urban planners nationwide and local civic leaders today find utterly foolish, but more on that later.

So as a result of the Preservationist efforts to stay the West End historical structures, and civic leader’s efforts to lure suburbanites back to downtown, the West End began to develop as a shopping, dining and entertainment district in the late 70’s. By the mid 80’s it had really taken off. The first and Original Spaghetti Warehouse had moved in along with other restaurants. Shops were popping up, the West End Marketplace (a mall) had openned and Club Stark had made quite the name for itself in nightlife circles.

imagesCAJ0GPERClub Stark in it’s hey day.

In a D Magazine in a 1984 story about the district the author even said that the West End was well on its way to becoming something the downtown really needed…”a place to visit in the heart of the city that offers a wide selection of food and drink.”

That above statement from D mag hints at something most people growing up in Dallas knew about the West End. The West End was a nice place…to…visit. It was a nice place to visit…means it was for tourists.

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Come to the West End for longhorns and cowboy hats.

Let me explain. If you go back and read, or at least thumb through the D mag article, you’ll notice that the author spends a lot of time talking about all the restaurants, some of the shopping, and she even mentions the pains to which businesses moving into the office space went through to project a different vibe then traditional downtown Dallas. The one thing she doesn’t mention until the very end is that no one actually lives in the West End. The West End was conceived to be a standalone entertainment district.

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The West End trying to be like Time Square in New York

Standalone entertainment districts in urban areas usually aren’t that successful.. Think of the most popular areas of Dallas right now for dining, shopping and “entertainment”. Deep Ellum, Bishop Arts, Greenville Ave, Uptown, Knox/Henderson, the Cedars; they all have residential communities in and around them. The West End didn’t and hence it lacked a certain urban excitement or bohemian feel that attracts people.

Segways1Any area that allows you to rent a seg-way to see it, is not an exciting urban area

The West End also tried to compete with suburban entertainment districts, which generally speaking were more favorable for suburbanites then the West End.

In the end, the West End, devoid of residents, an urban vibe, and struggling to compete with suburban malls; was left to the realm of the tourists. Which would make sense why Bruce Willis opened a Planet Hollywood with a concert headlined by Van Halen.

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Bruce Willis, in early 90’s jeans seen at Planet Hollywood’s groundbreaking

But Dallas, despite a robust convention crowd, has never had the tourists economy to support all those restaurants, let alone a movie theater and an entire mall.   The West End tried mightily, see: free Van Halen concerts, the Hoop-It-Up tournaments; but slowly it began to die off. The Stark Club, though a truly unique and wondrous place, failed to create much of a clustering effect of similar nightclubs or businesses. Those around the time likened it being one Ziggy Stardust amongst a thousand J.R. Ewings. The restaurants started to flee in the late 90’s. Planet Hollywood closed in 2001 as did the movie theater. And the mall finally closed its doors in 2006, with it’s most notable tenant, the antiques shop, moving to….a suburban mall, Grapevine Mills.

There’s hope of course, as I write this news has come out that the owners of the old West End Marketplace, where the mall was, are trying to rebrand the building, and court residential condos or apartment developers to convert the space.

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Tracking down the Oldest Bar in Dallas

What’s the oldest bar in Dallas?  AH

To begin with, booze and bars have always been big in Dallas.  The very first store in Dallas in the 1840’s sold nothing but fabric for clothes and whiskey.  Early Dallas was a frontier town with saloons like Dick Flanginan’s (featuring boxing every Tuesday) all along north Main Street and dance halls to the southwest.  Dallas even had its own opium’s den in downtown, The Black Elephant run by Charlie Chunn.  An account of Dallas in the 1890’s said that it had, “a nice lemonade stand, an ice cream parlor, and three hundred saloons.”

One of these

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Three hundred of these

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But the oldest bar, well got to admit it, this isn’t the easiest question to answer.  And in fact I don’t have a simple “this is the oldest bar in Dallas” answer below.  There are questions as to what constitutes a bar. Is a fancy restaurant that serves food and booze a bar?  How about a place with live music and booze?  Furthermore, when do you mark the beginning of a bar’s existence?  If either ownership or the operators change, is it still the same?  What if it moves but keeps the same concept, employees and ownership?  I don’t have the answers to those questions, rather I have several contenders below which you yourself and make the determination about the oldest bar in Dallas.

Ships

Let’s begin with an example of how complicated defining a bar and it’s beginning is .  Consider The Loon on McKinney.  The Loon itself has been around for almost thirty years in the same place, under the same ownership, with the same concept, which is quite old for Dallas nightlife.

