Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

The Caveteria: “Marvelous Food at Moderate Prices”

caveteria_ebayThe finest in downtown basement dining (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

How could you NOT want to dine in a restaurant called a “Caveteria”? It was a cafeteria in the basement — the cave — of the swanky Baker Hotel, and it looks like it was a nice cheap place to grab a quick lunch downtown in the 1920s and 1930s.



The Baker Hotel had “3 ways to eat”: one could eat cheap in the basement Caveteria (where, according to the Inflation Calculator, a 30-cent lunch in 1927 was the equivalent of about four bucks today), eat sort of cheap in the probably street-level coffee shop (lunch was about $6.75 there), and eat not cheap in the main hotel dining room (where lunch was over $10.00). (There was also the Peacock Terrace night club, well beyond reach of basement-dwelling diners.)


caveteria_dmn_120427-detDallas Morning News, Dec. 4, 1927


The price actually went down to a quarter by 1931 and had a “State-wide reputation for excellence.”

caveteria_dmn_020131DMN, Feb. 1, 1931


A year later the price was holding at 25 cents and it seems like a pretty good deal.

caveteria_dmn_021532DMN, Feb. 15, 1932


“The Original ‘Caveteria'” — accept no imitations! At least one other hotel in the Baker chain — the Gunter, in San Antonio — had a “Caveteria,” but apparently Dallas’ was first. In fact, the word and the hotel made their way into H. L. Mencken’s The American Language, Supplement One (see here).

caveteria_corsicana-daily-sun_031632Corsicana Daily Sun, Mar. 16, 1932


Oh yeah — live bands played while you ate your hearty meal of minced beef tenderloin. Even Lawrence Welk settled in for a stint as the “musical entree” in 1934.

caveteria_dmn_022234-lawrence-welkDMN, Feb. 22, 1934


In 1942, the space once occupied by the Caveteria was turned over to the USO and was re-christened “The USO Club in the Cave.” (Click to read.)

caveteria_dmn_012742-USODMN, Jan. 27, 1942


And there it is — another place I wish I’d been able to visit.

“Fine food. Splendid Service. Moderate prices.”



Color postcard found on eBay. Everything else from The Dallas Morning News, as noted, except for the last ad which was from a Dallas city directory.

The Baker Hotel opened in 1925 at Commerce & Akard on the site where the Oriental Hotel had previously stood, caddy-corner from the Adolphus.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

University Park: The Addition — 1916

university-park_dmn_0625161916 ad (click for larger, slightly more legible image)

by Paula Bosse

Mr. M. M. Garrett of the Dallas Trust & Savings Bank wants you to know some facts about the University Park Addition:

  • LOCATION. University Park Addition is due north of Dallas on the Preston Road.
  • SURROUNDINGS. University Park overlooks the city of Dallas and faces a perpetual park in the grounds of Southern Methodist University.
  • IMPROVEMENTS. University Park today represents over $350,000.00 worth of improvements in streets, sidewalks, curbs, trees, water supply, sewerage, gas and beautiful homes.
  • RESTRICTIONS. University Park is under perpetual restrictions of its own, thereby guaranteeing proper building construction and permanent value.
  • EDUCATION. University Park families will be able to send their children from kindergarten to post-graduate diploma within four blocks of home.
  • PRICE. University Park property at from $20 to $50 a front foot is the best realty investment of its kind in the Southwest.



This ad appeared in The Dallas  Morning News on June 25, 1915.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Dallas Day Nursery: “Bring On Your Babies” — 1919

dallas-day-nursery_dallas-express_112219“Inmates and their nurse-mother” (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

This photo appeared in the pages of The Dallas Express, the main source of news for the city’s black residents. The caption, below (click for larger image).

dallas-day-nursery_dallas-express_112219_captionDallas Express, Nov. 22, 1919

This “day nursery” organized by the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, must have been a relief to working women who had young children that needed supervision. At the nominal fee of 10¢ a day (equivalent to about $1.35 today), the community service was affordable to many working families. A few weeks after the above photo appeared in its pages, an editorial appeared in the Express, urging support for the Dallas Day Nursery and explaining why it was important not only to families, but to the greater community.

dallas-day-nursery_dallas-express_121619Dallas Express, Dec. 16, 1919


The nursery appears to have been run out of a residence at 2417 Caddo Street, which would now be located in the CityPlace Market parking lot, behind the Office Max.

