Not Dead Yet at McKinney & Routh
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
The photo above shows a truly beautiful, Spanish-style building that was built in 1927 at the northwest corner of McKinney Avenue and Routh Street. The view shows the Routh Street side. The person who took this photograph would have been standing across the street on the property of the dearly-departed McKinney Avenue Baptist Church (most recently transformed into the Hard Rock Cafe). You might be surprised to learn that the building in this photo still stands, and it’s mostly recognizable almost 90 years later.
The Community Chapel Funeral Home (yes, a funeral home!) was designed by noted architect Clarence C. Bulger (whose father, C. W. Bulger, designed, among other things, the Praetorian Building downtown AND the just-mentioned McKinney Avenue Baptist Church which was right across the street).
City directory, 1929
In addition to the funeral home portion (reception area, business office, show rooms, “operating room” (!), chapel with seating for 100, and the euphemistically named “slumber room”), the building also contained a residence for the chief mortician and his embalmer wife, an apartment for the ambulance/hearse drivers, and a “pavilion for recreation of employees.” The building and its beautifully-appointed interior cost in excess of $100,000 (which the Inflation Calculator estimates is the equivalent of more than $13 million today!).
Also, an “oxygen plant” was somewhere on the grounds. I’ve never heard of an oxygen plant, but they seem to be a mortuary thing. Let’s hope recently-bereaved smokers were kept at a safe distance from all that highly flammable oxygen, because the company had a bunch of promotional matchbooks printed up, and I can only imagine they were readily available in tastefully-arranged candy dishes of every room of the establishment. And in those days, one didn’t necessarily step outside to smoke one’s anxiety away.
The funeral home at 2533 McKinney Avenue lasted almost thirty years. Sometime in the mid-’50s it was renovated into office and retail space (classified ads mentioned 2-, 3-, and 4-office suites). That lovely interior must have been hacked up pretty bad. An early tenant was the Bankers Securities Corporation, shown below in a newspaper ad from 1956 (someone made some poor choices on that renovation of the exterior). (This view shows an entrance from McKinney rather than Routh.)
For the next 40-odd years, 2533 McKinney Avenue was home to a variety of insurance agents, a fur salon, several companies that advertised in the classifieds for vague “salesmen” positions (one company did specify that it was looking for encyclopedia salesmen in 1963), art galleries, architect/design businesses, offices of “El Sol de Texas” (“the only Spanish-language newspaper in North Texas”), and antique shops.
It all turned around, though, when the long-suffering building was re-renovated and became a restaurant space. Since at least 1999 when Uptown began to explode, it’s been home to bistros, cafes, and upscale eateries. The photos below show some of the restaurants that have set up shop there, and if you know what you’re looking at, the place really does look very similar to C. C. Bulger’s design from almost 90 years ago.
Le Paris Bistrot opened in 1999. The owner changed the name to Figaro Cafe in 2004 when the U.S. was going through an anti-French phase.
Urbano Paninoteca opened in 2007. Something called Split Peas Soup Cafe opened in 2009.
Then Sfuzzi opened with a big splash in 2010. (It had been a McKinney Avenue staple in the 1980s and ’90s, closed, and came back in 2010.) The first photo shows the Routh Street entrance, the second photo shows the McKinney entrance.
And now it’s the Fat Rabbit, which opened earlier this year. Let’s hope they get some landscaping in there STAT! (UPDATE: Fat Rabbit is now an ex-rabbit, and after spending some time of his own in the “slumber room,” he has joined the choir invisible. Next!)
And let’s hope that those tiled roofs and stuccoed walls remain a distinctive part of its future. I love the fact that it still looks a lot like it once did. And I actually like the fact that restaurants have been operating out of an old funeral home for over 15 years. Restaurateurs might be hesitant to publicize the building’s past (although I’m pretty sure most of them have been completely unaware of what the place used to be), but modern-day Harolds and Maudes might be giddy at the prospect of an unusual dining option and move this place right to the top of their date-night list.
Sources & Notes
Top photo is a detail of the ad that appeared in the 1929 Dallas city directory. It shows four Cadillacs — a hearse, 5- and 7- passenger sedans, and an ambulance (“purchased from the Prather Cadillac Company”).
Matchbook artwork from Flickr, here.
Fat Rabbit image from Google street view.
Sources of all other clippings and photos as noted.
Some images larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.