Back When Preston Royal Was “Exotic” and Had Its Very Own Elephant

by Paula Bosse



by Paula Bosse

Dallas had a restaurant like this?! Yes, it did. (EDIT: It has been brought to my attention in the comments that the image above shows the *Houston* location. But I have been assured that the Dallas location had its very own elephant standing guard outside — so I will not have to ignominiously change the title of this post!)

The Safari Steak House was in the Preston Royal Shopping Center at the northeast corner of Preston & Royal (in the space now occupied by the venerable Royal China restaurant). The decor shown in the postcard above is something else — someone put their whole heart and soul into that, from the elephant and, um, elephant wrangler (“mahout“?) out front, to the ornate wood carving and the somewhat… busy murals inside. And the uniformed staff is pretty impressive, too.

Here are photos of the DALLAS Safari, taken in 1961 by Squire Haskins (photos from the UTA Libraries, Special Collections — click the links below the photos for full descriptions and large images). (Thanks, Tom Bowen, for sharing these links in the comments.)

safari_squire-haskins_1961_UTA_1via UTA Libraries, Special Collections

safari_squire-haskins_1961_UTA_2via UTA Libraries, Special Collections

Guy T. Jones opened the Safari in mid 1956 (I think the Houston location was opened later — it was open by at least 1959). I could find almost no early advertising for the place — perhaps Jones blew his advertising budget on elephants and murals. At this point, the shopping center was basically still under construction — the eastern-edge building (home of the Safari) opened about a year after the larger northern-edge building. There used to be a gap between the two buildings, which can be seen in the photo immediately above and can (sort of) be seen in the 1955 ad below, which shows a model of what the finished shopping center would look like.

preston-royal-shopping-center_032755-adAd detail, March 1955

In 1974, Royal China (which is a fantastic place, by the way) took over the space.

I really wish I’d seen that elephant, which — according to the comment below — “was highly visible and well lit at night.” I certainly hope so!


From the cover of the menu:






Below, the steak menu. One could choose between the “Maharajah (Man’s) Size” and the “Maharanee (Ladies’) Size.” Or get the kebabs of skewered beef “deliciously seasoned with Safari Sauce — A Treat.”



One of the stars of the restaurant was Iqbal “Ike” Singh Sekhon, who started working as the restaurant’s host while studying for his Master’s degree at SMU. He left a few years later to run the fabulous La Tunisia.




Sources & Notes

Edit (Sept. 2022): Wow. This post had a bunch of problems! All I can say is that this was one of my very earliest posts. I was so enamored of that elephant that I made a couple of very glaring errors.

First off, the original title of this post was “Back When Preston Royal Village Was ‘Exotic’ and Had Its Very Own Elephant.” The Safari Steak House was in the Preston Royal Shopping Center, located on the northeast corner of Preston and Royal; the Preston Royal Village shopping center, is on the northwest corner. I’ve (ignominiously) changed the title, but… yikes.

And, as mentioned in the first paragraph, the postcard at the top shows the Houston location, not the Dallas location. Incidentally, the Houston building is still there — it can be seen in a 2011 Google Street View capture here.

The two photos by Squire Haskins (linked below the images) are from the Squire Haskins Photography Inc. Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Special Collections (thanks, Tom!). They are dated 1961, one year before a major fire at the restaurant. They reopened the following month, with what sounds like quite an update in decor. I’m not sure when the “gap” between the two shopping center buildings was filled in, but that would have been a good time to expand.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.