dallas-day-nursery_googleGoogle Maps


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Hot Lead: Linotype Machines at The Dallas Morning News — 1914

dmn_linotype_belo-coll_degolyer_1914Etaoin Shrdlu not pictured (click for larger image) SMU photo

by Paula Bosse

Yesterday I posted several photographs by one of Dallas’ top photographers, Charles E. Arnold, and in looking for other photos taken by him, I came across this one, showing the Dallas Morning News “machine room” in 1914, in which we see several Linotype machines and their operators. I have no technological aptitude, but, for some reason, I have been fascinated by elaborate machines like these my whole life. Even though computers long ago made these “hot metal” typesetting machines obsolete, it’s still kind of thrilling to see once-revolutionary contraptions in everyday use. I’m sure it was a deafening and monotonous job, but I’d love to have had the chance to operate one of those machines just once and churn out my own slugs of hot type. I love this photo, and it has lots of interesting things to zoom in on (click for larger images).







This photo is titled “Machine room at opening of Mechanical Building,” taken by Charles Erwin Arnold in 1914; it is from the Belo Records collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University. I have had to tweak the color, because my image editor tends to turn the warm tones of the original into a harsh yellow — see a scan of the original photograph here.

See additional photos of linotype machines used at The Dallas Morning News, from the Belo/DeGolyer Library collection, here.

I lived in England for a couple of years, and while there, I was given an intensive lesson on the elaborately arcane rules of cricket. I finally understood the game perfectly! …For one day. Today I immersed myself in all-things linotype, and I completely understand how the machines worked. I’ll probably forget this by tomorrow, but today … YES! And it’s absolutely fascinating. You, too, can understand how they worked:

  • The Wikipedia entry is very clearly written — check it out here.
  • An industrial film from 1960 — viewable here — is WONDERFUL. Yes, it’s over 30 minutes long, but if you love stuff like this, the time will fly by! Seriously — it’s incredibly well-done.
  • In a video on YouTube — seen here — you can watch a retired linotype operator type on a (malfunctioning) WWII-era machine. (Imagine how loud an entire room of these machines would be.)

Another look at the linotype at work can be seen in the short film “Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu,” which documents the last issue of The New York Times using Linotype machines (in 1978) — you can watch it here.

Also worth watching is the recent entertaining documentary “Linotype: The Film” — you can watch a trailer here.

Don’t know the significance of “etaoin shrdlu”? I didn’t either until about an hour ago. Wikipedia to the rescue, here.

An article by George Gee titled “‘etaoin shrdlu’ The Mystic Symbol” appeared in The Dallas Morning News on April 12, 1925. In it Gee wondered what this exotic and mysterious “etaoin shrdlu” phrase could mean, going so far as to interview local “experts.” He obviously knew the secret, but he never did divulge it to his readers. Very entertaining — read it here. This illustration by Jack Patton accompanied the article.

etaoin-shrdlu_dmn_041225-patton_smDallas Morning News, April 12, 1925 — cartoon by Jack Patton

All images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

St. Paul’s Sanitarium — 1910

st-pauls_postcard_de-paul-univSt. Paul’s Sanitarium, located at Bryan & Hall (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

My posting has been infrequent as of late, due, in part, to obligations concerning a family member’s hospital stay. So, since I have a short time before I have to rush off to run errands and make visits, why not focus on a historic Dallas hospital?

St. Paul’s Sanitarium was opened in a small cottage on Hall Street in 1896 by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but it soon moved to the new large H. A. Overbeck-designed building on Bryan Street in 1898. In 1927 the name changed to St. Paul’s Hospital, and in 1958, the name changed again, this time to St. Paul Hospital. The imposing building and annex (and whatever other structures were contained in the complex) were demolished in 1968.

