Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: City Government

The Elegant Municipal Building — 1914

ciA very un-Dallas-looking building … and one of its finest (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Appearing in the May 7, 1914 issue of Municipal Journal was a short article on Dallas’ then-under-construction Municipal Building and a drawing of what it would look like when completed.


Dallas Will Have Modern Municipal Building
Dallas, Tex. – The new municipal building of the city of Dallas is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy in a few months. It will house all of the city departments and in addition will have a modern emergency hospital in the basement and public rest rooms for both men and women. The building is said to be a radical departure in architectural design from the usual type of public buildings in the South; it is constructed along simple but dignified lines. The structure will be of steel construction covered with blue Bedford stone, the five stories, basement and sub-basement will be a home worthy of the city of the hour, as Dallas people like to call their town. Ventilating and heating systems are being installed together with vacuum cleaners. The building, without furnishings, will cost about $550,000. C. D. Hill and Company are the architects. The structure was started by the Fred A. Jones Building Company, which failed just as the steel was up, and it is being finished within the estimates by the city under the supervision of the architects.

This new City Hall, located at Main, Harwood, and Commerce, was designed by Dallas architect C. D. Hill. Construction began in late 1913 — by January of 1914, its steel frame was in place.

municipal-bldg_dmn_010114Dallas Morning News, Jan. 1, 1914

The cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on Valentine’s Day, 1914.

municipal- bldg_FWST_021514-cornerstoneFort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 15, 1914

As the construction was winding down, workmen complained of an “intolerable” swarm of mosquitoes flying around the site. Apparently an underground spring was flooding the sub-basement and providing palatial digs for endless cycles of constantly-hatching mosquitoes. (I wonder if the basement still floods on occasion?)

municipal-bldg_dmn_091014-mosquitoesDMN, Sept. 10, 1914

The building was officially opened on October 17, 1914. Here’s a grainy photo that absolutely does not do that beautiful building justice.

municipal-bldg_dmn_101714DMN, Oct. 17, 1914

When the doors were finally opened to the public, it was expected that a few thousand people would show up to tour their new municipal building — in actuality, the much-larger-than-anticipated crowd numbered somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 curious Dallasites.

municipal-bldg_dmn-101814DMN, Oct. 18, 1914 (click for larger image)

The beautiful exterior was faced with granite and stone, and the interior boasted marble, mosaic tilework, and wood paneling. All of the furniture used in the building was made in Dallas. In addition to the mayor’s office, fire, police, and other municipal departments, the building also housed an emergency hospital, a sub-basement shooting range (!), and, on the 3rd floor, an 1,100-seat auditorium, with a 4th-floor gallery. (The auditorium was designed so that if, in the future, it was determined that it was not needed, it could easily be converted to office space by adding a few columns and beams — a renovation which obviously happened at some point.) Interestingly, the northern half of the top floor was left unfinished as the space was not needed at the time.

ALSO included in the new building’s amenities were much-needed public restrooms (or as they were euphemistically referred to back then, “comfort stations”). A men’s restroom and a women’s restroom (“positively divided with heavy walls”) were located under the Main Street sidewalk, accessible down stairs on either side of the building’s entrance. Up until this point, there was only ONE public “comfort station” in the city (for women and children) — at Fair Park. So for most downtown visitors, this might well have been the most exciting aspect of Dallas’ newest landmark.

The building referred to as both “City Hall” and “the Municipal Building” was considered to be one of the city’s finest and most elegantly imposing. But there are always a few people who just don’t like nice things, and there was a surprising amount of vandalism to the building in its first few weeks.

municipal-bldg_dmn_111014-vandalismDMN, Nov. 10, 1914

This is one of the truly great buildings in Dallas, and it just recently celebrated its 100th birthday. It is a Dallas Landmark and a Texas Recorded Historic Landmark. No longer a city property, it is now part of the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law campus (along with the old Titche’s building). UNT is currently working to restore and renovate this beautiful historic building. Thank you, UNT!


A few images of the building over the years. Here it is in its pristine early days:


Then there was a weird middle-age-crazy period when someone thought that the addition of awnings would be a good idea (that person was incorrect).


And, today, it’s back to looking distinguished and lovely. Thanks to the wonderful new open park in front of it, it has been given the stately space it deserves — what may be Dallas’ most beautiful building is finally able to be fully admired from a respectful distance.

municipal-bldg-today_wikipediaJoe Mabel, Wikipedia


Top photo from the book Historic Photos of Dallas by Michael V. Hazel (Nashville: Turner Publishing Co., 2006).

Quote from Municipal Journal, Vol. XXXVI, No. 19 — May 7, 1914.

