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.

doc

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.

201919_304

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.

westend

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.

willis1

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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25 Signs you grew up in Dallas in the 90’s

The following is based on questions I get about what it was like to grow up in Dallas.

1.  The Texas Giant – You remember how big of a deal it was when the Texas Giant opened. Like seriously, it was a really really big deal.

texas-giant-use

2.  Cowboys and 49er’s – You had one friend that hated the Cowboys and loved the 49er’s. Despite how awesome the Cowboys were in the 90’s, you had one friend that just had to be different and like the 49er’s.

cowboys-49er-maxfield

Suck it 49er’s…and Keith from 9th grade for liking them

3.  The Toadies Rumor – There was that rumor at your school about the Toadies Song “Possum Kingdom” being about the lead singer sister’s death or something to that effect.

toadies

The Toadies were way more than one song from Guitar Hero

4.  Kenny “the Shark” Gant – You remember Kenny “The Shark” Gant from the Cowboys and his dances before kick offs.

KENNYGANTSHARKIt just goes to show that if you dance before kickoff and you’ll be more remembered than the starters.

5.  Penny Whistle Park – Looking back, a shed that housed a dozen carny-style amusement park-ish rides probably wasn’t that cool. But to the eight year old version of myself, it was an absolutely amazing place to have a birthday party.

penny whistle parkThat’s not a mistake, it’s just that no photo does Penny Whistle Park justice.

6.  The Black Hole at Wet ‘n’ Wild – First of all, it’s Wet’ n’ Wild, not six flags hurricane harbor splash world or whatever it is nowadays. And second, as soon as you went down the black hole at Wet ‘N’ Wild for the first time, you told everyone at school.

wet-n-wild-arlingtonUpon further review, building an entirely black water slide that soaked up the Texas sun, becoming blistering hot, might not have been the best idea.  But I’m not listening.

7.  Tatu and the Dallas Sidekicks – I can’t name a single other player on the Sidekicks, nor a single team that they played. But I know how big of a deal it was to go to a Sidekicks game and see him take his shirt off after a goal.

DSC03023No one is looking at you #15, stop waving.  Everyone is staring at Tatu’s early 90’s aura.

8Scotty’s on Park Lane – You spent days at Scotty’s on Park Lane. Before it was turned into Top Golf, that place was Scotty’s. And you probably spent countless afternoons playing miniature golf there, or in the batting cages.

scottys-golf-park-74231035If you know about Scotty’s then you know how awesome it was.  If not just trust us.

9.  Fair Day: Day off from school + free ticket to the State Fair + corny dogs and ice cream sandwiches + the pirate ship ride = best day ever.

Texas_State_Fair_at_night

F.Y.I.  Whenever you decide to go to the  Fair nowadays, always always check when Fair Day is for schools.  Don’t go on those days.

10.  The West End was cool – There was that arcade in the big building’s basement, like a three floor arcade. Plus the free fudge. Also a Planet Hollywood and some other stuff. Either way, as a kid it was a cool place.

wem-081709-0+(12)Whatever happened to that Giant Cowboy boot wearing Dinosaur?

11.  Mavericks games were free– You went Dallas Mavericks games basically for free.  Winning tickets to a Mavericks game in the 90’s was essentially the same as winning a pizza party for your class in grade school. Except the Three J’s weren’t at your pizza party.

three j'sBy “Crown” they meant, not last place.

12.  1994 World Cup – You remember the 1994 World Cup and that mascot dog thing. You may not have gone to the games, but you remember all the hoopla surrounding the games played at the Cotton Bowl.

world cup 94 mascotHis name was Striker, really I looked it up.

 13.  Your Favorite Texas Rangers were Rusty Greer, Nolan Ryan, “Pudge” and Steve Booooooo-shell, in some order.

41g-xY9LfeLPretty sure this baseball card is in a box at my parent’s house.

14.  The black tar heroin in Plano – You got lectured about drugs after all those kids in Plano died of black tar heroin.  Either at school or from your parents. The kids in Plano freaked out a lot of adults.

cheeseToday’s kids use “cheese” not harder drugs like the 90’s kids.

15.  Crystal Pizza – It was like Chucky Cheese on steroids, and way awesomer. A true birthday party Mecca.

crystalspizzaIt had a “Cartoon Theater”

16.  The Coca Cola Starplex – It’s not the Gexa Energy, Livenation.com Shirmoff Vodka Musical Arts Performance Center, it’s the Coca-Cola Starplex.

mXxqMDg5ArjOEx1AshrT3TAWish I could find a better picture, but this is a ticket stub from a Hootie and the Blowfish show at the Coca-Cola Starplex.  Can’t get much more 90’s then that.

17.  Dazed and Confused or Varsity Blues – These movies had some real similarities to your high school life. Sure, one of them was set in the 70’s and the other in a small town, but other than that, they weren’t that far off.

polls_varsity_blues_3835_124721_answer_1_xlargeI don’t want your life.

18.  Deep Ellum was cool and hardcore, or so you heard– Unless you were a teenager when 1990 rolled around and were old enough to claim you went to the Nirvana Trees’ show; you, like me were probably a little too young to really experience the Deep Ellum that your older cousin talked about. But still if you were lucky enough to see a show at Trees, or even to perform in Deep Ellum during the 90’s it was a badge of honor.

1e-002-ss-07-kpask_lgI knew that place was cool before I even knew what cool meant.

19.  The 972 area code role-out – You remember when they introduced the 972 area code. Before DFW had like twelve area codes, Dallas had one: 214. And when you called your friends you didn’t need ten numbers.

 TangoTattoo

What would people get tattoo’s of if 972 was never introduced?

20.  Hoop-it-up – If you played basketball, you remember hoop-it-up. It was the pinnacle of quasi-non-organized basketball no matter what your age.

m_81Q2hD0g6SroblikhCLIQAnyone else remember the rumor that the Mavericks found Mike Izzuilno playing at Hoop-It-Up.

21.  White Rock Lake was a scary place – Before it was turned around, and became a haven for blue toothed bikers, slow runners and rowing teams; White Rock Lake was a bad place full of trash, dead bodies, and questionable men in cars cruising around.

117-rray-cycling-wrlSide Note:  If you think Oak Cliff is scary or dangerous today, twenty years ago you would have shat yourself.

22.  Town East, Redbird, and Valley View Malls – They were still decent malls, or well, they were still actually malls that were open.

TownEastMall030513Town East now advertises that they have a McDonald’s, never a good sign for a mall when it’s pimping Mickey D’s.

23.  The Dallas Times Herald –  I was too young to really read the paper when the Times Herald was around, but I do remember my father buying copies of its last edition.

1b-ashx1Biggest rule of Dallas media: no matter what’s going on, even if you’re going out of business…The Cowboys are more important.

24.  1310 the Ticket – Your dad listened to 1310 The Ticket while driving you around. I didn’t become a P1 until I was like 25 or 26, but my father like most fathers in Dallas was a day one P1.

Ktck11Do you like your gig?

25.  Mr. Peppermint and his musical son.  Mr. Peppermint was part of your childhood. So as a teenager your mind was blown when you found out that his kid was one of the Butthole Surfer guys.

mr_peppermint-630x329Side note, apparently Jerry Haynes, the guy who played Mr. peppermint, like to curse like a sailor when he was off camera and around adult guest stars just to get a reaction out of them