 

The-Loon

The Loon

But before it was known as the Loon, it was operated under different ownership and known as Joe Miller’s.  Before that it was operated as the Villager Club a cool jazz club in the 1960’s.  Further complicating the matter is the fact that The Loon itself will soon be moving (if it hasn’t already) to make way for some CVS or bank or parking lot.  The march of progress is a common reason for older bars in Dallas not being around.  Anyways, when The Loon reopens at a different location, which date does one consider its beginning?  The current 2014 date, the 1985 date when Joe Miller’s widow sold the place, or even further back to its 60’s roots as a jazz club.  Convoluted right?  Okay let’s try a less complicated example.

Ship’s Lounge on Lowest Greenville.  Ship’s started  slinging beer and wine 61 years ago, and hasn’t changed much since then.  It’s in the same location, with the same concept, with stable ownership, and in some cases bar stools from when it opened.

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Ship’s the same since ’53.

Putting a beginning date on Ship’s is easy, but going back before ’53 it gets complicated again.

Club Schmitz is just as old as Ship’s Lounge, perhaps even older.  Schmitz on Old Denton Drive in northwest Dallas has been serving beer in the same spot since 1946 when German brothers started a bar in an old farmhouse.

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Present day Club Schmitz

But that farmhouse burned down and the German brothers had to rebuild Club Schmitz in 1953.  They rebuilt in the same location but managed to contuinely operate their bar as the brothers sold beer out of coolers to patrons who leisurely drank beneath the trees in the shade.  The same family still owns Club Schmitz and hardly a thing has changed in the past 60 years.

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Yesteryear Club Schmitz.  As you can tell not much as changed

If you’re a not inclined to give Club Schmitz those years before there “new” building was built, then you might consider The Longhorn Ballroom on Industrial.  The Longhorn was built in 1950 by eccentric millionaire O.L. Nelms for his friend Bob Wills.  Bob Wills and his band the Texas Playboys played a lot of early shows at the Longhorn, which is more of a dance hall/honky tonk/punk rock showcase/professional wrestling venue, then a traditional ballroom dancing…ballroom.  Greats like Elvis, James Brown, Otis Reading and The Sex Pistols have all played the Longhorn.   The Pistols show produced this famous quote from Noel Monk’s book, 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America. “Sid Vicious’s face is smeared with blood. Not all of it his. The Sex Pistols have hit Texas, and Texas has hit back.”

Also this famous picture.

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The Longhorn Ballroom has been though more than a dozen owners and operates in the past 6 decades. Hell, Jack Ruby even ran it for a while.  And to consider it operating continuously since 1950 is a stretch.

Going further back before 1950 or 1946 and finding pre-war places that are in old buildings with owners and operates that have ties to the originals, and have managed to stay up and running while also staying true their alcohol propitiating ancestors is even more difficult.  The older dance halls and music venues like Lu Ann’s or The Aragon Ballroom are long gone.  The bars and saloons have been bulldozed over like the Loon or Dick Flanigan’s (The Wilson Building circa 1904 now sits where Flangian’s used to be).  And trying to find pre-prohibition places is incredibly tough, because you have to find places that survived by not selling booze while still serving booze but still not “serving” booze.

Beer? What beer?  Oh you mean root beer, yes this is all root beer.

rootbeer

 

One place that has stood the test of time is the Adolphus Hotel in Downtown Dallas.  The Adolphus Hotel opened up in 1912 and the restaurant/bar followed in 1916. Originally named the Bambooland Room it was one of the classiest restaurants in town.

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Not what you pictured when you thought of “oldest Bar in Dallas”

The restaurant, now known has the French Room has remained classy, while the bar, now known as “Walt Garrison’s Rodeo Bar” has been developed as cowboy chic for tourists.  The place has had its up and downs, there have been revamps, re-launches including sponsoring an on premises Ice-capades style show for 15 years, so it could be easy to question whether the Adolphus ‘s restaurant and bar are the oldest in Dallas.  However if you can afford having a glass of wine in the French Room, you can make a claim that people have been sitting there drinking wine in the same place, in much the same fashion, for almost 100 years.  And as far as Prohibition goes, well, Nochi Thompson from Boardwalk Empire will tell you  that as the classiest hotel and restaurant in Dallas, you had to have a way of getting your guests booze.  After all, the Adolphus was built by the heir to the Anheuser-Busch beer brewing empire, Adolphus Busch pictured below.