Photo of the old Municipal Building today by Joe Mabel, from Wikipedia. (And, yes, the parking garage of the Dallas Municipal Building is where Ruby shot Oswald.)

Newspaper photos and clippings as noted.

For a detailed description of the architectural details, design elements, and description of office and department locations within the building, see the article “Municipal Building Handsome Structure” (DMN, Oct. 4, 1914), here.

I’d love to know more about the little “aluminum trays, bearing a picture of the building” mentioned as being given away on opening day in an article above. There were FIVE THOUSAND of them given away. Surely there are some still around. Has anyone seen one of the these?

municipal-bldg_dmn_101814_aluminum-traysDMN, Oct. 18, 1914

municipal-bldg_c-d-hill_tx-almanac_19141914 Texas Almanac ad for C. D. Hill & Co.

Most images larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“The Walls Are Rising” — SEEN!

trinity-amphitheater-bandshell_aia-dallas_1960sA 1960s vision for development of the Trinity (AIA Dallas)

by Paula Bosse

The AIA Dallas screening last night of “The Walls Are Rising,” a 1967 film made by the AIA about Dallas’ somewhat chaotic urban planning, was a huge success! Not only were there upwards of 250 people in attendance at the Sixth Floor Museum to view the film and listen to a panel discussion afterwards, but, for me, it was something of a surreal experience to have a large group of people discussing a film I had researched and researched but had been unable to find any trace of after 1972. I contacted the Dallas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects with my “re-discovery,” and they enthusiastically set out to find it.

Thanks to AIA Dallas’ Anna Procter, the film was found and digitized. Other related archival materials were also found, including a wonderful series of drawings, one of which (above) shows one of the many grand and occasionally outrageous visions for a new Trinity River Town Lake: an amphitheater facing a bandshell set IN the water, replete with the ubiquitous sailboat that always seems to accompany renderings of just about every view of Trinity development I’ve ever seen. I would love to see this series of drawings collected in a book. I would buy it.

It was a great event, and it was so nice (and, again … surreal) to meet so many people who told me they enjoyed the blog. Thank you! (And, guy-who-told-me-about-losing-an-hour-of-time-at-work-reading-the-blog … thanks — but get back to work!)

I loved the film. It was weird and kooky and definitely of its time. It’s interesting to see how the city has improved in the past 40-something years, but it’s also frustrating to see how LITTLE it’s changed.

The film will be available in the near future for online viewing, which is great, because not only will more people be able to see it, but also because we’ll all be able to pause it to look more closely at some of the many, many photos used in the film. UPDATE: Watch the film online, here.

Thanks to AIA Dallas/Dallas Center for Architecture, panelists Howard Parker, Larry Good, and Jack Gosnell, moderator Robert Wilonsky, and the Sixth Floor Museum for an entertaining night. And thanks to everyone who attended!


Sources & Notes

A few of the reviews/recaps of last night’s film and discussion:



Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Dallas’ “Courthouse Complex”

courthouse-complex_tinkle_key-to-dallas_1965-drawingEarly-’60s vision of the “courthouse complex” (click for VERY large image)

by Paula Bosse

Let’s all be thankful that the Old Red Courthouse is still with us, because there was serious talk in the ’50s and ’60s of razing it to make way for a more modern downtown and a more efficient use of space. Lon Tinkle wrote the following in the mid-’60s:

courthouse-complex_tinkle_key-to-dallas_1965Excerpt from Lon Tinkle’s “The Key to Dallas” (1965)

Tinkle’s next paragraph: “It is not that Dallas doesn’t care. It does. But it has to grow into this experience of great cities, and it will.”


Here’s what the eastern boundary of the “courthouse complex” looked like in 1964. (Incidentally, the first Kennedy memorial site was chosen in April, 1964, and it was to be in the block immediately to the east of the Records Building, the one seen in the center of this photo. Sometime in the next few months, the location was changed to the block immediately east of the Old Red Courthouse.)

Ferd Kaufman, AP

Here’s what the southern boundary looked like when construction of the new Dallas County Courthouse began in the spring of 1963:


And here’s the “complex” today.


Old Red isn’t going anywhere!


UPDATE: After posting this on the Flashback Dallas Facebook page, a person commented about having worked across the street during the new courthouse’s construction.

On the night of June 19, 1964, a massive fire broke out on the upper floors of the new courts building, which was then under construction. There were 130 firefighters and more than 30 pieces of equipment on the scene according to newspaper accounts. The commenter wrote the following, in clipped sentences, telegram-style:

“I started to work 1963 at Terminal Annex. The Court House under construction, razed by fire shortly thereafter, heat from fire made us work away from windows. There was no thought of leaving building as mail had to make connections to railroads.”