Below are several wonderful photographs taken inside the sanitarium around 1910 by one of Dallas’ best photographers, C. E. Arnold. They are from the St. Paul Hospital Collection in the UT Southwestern Library.


st-pauls_nursing-stn_1910_utsw_smThe nursing station.


st-pauls_mexican-ward_1910_utswThe “Mexican Ward” (as noted on the back of the photograph).


st-pauls_sleeping-porch_1910_utswA patient ward on a screened-in sleeping porch.


st-pauls_waiting-room_1910_utswA waiting room.


st-pauls_xray-room_1910_utswThe x-ray room.


st-pauls_nurses-library_1910_utswThe nurses’ library. (I LOVE this photo! Check out the crazy typewriter stand attached to the desk — I’ve never seen anything like that before.)


st-pauls_student-nurses-dorm_1910_utswThe nurses’ dormitory on the top floor.


st-pauls_mattress-sterilization-room_1910_utswAnd, my favorite, the ominous-looking “mattress sterilization room” in what appears to be a dungeon.




UPDATE: Check out some fantastic historic photos of the hospital and its nurses contained in this UT Southwestern Medical Center publication, “St. Paul University Hospital, A Legacy of Caring,” here.


Top postcard is from the Vincentiana Postcard Collection, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul University Library, Chicago; it can be found here.

Bottom postcard, with the cheerful message from Edna, was found on Flickr, here.

All photographs are from the St. Paul Hospital Collection in the UT Southwestern Library. Other photos from this 1910 collection can be found here. (For fuller descriptions, click the linked text beneath the photos in this post.)

An interesting article on the photographer, Charles Erwin (C. E.) Arnold, and the technique used in capturing his interiors, can be found here.

A historical timeline of St. Paul’s can be found in a PDF here.

Wondering where St. Paul’s Sanitarium was located? It was at Bryan and Hall streets, across from Exall Park. Here is the location, from a 1919 map:


All images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Teatro Panamericano / Cine Festival — 1943-1981

teatro_villasana_1950sEl Panamericano (click for larger image) (Villasana)

by Paula Bosse

In 1937, Joaquin José (J. J.) Rodriguez opened the first theater in Dallas to show Spanish-language movies. It was the Azteca, at 1501 McKinney Avenue, one block away from the still-there El Fenix. He soon changed the name to the Colonia and later to El Patio.

colonia_1938-directory1938 city directory

Even though a journalist later described this theater as being “dingy” and “unprepossessing” (DMN, July 31, 1944), the theater was quite successful, little surprise as the Hispanic community of the day was sorely underserved in almost every way. This endeavor was so successful that in the fall of 1943, the 36-year old entrepreneur made a big, BIG move: he bought the stunning and palatial Maple Avenue building that once housed the famed Little Theater, an amateur theatrical group that had burst on the scene in 1927, but which had fallen on hard times in recent years.

Rodriguez raised the necessary $35,000 (equivalent to almost half a million dollars in today’s money), bought the beautiful building at 3104 Maple, and renamed it Teatro Panamericano. The announcement that appeared in The Dallas Morning News spun the new moviehouse as being a boon to students and Anglo members of the community who might need to brush up on their Spanish rather than as a welcomed entertainment venue for the “Mexican colony” living and working in the adjacent Little Mexico neighborhood.

teatro-panamericano_dmn_092243DMN, Sept. 22, 1943

El Panamericano was an immediate success and soon became not only a place to see movies, but also a place for Dallas’ Spanish-speaking community to meet and mingle, with PLENTY of room for all sorts of events. (It was so big that Rodriguez and his family lived in back, and he had TWO offices and more storage space than he had things to store in it.)

After more than 20 years of running a successful theater that catered to his core niche audience, Rodriguez was persuaded to change the theater’s focus. Mexican families had slowly moved out of the neighborhood, many to Oak Cliff where the Stevens Theater on Fort Worth Avenue had begun showing Spanish-language movies in the early ’60s and had siphoned off a large portion of Rodriguez’s audience. In 1965 the Panamericano became an arthouse cinema, showing mostly subtitled European (and, later, underground) films, movie bills which were clearly aimed at college students and an upper-class Anglo audience. The Panamericano became the splashy Festival Theater.

festival_box-office-mag_112265BoxOffice magazine, Nov. 22, 1965

An indoor-outdoor restaurant — the Festival Terrace — was added, and it boasted of being “the only theater in the history of Texas with a wine and beer license.”

festival_box-office-mag_112265-restaurantBoxOffice magazine, Nov. 22, 1965

teatro_villasana_1960s1960s (Villasana)

As impressive as the Festival and its array of films were, the theater struggled, and Rodriguez later called this period a “big mistake.”

