3800 Main: Fritos Central — 1947

by Paula Bosse

by Paula Bosse

Last week I came across the above photo of old cars parked in front of a Fritos building of some sort, and I wondered where it had been. After a little bit of digging, I found out that it was near Fair Park — in the 3800 block of Main, between Washington and Exposition, on land right next to the railroad tracks. The building in the foreground appears to be gone  now, but I recognized the white, rounded towers behind it — I never knew what that building was, but I now know that it is the Frito company’s former grain elevator. And it’s still standing. Which I’m thankful for (and a bit surprised by) since it’s always been one of my favorite buildings in the area.

The Frito company (now Frito-Lay) has had its headquarters in the Dallas area since 1933. In the ’40s, its corporate offices were on Cedar Springs and its manufacturing plant was over near Fair Park, on Main Street. By 1947, the ever-expanding company had grown so much and had become so successful that it spent half a million dollars to build a whopping new grain elevator. The Dallas Morning News was there for a sneak-peek:

The extra-tough volcanic stones in the adjacent factory Monday will begin grinding corn supplied from a spanking new, ten-story white building just off the 3800 block of Main Street. […] The tall square gleaming structure is a $515,000 thoroughly modern elevator. […] Air-conditioned and equipped with the latest design apparatus, the elevator has storage capacity for 90,000 bushels of corn. It will supply the grain to the company’s factories in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Tulsa, and two plants in Los Angeles.

The new Frito elevator, weather proofed on the outside and weather controlled inside, was designed by Eugene Davis, architect. Huge grain cleaners which remove all chaff and foreign matter by shaking and air blast, occupy the second floor. Spray machinery gives the grain a thorough treatment to prevent infestation — the ‘buga-boo’ of grain products manufacturers. (DMN, Aug. 10, 1947, “Corn: $515,000 Elevator Latest Chapter in Corn-Chip Saga”)

Fifty-one boxcar loads of “select corn” — sans chaff and infestation — could be stored in that gleaming state-of-the-art grain elevator, designed by Eugene Davis (who a few years earlier, had designed another building for the Frito people, a small building at Wall and Corinth which housed the Pork Skin Chip Company).

In 1947, 3800 Main appears to have been something of a corn-chip Hyannisport — a self-contained compound in which all aspects of chip-production were seen to. As Kaleta Doolin (daughter of company founder C. E. Doolin) wrote in her book Fritos Pie:

Mr. Davis was the architect of all the various parts of the Frito plant in Dallas. The plant included the company’s grain elevator, where all the corn was stored; the machine shop (which my uncle Earl was in charge of); the food processing area; and the shipping warehouse, all built by Mr. Davis in 1947.

But that building in the top photo… that one had been there for years. 3800 Main Street had been the home of two or three car dealerships in the decades before Frito moved in. In 1929, as this photo shows, it was the location of the long-lived Ford dealership, Lamberth Motor Company.


And here’s the same building in 1947, Frito-ized.

And the side of the building, taken from across the railroad tracks, then and now.

Another old building survives! What a relief that Dallas doesn’t tear down EVERY cool old building!


Sources & Notes

Can’t find a source for the top photo. It looks as if someone took a photo of a framed picture which is probably hanging on the wall of a person who feels a great kinship to old Dallas. Or to Fritos. Or to snacks.

Quote about the various parts of the plant is from Fritos Pie: Stories, Recipes, and More by Kaleta Doolin (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 2011), p. 45.

The two 1947 photos of the Frito building are insets from a series of logrolling ads in which Frito thanks Texas Bank & Trust for all the money they’ve helped Frito make, and Texas Bank & Trust thanks Frito for all the money they’ve helped Texas Bank & Trust make. The take-away? There sure is a lot of money to be made in fried food.

The bottom two photos are from Google maps: the first looking toward the old granary from the railroad tracks, and the second looking down from the unblinking Google eyeball in the sky.

Lastly, a current photo of the building, now renovated and occupied by Hammers + Partners Architecture (whose daily business affairs are probably always accompanied by the faint smell of fried corn wafting past), can be seen here. (What must that building look like inside?!)

Click pictures for larger images.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.