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The man responible for Busch Light

One last contender I’ll throw out there comes from a social organization.  Dallas has had a lot of social organizations throughout our history, including Masonic lodges, VFW’s, Kiwanis clubs, Knights of Columbus, The Bonehead Luncheon Club, debutante clubs like the Idlewild and even country clubs. As for the oldest bar, I’m going to single out one, the Sons of Hermann.

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Outside of Sons

The Sons of Hermann is a fraternal organization of mainly German-Americans who founded a lodge in Dallas in 1890.  Two decades later in 1911, the four Dallas area lodges pooled their resources together and built a joint Hall for brotherhood, camaraderie, and because their country invented Oktoberfest, for drinking beer.  The building itself hasn’t changed much the past 103 years; it’s still a place for people to gather together to eat, drink, and be merry.  What has changed is how the Sons’ have operated it.  Years ago you had to be a member or a member’s guest to enjoy Sons,  today anybody can walk on in and have a beer at the bar.

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Welcome ya’ll

So there’s that little kink, but other than that the place has remained pretty much the same.  As for the Prohibition problem, well, it wasn’t illegal to brew beer for your own “personal” use.  So if a few Sons (what the members are called) brewed a few gallons every month and brought it down to the beer hall they built to “share” with their friends and their friend’s friends, so be it.

Top Ten Historical Places in Dallas you might not know about

Where are all the big historical places in Dallas – CF

Dallas has no shortage of historical places.  There are over a hundred places list on the National Historical Registry, and more than three hundred places have those historical markers from the state.

Like this one

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And instead of listing the most popular ones, or the best known ones, I’ve listed ten that for various reasons are noteworthy but generally not well known.

The Very First Hilton Hotel – Before Hilton hotels became a name brand, before Paris Hilton became Paris Hilton, even before the founder of Hilton Hotels was portrayed by Chelcie Rose in Mad Men, Conrad Hilton was a small time hotel operator.  His very first hotel to bear his name was the 14 story tall Hilton Hotel in Dallas.  Seen here below shortly after opening.

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Built in 1925 for 1.3 million dollars, Hilton also had his personal office in the building.  Currently it operates as the Hotel Indigo, a chic boutique hotel.

Enjoy Conrad’s first beauty at ­­­­Main Street and S. Harwood Street in Downtown

The First Highway in Texas – Chances are you’ve run by the historical marker for the very first highway in Texas.  Or biked by it maybe.  The first highway in the state was built back when Texas was a republic 170 years ago (yes they had highways before cars).  It ran roughly from Texarkana to Dallas and the road that most closely mirrors its path in present day Dallas is highway 78 or Garland Road.  As such the historical marker is located at the southern end of White Rock Lake above the spillway, right about at the damn.

If this is your view of the lake, turn around and walk up the hill, the marker will be on your left.

white rock spillway

Walk down the same path that the first Texans did at the intersection of San Raphael and Garland in East Dallas.

Sons of HermannThe Sons of Hermann Hall is a 100 year old fraternal hall.  A building that harkins back to an older era and it has more then a few claims to fame.

Known more commonly as “Sons”

sons of hermannFor one, it’s the oldest wood frame two story commercial building in the City.  Okay not impressed, well they filmed part of Robocop there and Kelly Clarkson’s American Idol auditions were there.  Still not, okay, well Pat Green played there, so did Townes Van Zandt, the Dixie Chicks, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Todd Snider and more.  It also happens to be the first spot in Dallas where Robert Earl Keen played, Wlico too.  And that little old band from Dallas, the Old 97’s, played their very first gig at Sons.  If you’re still unimpressed by all that, well it’s haunted too, so there.

Go see ghosts and the next big alt-country band before they get big at 3414 Elm Street in Deep Elbum.

Freedmen’s cemetery – Following the emancipation, small communities of freed slaves began to form on the outskirts of southern cities called Freedmen’s towns.  The largest community in Dallas was located just north of downtown and it thrived for many years.  Known as Freedmen’s Town North Dallas, and later “State and Thomas,”  there isn’t much left of it nowadays.  If you couldn’t tell by the State and Thomas name, the area went through a urban renewal/gentrification period, it’s most commonly referred to today as “Uptown.”  But the Cemetery’s still there, along with a nice memorial to the community.

Pay your respects to generations of African Americans at Central Expy & Calvary Drive in Uptown.

At Eastern Entrance to the Cemetery stands this memorial.