“As soon as I could, I changed it back to the way it was before. In fact, I lost money on that deal.” (DMN, Aug. 9, 1981)

Another unusual misstep for Rodriguez at this time was his decision to open a drive-in that showed only Spanish-language films. What sounded like a great idea was another surprising failure for Rodriguez. Despite its non-stop advertising in the first half of 1965, the wonderfully-named Auto-Vista (located in Grand Prairie) lasted less than a year.

auto-vista_dmn_032565“Cine en su coche”! (DMN, March 25, 1965)

Rodriguez’s new-old Spanish-language theater — now the Cine Festival — was still popular, but it never regained its former glory. In 1981, Rodriguez retired and sold the property. Despite efforts by preservationists to save the beautiful Henry Coke Knight-designed building, it was demolished a few months later in the dead of night under cover of darkness (… that happens a lot in Dallas…). A nondescript office building was later built in its place.

little-theater_demolished_dmn_010482DMN, Jan. 4, 1982

J. J. Rodriguez died in 1993 at the age of 86, almost exactly 50 years after opening one of the most important entertainment venues for Dallas’ Hispanic population. He was a respected leader in the community and was president of the Federation of Mexican Organizations for many years, an organization he helped found in the 1930s. His theater was both culturally important and beloved by its patrons.

teatro-panamericano_dmn_080981DMN, Aug. 9, 1981


pampa-news_AP-073044J.J. with daughter and wife (Pampa News, July 30, 1944) AP photo

rodriguez_villasana_downtown_1940sWith his wife, Maria, downtown 1940s (Villasana)


rodriguez_villasana_1950sIn the projection booth, 1950s (Villasana)


The quality of the matchbook cover image below isn’t great, but it gives an indication of how large the theater was. The building at 3401 Maple — at the corner of Carlisle, across Maple from the Maple Terrace — was gigantic. In a Dallas Phorum discussion (here), the space was described thusly:

“It was an interesting building with an outdoor terrace restaurant, a full proscenium stage, rehearsal space downstairs below the stage, dressing rooms, shop/storage areas, and even a puppet theatre built into a wall in the balcony lobby area.”

To see what the corner of Maple and Carlisle looks like now, click here (have a hanky ready). Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to still have that elegant building and still see it in use as a theater and restaurant?



In what may well be research overkill, I thought it was odd that there was an Azteca Theatre at 1501 McKinney a year before Rodriguez owned it. I wondered if, in fact, Rodriguez had owned the first Spanish-language movie theater in Dallas, or whether that distinction belonged to Ramiro Cortez (whose name is often misspelled as Ramiro Cortes). It seems that Cortez’s theater might have featured live performances rather than motion pictures. Like Rodriguez, Cortez had ties to Dallas entertainment — read about him here.

azteca_1937-directory1937 city directory


Photos with “Villasana” under them are from the book Dallas’s Little Mexico by Sol Villasana (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011); all are from the personal collection of Mariangel Rodriguez. More photos of J. J. Rodriguez can be seen here (click “Next” on top yellow bar).

The full article from the Nov. 22, 1965 issue of the industry journal, BoxOffice, includes additional photos and information and can be seen here and here.

All other images and clippings as noted.

Articles on J. J. Rodriguez and his theaters:

  • “Teatro Panamericano” — coverage of opening night festivities by John Rosenfield, DMN, Oct. 12, 1943, can be read here.
  • “Dallas Citizen Pan-American Movement Aid: Rodriguez’s Theater Meeting Place for Good Neighbor Groups,” an Associated Press story by William C. Barnard (which appeared in the DMN on July 31, 1944), is here.
  • “Maple Location Regains Swank” by John Rosenfield, DMN, Sept. 18, 1965, about the change from El Panamericano to the arthouse Festival Theater, is here.
  • “Festival Fades, but Mexican Movies Thrive: Theater Owner Says Adios to Film Business” by Mercedes Olivera (DMN, Aug. 9, 1981) about the closing of the Festival Theater, is here.

J. J. Rodriguez’s obituary — published in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 26, 1993, is here.

Read about Teatro Panamericano at Cinema Treasures, here.

Read about the competing Stevens Theater in Oak Cliff on Fort Worth Avenue, here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

500 Posts?!


by Paula Bosse

Unbelievably, when I uploaded the previous post, I was informed that it was my 500th post. Even though I’ve written each and every one of them over the past 18 months, that still seems a little hard to believe. 500!

