Lakewood’s “Modernistic” Skillern’s Drug Store — 1934
by Paula Bosse
Architect’s drawing, 1934 — Abrams & Gaston…
by Paula Bosse
The drawing above was architect J. N. McCammon’s design for a new 14,000-square-foot concrete-and-stucco building of a new Lakewood development, at Abrams and Gaston (a stone’s throw from land now occupied by the parking lot of the Lakewood Whole Foods). It was to be built by Rae Skillern, whose Skillern’s drug store would anchor the development, with a Wyatt Food Store also occupying a large chunk of the property. The “retail village” was to be modeled (…somewhat) after the much-lauded Highland Park Village shopping center, and its design was described in articles as being “modernistic.”
Construction was to begin in early 1934 and be completed in 90 days, but things hit a bit of a roadblock when Lakewood residents objected to a shopping area in their “high-class” residential neighborhood (charming though Skillern’s design might have been…). A zoning classification change from “local retail” to “residential” was sought by concerned Lakewood inhabitants, but the City Plan Commission nixed this and gave the builders the go-ahead.
Skillern’s No. 4 opened in December of 1934 at 6401 Gaston and humbly hailed its newest emporium as “America’s most beautiful drug store.” It was, by far, the largest in the local company’s quickly expanding chain, and it featured a large, varied inventory, beautiful fixtures and innovative merchandising, a large soda fountain (with curb service), a “perfume bar,” and an open view into the “prescription department” where customers could watch the pharmacists doling out their medications.
The small shopping area quickly became a popular shopping destination (along with the larger Lakewood Shopping Center across Gaston), and the big, new Skillern’s — which sat at the point of the triangular-shaped “village” — was its focal point.
Skillern’s left its cool building sometime around 1971, after a fire caused heavy damages in November, 1970. It moved across the street, into the equally cool old Gaston Avenue Pharmacy (known familiarly as Doc Harrell’s drug store, the place with the iconic conical roof), not long after Harrell’s death in 1969. The Lakewood outpost of the Mickey Finn’s chain of pool halls opened in the old Skillern’s space in February, 1972. In 1978 the property was condemned by the city to make way for the weird Abrams Bypass, which cut through that northeast corner of the Gaston-Abrams intersection; several buildings in the immediate vicinity deemed to be in the way of progress were demolished, including Rae Skillern’s “modernistic” drug store, a Lakewood landmark for over 40 years. Pity.
Below, a screenshot of footage from WFAA-Channel 8 News, in late November 1970. A last hurrah.
Sources & Notes
Skillern’s was located on the northeast corner of Gaston and Abrams at the tip of a triangular-shaped piece of land. The drawing at the top shows Abrams running vertically (to its west), and Gaston running horizontally (to its south). It would have faced the old Dixie House space. The Abrams Bypass skewed everything, but it was about where the little triangular “park” is now — between Abrams Parkway and Abrams Road, just west of the Whole Foods parking lot. (UPDATE: I now know that that greenspace has a name: Harrell Park!) Below is an aerial photo of what this part of Lakewood used to look like. Gaston is in yellow, Abrams is in blue, the Skillern’s building is circled in red, and the Lakewood Theater (for reference, because this all looks pretty freaky to us today and it’s hard to get one’s bearings) is circled in white. Looking northeasterly.
To see a larger image of this aerial photo — without the markings — click here. (Photo from the book The Dallas Public Library, A Century of Service by Michael V. Hazel, presumably from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.)
An interesting account of the how the bizarro Abrams Bypass happened can be found in the D Magazine article “Why Lakewood Doesn’t Trust Itself” by Charles Matthews (Oct., 1978), here. A Dallas Morning News article on the same topic — “Lakewood Plan May Benefit Bank” by Henry Tatum (March 12, 1978) — can be found in the Dallas Morning News archives.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
Skillern’s sat where Harrell Park is today. That’s the little patch of grass across the parking lot from Curiosities/Scalini’s/Blow/Legal Grounds.
Thanks. I edited that a few minutes ago, but maybe I should add that that little greenspace has a name!
For some reason, I am unable to get my bearings on the aerial photo. Shouldn’t the country club be on the left side of Gaston as you are approaching the Abrams/Gaston intersection (heading toward downtown)? I have been through that intersection many times and that is how I remember it.
Yes, but the aerial photo is looking east.
Thanks Paula. I finally have my bearings now. Foolish me.
one good question where was Skillerns number 1…..and a date they came to exist…
go here and on the far left hand side you can see the location as it was in 1930
and here is a 1952 aerial
I’d seen the 1930 one. What direction are we looking in the 1952 view?
I had come too Lakewood in 1979, and went too work in opening the Dixie house…that is when they tore this building down I can recall and it really was a great loss too the area….Dallas is really its own worst enemy too its small communities in the inner city…..except it I have from one bad developer too another and the city planners who change the rules of living and land marks here….
I haven’t been near this intersection in better than thirty years but do understand most of what has happened in those years. However, I don’t get naming the park Harrell. The original Harrell drug store building survives, does it not? Seems they could put a nice plaque on it and then name the park Skillern Park, but maybe that sounds like a commercial endorsement.
James A. Skillern opened the first Skillern’s in Lewisville in 1885.
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[…] drug store in Lakewood (which I wrote about here). Streets were rerouted and it’s hard to believe, but this is now the site of the Lakewood […]
I just bought “stadium checkers”with a skilleens price tag ….the game is from 1952…..