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Lee Park – Lee Park’s an interesting Park with an interesting history.  It’s one of the oldest in Dallas (1909).  President Roosevelt (FDR) dedicated the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee back in 1936 on the Park’s grounds.  There’s even a replicate of General Lee’s home in the Park called Arlington Hall that was built around the same time.  Now fast forward three decades to when Oaklawn had become the happening place for hippies and the counter culture.  In April of 1970, the Park was the scene for the infamous “Lee Park Massacre.”  It wasn’t a massacre just a small hippie riot of 3 or 4 thousand hippies when the police arrested a few kids for swimming in Trutle Creek.  And now fast forward to today where the Park is the scene for the magnificent LGBT community staple, the Lee Park Easter Hat Derby.  Truly one of Dallas’s most unique and wonderful scenes.

The three stages of Lee Park

Confederate

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Hippie

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LGBT

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Go be a Fabulous hat wearing Confederate hippie at 3333 Turtle Creek Blvd in Uptown.

Historic West End Buildings – I’m only picking one of the historic building in the West End to point out.  I’m just going to quote from the historical Marker and let me know when something stops you down.  ‘Constructed in 1909, this building was first occupied in 1910 by the Hobson Electric company. The warehouse was next leased to the Maroney Hardware Company, which was bought in 1926 by Rufus W. Higginbotham”…Rufus W. Higginbotham, quite a name.

I know you’re thinking in your head that this is Rufus W. Higginbotham…but it’s not

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This is Rufus, he was much sweeter, but still very Old World-y

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Not to make light of of the name, but if you’re going to checking out a historic buildings in the West End, might as well have it be this one, seen below

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Enjoy Higginsbothaming at 1701 Market St. in the West End.

Buckner Childern’s home and cabin – Buckner is more than just a road. Buckner was a caring Baptist and earlier settler of Dallas.  He has two large contributions to Dallas history.  First, he started a children’s home for orphans and abandoned children.  Which was something of a problem in the early frontier days, by the turn of the century it was helping 500 childern a year.

Buckner’s Charter for a Childern’s home from the 19th century

buckner_application_effieSecond, Buckner and his family watched over Dallas history.  They saved John Neely Bryan’s cabin, the first house, nay the first structure in Dallas.  For years he kept it in the basement of the Buckner Orphanage, and when it was recreated for the World’s Fair in 1936 in Dallas, the City used the remnants of the cabin as a model.

Be reminded of Dallas’s charity and early cabins at 5200 S. Buckner Blvd in Southeastern Dallas.

W. Lee O’Daniel – Quick name the only person in history to defeat President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) in an election.  Need a hint, he was also the inspiration for Governor Pappy O’Daniels  in the Coen Brother’s movie “O’ Brother Where Art Thou”  Yeah that guy, W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.   O’Daniels was a radio personality in the 30’s with a catch phrase of “pass the biscuits, Pappy.”   Which come to think of it, is a pretty awesome catch phrase.  He ended up running for and being elected as governor of Texas and then ran for the US senate beating LBJ and serving one term.   He retired to Dallas and founded an insurance agency.

Fake Pappy Signing

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Real Pappy Signing

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Share a biscuit with Pappy at Cedar Springs and Oaklawn (the Triangle) in Uptown.

The Davis Building – There are plenty of historical building in downtown, from the Kirby building, to Union Station, to the old City Hall. And just like with the Higginbothaming Building I’m only going to point out one.  So why point out this building, well there’s the wonderful cupola up top and the history with the Republic National Bank.

The cupola as seen at night on the Davis Building.

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But really it’s the 1991 TV movie “Touch and Die” starring Martin Sheen that was filmed at the Davis Building means that its making this list.  It also stars his daughter, I think.    From the imdb summary “Magenta getting involved with a combination US Presidential Campaign and plutonium smuggling ring and almost ending up dying from radiation poisoning in the process.”  Made for TV movie about plutonium smuggling in 1991, I’m sure it’s awesome.

See where Martin and his daughter made a movie at 1309 Main St. in Downtwon

Anyone of Dallas 57 historic cemeteries – This might be cheating a little bit, but Dallas has some 57 different historical cemeteries.  That’s one per each 15 square miles.  There’s probably one your neighborhood or the neighborhood just over. Other then the Freedmen’s cemetery I mentioned earlier, there’s the French Utopian settlers cemetery from 1850, the migrate workers cemetery from the great Trinity Farm, cemeteries for settlers from New York, Tennessee, and the large Jewish cemetery.  There’s even one cemetery for the Pioneers of Dallas, that’s actually a cemetery created to combine several older cemeteries that had to be moved.  As a last note, I’d point out that these 57 cemeteries doesn’t even include the cemetery where Mickey Mantle is buried here in Dallas.