Thanks to everyone who reads Flashback Dallas. It’s been a lot of fun!

I’m having unresolved computer issues at the moment and am unable to post anything new for the time being. But after 500 posts, I might need to take a nap and venture away from my desk for a while!

Thanks again to all of you for your continued interest and support!



Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Movie Houses Serving Black Dallas — 1919-1922

palace-theatre_elm-st_1922-dplThe Palace Theatre, Elm St., Deep Ellum, 1922 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

In 1920, movie theaters — like most places in Dallas at the time — were segregated. If black customers were allowed at all in the downtown white vaudeville and movie houses, they had separate entrances and restricted seating areas (generally in the balcony). But Dallas’ African-American community had their own popular theaters, run by enterprising and energetic men who endlessly promoted their jam-packed and constantly-changing bills.

Judging by the amount of ad space purchased in the black-owned and operated Dallas Express, there were four main movie theaters catering to black Dallasites around 1920: the Grand Central Theatre, run by John Harris, the Mammoth Theatre, run by Joe Trammell, the Palace Theatre, run initially by Felix Moore, and the High School Theatre, run by Herbert Batts; the first three of these houses were in Deep Ellum, the last one was in what was then called “North Dallas.’ The theaters played both “white” films and films with “all-Colored casts.” The advertising for these theaters is great — far more ad space was available in the tiny Express to publicize the movies, the popular but now-forgotten Silent Film stars of the era, and the proprietors themselves than was available to the theaters on the other end of Elm Street in the much larger, white-owned News, Journal, or Times Herald. Sometimes it’s good being the big fish in the little pond — absolutely everybody knows who you are.


The Grand Central Theatre was at 405-407 N. Central Ave. (which later became Central Expressway), between Swiss and Live Oak on the outer northern edge of Deep Ellum. John Harris, the owner, put himself in practically all of his ads. He included this autobiographical sketch in one of them:

micheaux-grand_dallas-express_052821-detDallas Express, May 28, 1921

I’m not sure if he operated “the first Negro moving picture show in Dallas,” but I wouldn’t doubt it — the man was a dynamo who possessed not only a bold self-confidence, but he also seems to have had an unlimited promotional budget. UPDATE: The first appearance of a theatrical enterprise by John Harris shows up in the 1913 city directory (directories generally collected their information the previous year, so he was probably in business in 1912). Harris is listed under the “Amusements” section at the same address as the Grand Central Theatre, a name which came later. The same 1913 directory also lists the Star Theatre, which later became the Palace (see below). These are the only two theatres designated at “colored.” It’s unclear whether the theaters hosted live performances or showed movies. Or both.

The Grand Central advertised relentlessly. (Click ads to see larger images.)

grand-central-theatre_dal-express_120420Dec. 4, 1920

grand-central-theatre_dal-express_051421May 14, 1921

grand-central-theatre_dallas-express_080621Aug. 6, 1921

Below, an ad showing one of the offerings to be a Ben Roy Motion Picture Corp. movie called “My Baby” which was “made in Dallas, featuring William Lee and All Colored Cast.”

grand-central-theater_dal-express_052722May 27, 1922

Harris was connected with the legendary black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Not only did he regularly run his films, but he also seems to have been working as a booker, promoter, and distributor of Micheaux’s films and ran the Micheaux Film Productions branch office out of the Grand Central. “Colored Pictures are Money-Getters.”

micheaux_dallas-express_051421May 14, 1921

One ad that caught my attention was this one, for a locally-shot film called “Colored Dallas.” I really, REALLY want to see this, but the possibility of an extremely minor, 95-year-old silent film having survived into the 21st century is slim.

colored-dallas_dallas-express_012420Jan. 24, 1920


The Mammoth Theatre was located at 2401 Elm Street, between Central and Hawkins. It opened in late 1919 — the run-up to the opening was publicized in this Dallas Express item.

mammoth_dallas-express_112219Nov. 22, 1919

The Mammoth might not have advertised quite as much as the Grand Central did, but it frequently took out splashy full-page ads. Full-page! I bet that royally irked John Harris. Below, a Mammoth ad from 1920.

mammoth_dallas-express_040320April 3, 1920

Two details from the above ad:


“Operated by Colored folks for Colored Folks.”

The owner, Joe Trammell, seems to have had an inexhaustible source of money for advertising — those frequent full-pagers (unusual for the time) must have cost a pretty penny. I couldn’t find much information about any of these men, but I stumbled across this photo of Trammell, tacked on to one of his … um … mammoth ads.

mammoth_joe-trammell_dallas-express_021221Feb. 12, 1921


The Palace Theatre, seen in the photo at the top, was at 2407 Elm Street, just a couple of doors down from the Mammoth. (This Palace is not to be confused with the “white” Palace Theatre, the stalwart of Theater Row at the other end of Elm.) It opened in 1920 in the remodeled space formerly occupied by the Star Theatre,

palace_dallas-express_030620March 6, 1920

palace_dallas-express_050820May 8, 1920


Lastly, moving up to North Dallas, we find the High School Theatre, located at 3211 Cochran, between Central and N. Hall Street. The reason for its name was its close proximity to the Colored High School (the only high school for African-American students at the time — it would soon merge with and relocate to the new Booker T. Washington High School a short distance away). The following businesses were in this same block: the High School Cold Drink Stand, the High School Cafe, the High School Shine Parlor, and the High School Tailor Shop. Location, location, location.

high-school-theater_dallas-express_031519March 15, 1919

My favorite High School Theatre ad is this one, touting a serial called “The Master Mystery” starring Houdini … one of the screen’s first appearances of a robot! (Check out a scene featuring both Houdini and the robot/automaton, here.)

houdini_dallas-express_031519March 15, 1919


The only one of these theaters still in business in 1930 was the Palace. by 1937, the Palace had become the Harlem Theatre.




Top photo showing Elm Street and the Palace Theatre and the bottom two photos showing the Harlem Theatre are from the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division, Dallas Public Library. The upsetting view of what that stretch of Elm looks like now can be seen on Google Street View, here. Below, side-by-side, 1922 and 2015 — Elm St. looking east to Deep Ellum, the Knights of Pythias temple in both images down the street on the left. Look what we’ve lost.


All ads and clippings from The Dallas Express, as noted. A few years’ worth of this important newspaper, which served Dallas’ African-American community, can be accessed here.

More on Oscar Micheaux, here.

A 1919 map from UNT’s Portal to Texas History shows the location of the Grand Central Theatre (red square), the Mammoth (blue), and the Palace (yellow).


The High School Theatre — up in “North Dallas” (adjacent to present-day Uptown) — is seen on a different portion of the same map, below.


Most images are larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Tower Theater — 1967

theater-row_preservation-dallasMovie premiere at the Tower, 1967 (click for larger image) photo, Lovita Irby

by Paula Bosse

Elm Street, probably Thursday July 6, 1967, when “The Dirty Dozen” opened at the Tower. Next door at the Capri was “Spartacus.” Down the street, at the Majestic, the second week of the James Bond movie, “You Only Live Twice.” At first I thought it was odd that there was little in the clothing that looked like 1967, but I guess there probably weren’t a lot of hippies standing in line to see “The Dirty Dozen.”


Photo by Lovita Irby, from the November 2013 Preservation Dallas newsletter, accessible in a PDF here.

Trivia: Appearing in “The Dirty Dozen” was Dallas native Trini Lopez.

Previous Flashback Dallas posts on Theatre Row/Theater Row, here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Three of Dallas’ Earliest “Photoplay Houses” — 1906-1913

dixie-theater_1910_sherrod_smuDallas’ first movie house, here in 1910 on its third name (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I seem to be deep into an unintended “Movie Week” here, all because I’ve been researching a photo of a little-known early suburban movie theater — and that’s how I stumbled onto a great article about Dallas’ first “picture shows.” The rather clunky title of the extremely informative Dallas Morning News article (which is linked below) is: “Startling Progress of Picture Shows; One-Third of Dallas’ Population Daily Entertained; History Local Houses; Dark Storerooms and Rickety Chairs Give Way to the Modern Photo-Play Theater” (March 9, 1913).