Pay your respects to men and women how helped create Dallas at some little cemetery likely located around the corner from you.

How the State Fair of Texas in Dallas became the largest annual Fair in the World

How did the State of Texas get so big?  Why is in even in Dallas? –  GD

It does seem odd that something like a Fair which is so closely associated with all things rural is held in the Texas City that views itself as the state’s most cosmopolitan city.  And that the largest annual Fair in the World is held in the City that also has the World’s largest Arts District.  But the State Fair of Texas(simply known as the Fair to locals) is study on contrasts.

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Called Secular Cathedral of Texas the Hall State Building is one of the nation’s best examples of art-deco architecture in the nation

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Also fried food

  • It is home to perhaps the largest collection of fried foods in the world, but also one of the largest collections of architecturally significant art-deco buildings in the world.
  • More prize winning livestock is sold at the Fair then anywhere in nation, but there also have been  years when famous New York City art galleries sell more art at the Fair than they do the entire year at the NYC galleries.
  • John Deere will sell as many tractors at the Fair as Subaru will sell earth conscience eco-friendly yuppie movers.
  • There are arguably more “carnies” per square foot on the fairgrounds then anywhere, but also three straight weeks of sold-out Broadway musicals and operas running throughout the Fair.
  • The Fair hosts the state’s most important and one of the nation’s biggest football games, but the Fair grounds are also home to the state’s first organic botanical gardens.

But let’s get to the Fair’s history, why it’s held in Dallas and why it’s so massive.

The first “State” Fair in Dallas was held in 1886 when a group of Dallas business leaders came together to put on the “Texas State Fair and Dallas Exposition.”  It was held on land owned by good old Colonel Gaston (Gaston Ave.) on the present day Fair grounds in South Dallas.  A rival Fair was held in North Dallas that same year, but the two fairs merged shortly thereafter.

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You’ll see later on why the woman are featured on this ad

Dallas because of its banking community and location on two major rail lines was well suited in the late 19th century to act as a showcase and clearing house for livestock and produce.  The City, because of large mercantile class and influx of European craftsmen from the La Reunion settlement was also well suited to be a marketplace for the latest consumer goods.  Both are big reasons why the early Fair in Dallas thrived.

But a big reason, perhaps the biggest reason that the State Fair in Dallas went from being a state fair to The State Fair, was that the early backers of the Fair released that providing entertainment and attractions for all walks of people was paramount to the Fair being successful.  The early backers of the Fair brought in family friendly events like hot air balloon demonstrations, they brought in wholesome all American speakers like uber-wholesome William Jennings Bryan.

W_j_-Bryan-Cross-Of-Gold-Painting-e1325306097592When people draw you bearing crosses, you know you’re wholesome

For those looking for high culture they had concerts the likes of John Philip Sousa.  (Note: I don’t mean concerts featuring the music of John Phillip Sousa; I mean concerts featuring the actual man John Phillip Sousa.)  But while the rancher may enjoy the musings of WJB, and his kids marvel at the hot air balloons while his wife enjoys the music of JPS, the ranch hands that helped get the prized heifer to Fair, the one who was just paid a month’s worth of pay after selling that cow, yeah he’s not looking for sweet wholesome highbrow stuff.  And though horse racing and gambling were big early attractions of the Fair (both were legal), it’s another big entertainment option that’s perhaps a better story.

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These guys aren’t entertained by balloons and marches.

There is a story relayed from author and Times Herald columnist John Rogers that dates from the 1890’s about one of the biggest backers and promoters of the State Fair, banker and real estate developer, J.S. Armstrong.  A woman came into Armstrong’s bank seeking a loan.  She meets with a young morally chaste loan officer, who promptly took her request for a $5,000 loan to cover additional labor to Armstrong for denial.  Or so he thought.   When Armstrong asked his loan officer what line of work she was involved in, the loan officer said that she was a madam in one of Dallas leading brothels (prostitutions was legal in Dallas till 1913).  Armstrong then asked when she would need the money and the young loan officer, aware of his boss’s involvement with the Fair, sheepishly replied that she needed it for the duration of the Fair.  Armstrong immediately signed off on the loan and seeing the shock on his young new employee’s face, told him it was merely a business decision.  And her line of work did good business during the Fair.  Armstrong was right, and as the story goes, she paid him back in full.