Some of the facts in the article are a bit off, but it’s fascinating to read that the first (or certainly ONE of the first) showings of a moving picture in Dallas was at the State Fair in 1897, when a boxing promoter presented what was one of the earliest “pay for view” matches in history — he showed footage of the highly publicized Jim Corbett-Bob Fitzsimmons Heavyweight Championship fight which had taken place a few months previously — the fight was originally intended to be fought in Dallas, but it was moved to Nevada, causing, one would assume, much consternation to those involved with the staging of and promotion of the fight. Not only did the promoter make back all the money he had invested locally in the thwarted boxing match, but he made a hefty profit trundling the film around the country for curious viewers (which included a large number of women who were not generally allowed to watch boxing matches).

Later, two men set up a projector in a second-story window and began showing movies on an open-air screen across the street, at Main and Lamar. It was popular, but it was also something of a traffic hazard. Also, there were itinerant hucksters who came and went, showing motion pictures wherever they could, moving from city to city.

It wasn’t until the summer of 1906 that Dallas got its first permanent movie house when William McIlheran opened the Theatorium (a common word used around the country back then for a movie theater, but which, to virgin ears, sounds as odd as “Sportatorium” must to people who have never heard that word). It was at 311 Elm Street (which later became 1315 Elm), at about where Field is today, and it was the first movie theater on Theater Row! I love this description of what the place was like, from the DMN article mentioned above (even though the opening date is off by a year):

theatorium_dmn_030913DMN, March 9, 1913


With the arrival of this permanent theater (one with an actual roof over it), the moving picture had finally became more than just a mere novelty, and the success of the Theatorium started a mad dash of entrepreneurs opening up their own theaters. Within a month of the Theatorium’s opening, at least four more such houses were open for business.

At some point the Theatorium became the Wonderland (in 1907 or 1908), and it began showing so-called “talking films” (the talking was, apparently, provided by an off-stage actor providing the spoken dialogue while trying to match the silent actors’ lips on screen).

cameraphone_talking-pictures_dmn_101908The “Cameraphone” — DMN, Oct. 19, 1908

And finally, the Wonderland turned into the Dixie (seen at the top, in 1910).

But it wasn’t until the beginning of 1913 that the first “palaces” arrived. The Queen Theatre opened first, at the corner of Elm and Akard. The DMN raved: “The most beautiful Photo-Play Theater in the South. Every man, woman and child in Texas should see this theater — truly a credit to the State” (DMN, Feb. 2, 1913).

queen_bldg-code-bk_1914Photo from Building Laws of the City of Dallas, 1914

queen_cinema-treasuresElm St. about 1917, with Queen on left — photo from CinemaTreasures.org

queen-theater-1939-CORBISInterior, 1930s — photo from CorbisImages.com

queen-theatre_dmn_102012DMN, Oct. 20, 1912

The Queen opened to rapturous crowds in January, 1913, but moviegoers barely had time to catch their collective breath when the Hippodrome opened at 1209 Elm, just a few weeks later, on March 1, 1913. It was “…conceded to being the finest moving picture house in the United States” (DMN, March 9, 1913).


hippodrome_bldg-code_1914Photo from Building Laws of the City of Dallas, 1914

hippodrome_dmn_022813DMN, Feb. 28, 1913

By the time the Queen and Hippodrome opened, movies had become a popular and profitable form of entertainment. In 1913 Dallas had 28 “picture shows” — 24 for white patrons and 4 for black patrons. Even vaudeville houses occasionally ran short films to pad out their live shows. And, notably, movie houses had begun to pop up away from downtown: in 1913 there were a dozen “suburban” theaters in residential areas of town (many of these, though, showed movies outdoors and thus operated only in the warmer months and at night).

There was a tremendous appetite for movies in Dallas in those early years, and when the money men realized that motion pictures weren’t just a here-today-gone-tomorrow novelty but a burgeoning industry, they dived in with enthusiasm.

“Any tendency to cast the movies aside as a passing fad has given way to a realization that they are here to stay and that the crest of their popularity has not yet been approached.” (DMN, March 9, 1913)

And Theater Row was off and running.


The photo of the Dixie Theatre and the Theatorium ad are from the Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University. I found them in Historic Dallas Theatres by D. Troy Sherrod. Sherrod’s passage on the Theatorium/Wonderland/Dixie is well worth reading, here.

The very informative Dallas Morning News article of March 9, 1913 on the history of movie theaters in Dallas can be read here (it opens in a PDF, click the plus-sign at top of page to increase the text size).

Background on the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight is here. Background on the now-legendary FILM of the fight is here; highlights of the 1897 film can be viewed here.

Many images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


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