2939354578_5ba3d72274See what  I mean

All of this helped turn a state fair in Dallas to the Texas State Fair by the turn of the century.  By 1905, more than 300,000 people attended the Fair.  In 1909, President Taft visited the Fair.  Two years later, President Wilson did.  The Fair continued to evolve in its first 50 years.  To court the highbrow crowd the Fair built the beautiful Fair Park Music Hall as an opera and concert venue in 1925.  When it became apparent that saddle makers and carriage  builders were being left behind in the wake of cars, the Fair started hosting its annual Auto Show, which is still so popular that the big three American companies (Chevy, Ford and Dodge) routinely roll out their new model year trucks at the Fair.  When the state moved to outlaw both gambling and prostitution, the Fair replaced those attractions with others.  Car racing became a big draw, not to mention a major plot in the 1962 movie about the State Fair of Texas called State Fair, staring Pat Boone and Ann Margaret.  The Fair built amusement park rides, including the largest Ferris Wheel in North America and installed a 50 foot tall Texan, named Big Tex for people to sacrfice their babies to and for the X-Men to battle around.

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I quote from the comic “Emergency – All X-Men to the Cotton Bowl”

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Please god of Texas, accept our sacrfice, don’t destory yourself in fire again

Football also became big.  Texas-OU first played their annual Red-River Rivalry Game on the Fairgrounds in 1929 and moved to the Cotton Bowl in 1934.  The game and the weekend is worth a post in of itself, but more beer is consumed that weekend in Dallas than any other, and during the game in 1968, the Fairgrounds swelled with more than 380,000 people making those 277 acres temporarily the 32nd largest city in the nation.

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Texas-OU is the most entertaing day to go to the Fair.

But perhaps the one event that helped establish the Fair in Dallas as an annual celebration of all things Texas was the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition.  The Exhibition was an event designed to be a massive celebration of the 100 birthday of Texas.  It was courted by R.L. Thornton and held in Dallas rather than San Antonio or Houston almost solely based on his salesmanship of Dallas and the Fairgrounds (The joke in Texas goes, they started the war in San Anton, finished it in Houston, and held the party in Dallas).  Planned and held during the great depression, it benefited from the numerous federal works projects.  Most of the iconic buildings, art deco mural and statures in Fair Park where built, designed or commissioned  through the WPA, the CCC  or other Great Depression era work programs.  The building and art programs, along with the Exhibitions was such a success that President Roosevelt showed up along with more than 6 million other visitors.

girls498Most came for the exhibits on new farming methods

Without much of those buildings, the Texas State Fair would have likely hoped around from city to city, showcasing different cities in the State.  Luckily it stayed, and continues to thrive.  Texas, despite increasing urbanization, still has more land dedicated to livestock and agricultural production than any other state.  So there are still plenty of farmers and ranchers who head into to town to show off their prized bulls and sell them to the highest bidder.  Dallas also still maintains its reputation as a leading marketplace for the newest and best consumer goods.  And the Fair still provides expansive entertainment options, whether it be highbrow (the musical this year I believe is the Lion Kong), wholesome (last year an entire museum’s exhibits were dedicated to the Girls Scouts) or rambunctious (take your pick from the midway games, to the rides, to the Texas-OU game and two more football games at the Cotton bowl).

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You show your livestock

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Admire the latest trucks

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And for the Texas-OU game

It’s difficult to explain the State Fair of Texas.  That annual three week tradition held in early September and late October at historical Fair Park in South Dallas. The collection of people and cultures is as unique as anywhere in the world.  In fact, I would say that nowhere in world will you find as diverse mix of people located within the same 277 acres.  It’s a rural, urban, white, ethnic, rich, poor, high-brow, folk culture, football crazy, opera watching mass of humanity for three weeks in the early fall.

The Red Flying Horse in Downtown/Pegasus

What’s the deal with the Pegasus (flying red horses) all over Dallas?  So many things named Pegasus like newspapers and school or how about the statues randomly all over?  –  Questioned by AH

I assume this means both the big one below in downtown  this newspapers, this school and the statues like the one below

23437_1255711435697_7854191_n (Urban Fabric Photographyvan go (pegasusflyers.com)

The reason for all the Pegasus stuff around the city lies in its symbolism of civic pride for Dallas.  Dallasites, true dallasites, see the Pegasus and it stirs a certain sense of pride in our City.  You might ask why a flying red horse is a symbol of pride for Dallas, well the answer is relatively simple but it takes some backing up to do.

How far back, let’s see, maybe Downton Abby-estic English country estates, no wait gotta go further, colonial palaces, or medieval castles, maybe Roman Temples, or Egyptian pyramids.  See what all these buildings have in common is that they are a monument of national, local, civic, or regional pride.  For years groups of people that have formed civilized societies have built monuments to their societies.  They are sources of pride for their engineering, their beauty, their statements on wealth, and ultimately their history.

So what does the Pegasus have to do with all those pretty building mentioned above?  Well you see, the Pegasus was the symbol of the Magnolia Petroleum Company which was founded in Dallas shortly after the turn of the 20th century.  Magnolia was a successful oil company, a very successful oil company, a very very successful oil company.  Magnolia Oil eventually changed it’s name.  It currently is a very successful Oil Company.mobile gas pegasus

Mobile kept the Pegasus as it’s symbol for a number of years. 

Now in the early 1900’s, the Magnolia Oil Company had executives and shareholders that were very proud of their growing city known as Dallas.  So when they built their headquarters in Dallas they wanted to build a monument to the City, and they did.  A four hundred foot tall beautiful building built in downtown designed by Sir Alfred Bossom (also the inventor a device for protecting people from suffocating if they accidentally got locked in a bank vault…awesomesauce).  The building known as the Magnolia Building was not only the tallest building in Dallas at the time, but the tallest in Texas.

magnolia builind - project peagsus The Magnolia Building seen from an early post card (Project Pegasus)

It remained the tallest building in Texas throughout the 1920’s and the tallest in Dallas for twenty years.  In fact currently if you placed the Magnolia building in 15 other states it would be the tallest building in those states, so suck it Idaho .  Also its taller than any building in Finland in case you’re interested.

But back to the Pegasus, Magnolia placed the Pegasus up atop their very tall building in the 1940’s.  Again they were proud of Dallas and themselves, they wanted people to know about it.  So their symbol was all lit up in neon lights for the world to see.  It was actually two Pegasus’s back to back so it could rotate atop their building.  Or if you believe some, they put two Pegasus’s up there to show that Dallas wasn’t a one-horse town…get it.  So this big neon rotating red Pegasus atop one of the tallest building in Dallas was the first thing you saw driving into to Dallas, or flying in on a DC-9 at night.

pegasus 1927 Dallas public library The Pegasus atop the Magnolia when it was the tallest building in Dallas (Dallas Public Library Achieves)

My great aunt would tell stories of returning from camping in the hill country and knowing that when she saw that bright shiny flyin’ horse, she was close to home.  For people back in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, when they saw a neon red Pegasus it meant Dallas, and not just Dallas, but people from throughout Texas and the nation.  The Pegasus would eventually come down in the 90’s after Magnolia, with Exxon moving out of that buildin. New taller, shinier buildings where built that dwarfed the old Magnolia building, it supposedly lost much of its glamour.

So why are fairly new schools, newspapers and major infrastructure construction projects named Pegasus.   Well that has to do partly with the second life of the Pegasus in Dallas.  In the 70’s and 80’s Dallas did several things that negatively affected the Pegasus.  First it built a lot of  tall shiny buildings, second it told people living in downtown apartments to leave and make way for the tall shiny office buildings.  That meant that by the 90’s there were few people living in downtown, and though there were a lot of tall shiny buildings not all of them were full.  Baby boomers that flocked to the suburbs were now in charge of companies and moved them to office park in far flung exburbs.  So the City was left with a challenge of revitalizing its downtown, a situation many cities at the time were faced with.  It was at this point that Dallas seized upon the Pegasus as a symbol for the revitalization of downtown.  It was once a symbol of the engineering might, of the wealth and the technological achievements of the city.  Now it was going to represent the history and beauty of the City, an image of a by-gone past, a romantic version of a city’s downtown with theater row, nightlife and vibrancy.

Elm_St_at_night_Dallas_TX_1942 Elm Street or Theater Row circa 1942 when Downtown Dallas was happening (WikiCommons)

The Magnolia Building, long neglected but still beautiful, was renovated and turned into a luxury hotel and apartments building.  A new Pegasus was commissioned for the top of the building that matched the old one.  As a part of the effort, a number of smaller Pegasus statues were built, painted uniquely and auctioned off, like the one below.

texas p Know as Texas Pegasus (pegasusflyer.com)

They can be found throughout the City, here or there, in parks, office buildings, schools, private residency, wherever.  To younger generations the gen-xer’s and Millennials that grew up in Dallas throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s it means a vibrant city, a symbol that speaks to the notion that “I’m proud of the cultural and historical depth of Dallas.”  Or like below, used as part of iconic art work in Deep Elbum.

more kisses please pegasus  All work and no play make Jack hunt flying red horses (Jill at morekissesplease.com)

What’s the deal with Reunion Tower?

What’s the deal with Reunion Tower, I know there’s a restaurant there but is that the sole purpose of it?

The simple answer is, it’s a 561 foot tall tower with a restaurant up there, a Wolfgang Puck restaurant.  It used to have an observation deck but it hasn’t been open since Wolfgang went in back in 2009.

DALLAS, TEXAS Reunion Tower (Dallas Historical Society)

Of course the right answer starts back in the 1850’s and includes French utopian artists, an attempt to corner the world market in silver, George Washington and the Kansas City Chiefs.  Reunion Tower gets its name from a utopian settlement on the banks of the Trinity River back when Dallas was just starting out.  La Reunion, as it was called, was a utopian community of about 400 European (mostly French, Belgian and Swiss) artists, craftsmen and intellectuals.  It was founded in 1855 about a decade after Dallas was, but only lasted a few years before disbanding.  The land would be incorporated into the growing city of Dallas, and roughly 150 members of the original community ended up staying in Dallas.  They brought with them the first piano to Dallas, started its first brewery, and brought many unique trades and artists to the city.  It’s said that this is where Dallas first got its cosmopolitan feel.  How Dallas started becoming more of a cultural center and something less like a simple western trading post.

considerant Victor Considerant…Radical French Socialist leader and Leader of the La Reunion Settlement (The Texana Review)

Now fast forward a hundred and twenty years to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and why Reunion Tower was built.  Back then Dallas was in the midst of a building boom funded by oil money and what turned out to be bogus Savings & Loan development deals.  Ray Hunt, an oil man, well the son of an oil man, decided to get in on the action.  Ray was of course the son of legendary oil man H.L. Hunt, the builder of a grand home on White Rock Lake designed to be an exact replicate of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and he was also thought to be the richest man in the world when he died.   Oh and Ray’s half-brother Lamar Hunt was into sports so he founded and at the time owned the NFL team the Kansas City Chiefs.  Also two of Ray’s other brothers had a well-publicized failed attempt to corner the entire world silver market in the 80’s.  I bring this all up, not as awesome crazy oil family stories (I’m actually leaving out the lobotomized eldest brother and an Austria Ambassador), but as proof that this family takes the “go big or go home” motto to heart.

Ray hunt appreciation Ray Hunt…wonder who won the Eastern Horseman of Year in ’05 (RayHunt.com)

Anyways in the late 70’s, Ray was in his mid-thirties by now, and he decided that he’d get into real estate development.  The spot that he picked out was a under used, and undervalued (according to Ray) part of land just southeast of downtown.  It was a piece of land created by George Kessler’s planning and Dwight Eisenhower’s …highwaying?  A spot between the Union Pacific train tracks and the mixmaster where the I-30 and I-35 highways come together.   He planned a sporting arena, luxury hotel with convention space, office towers, apartments, and more.  Including his very own “go big” part, a 600 foot tall tower, with a ball on top.  Why?  I dunno, ef ‘em, that’s why.  If I can’t own an NFL team or corner the market in something, I’m going to build a giant tower that looks like a lollipop.  What am I going to put in it, I dunno, a restaurant or something, maybe a radio station to broadcast world domination messages?    It doesn’t matter, point is, I wanna build an iconic giant building and this is the easiest way to do it.  Oh and also the tower should have lights that can spell out messages on it in case I have to use it to send secret coded messages.

reunion_godzilla2_jpg_728x520_q85 He Could have just had Godzilla attack (Pegasus News)

So Ray built his hotel, a sporting arena and a tower with a big ball on top and lights that can spell out messages, or Reunion Tower.  He didn’t get to build the rest of the development.  The project died, or lost momentum through a combination of the S&L scandals, a tanking real-estate market, lack of city investment (supposedly still a sore subject with Ray because of the City’s support of Trammell Crow’s Anatole development), and frankly a loss of interest by Ray after he found billions of dollars of oil in Yemen in 84.  But he got to build his fancy tower, 561 feet tall with three floors and lights all around.  At one time in time it’s housed various restaurants, radio stations, event venues, and an observation deck that up until the mid-2000’s you could still visit.  If you were lucky, and visited during the week, during the daytime, the attendants weren’t there, so it was free, and you could wander around there for hours.