First thing: Wow. The postal creed in action. Wonder if the workers got hazard pay? Or at least a W.C. Fields “hearty handclasp.”

Secondly: I had never seen the phrase “razed by fire” before. It’s not really accurate here, because only the upper floors were destroyed, but the cinematic quality of the phrase is pretty cool. I’ll have to file the phrase away to be used as the title for my memoirs, even if it doesn’t really apply to anything I’ve ever done or experienced. Can’t sacrifice a good title.

Thirdly: I continue to realize just how exceedingly dull my life is.


Sources &  Notes

Top image and text is from Lon Tinkle’s wonderful The Key to Dallas (Philadelphia/New York: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1965), an extremely informative book for young people.

Labeled image of the area in question, looking west, is an Associated Press photo by Ferd Kaufman, taken in 1964. I used this previously in the post “Where To Put That Kennedy Memorial? — 1964.”

Aerial view is a current one, from Google Maps.

Most images are larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Urban Crisis: “The Walls Are Rising” — 1967

Oak Cliff Pier? Just one part of Dallas’ urban future as envisioned in 1967…

by Paula Bosse

In 1967, the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects unveiled a project it had been working on under the sponsorship of the Greater Dallas Planning Council for over a year — a 40-minute color slide presentation with recorded narration called “The Walls are Rising,” directed by writer-photographer Ron Perryman of Austin. Enslie “Bud” Oglesby — one of Dallas’ top architects and the chairman of the committee behind the project — said of the film:

I saw here an opportunity to demonstrate the problems which poor planning bring and the results that can come from a sound, unified planning program…. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 18, 1967)

The rather more urgent tone of the brochure that accompanied the film was a bit more dire:

We cannot afford to lose any more time in developing a coordinated plan to make Dallas a more beautiful and effective city, for all around us the walls are rising, the city is being built… We are designing by default instead of summoning our vitality, wealth resources, talents and human vision to create a design plan that will give Dallas quality and character all its own.

The goal of the project was to create awareness among city officials, planners, and designers (as well as among the public) of the immediate need to address the conscious physical design of the city in order to improve its future “livability.” The argument was that the city of Dallas was, in 1967, an unplanned and uncoordinated chaotic urban environment dominated by (and practically strangled by) the automobile; it was overwhelmed by traffic, noise, and visual clutter, and it lacked much-needed green spaces and personal “refuges.”

It was stressed that the film was not a plan, per se, but was, instead, an outline of suggestions that the AIA and the Greater Dallas Planning Council were proffering for discussion (and, one assumes, hoping would be implemented). Among their suggestions were the following (some of which have been adopted, but many of which have been “on the table” for decades now and which Dallas leaders continue to debate):

  • A 6-mile hike-and-bike trail from Turtle Creek to Reverchon Park
  • A rapid transit system (the report stressed that it would be urgently needed by 1980)
  • The creation of downtown parks
  • The development of downtown apartment housing
  • A centralized transportation hub (bus, rail, air)
  • The reduction in noise, visual clutter, and traffic
  • More “sensitive” freeway planning, which should be designed (or re-designed) for the driver and not for the automobile
  • More awareness of the pedestrian in designing downtown and neighborhood streets, especially in regard to safety and accessibility
  • Development of, yes, the Trinity River and its levees, including a downtown lake and sailboat-dotted marina, with apartments and a variety of entertainment and shopping venues lining the “shore”
  • And, most unexpectedly, a “scenic link” which would connect Fair Park to the Dallas Zoo, incorporating a sort of shuttle service between the two locations (and across the Trinity) via an elevated gondola ride (!)

As fun and fanciful as fresh ideas on getting to Oak Cliff are, the film seems to have been more of a warning of what the city’s future might be if it continued down its then-current path of … having basically no plan at all. The film started off by assaulting the viewer’s senses with several minutes of “blaring, cacophonous music” and a rush of chaotic images — and opened with the ominous words, “We are living in an accident.” The League of Women Voters issued a report in 1968 called “Crisis: The Condition of the American City” in which they described “The Walls Are Rising” as “a horror film.”

What sounds a bit like a sophisticated A/V presentation was screened for dozens and dozens and dozens of groups in the Dallas area between 1967 and about 1972: it was shown to various Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs, women’s groups, church groups, business groups, arts organizations, and on and on and on. The film would usually be introduced by an architect who would also lead a discussion and answer questions afterward. If you were a member of a civic or professional group in the late ’60s, chances are pretty good you saw “The Walls Are Rising.”

Which is why it’s so surprising that all traces of the film seem to have vanished in the intervening years. I contacted the Dallas Municipal Archives, the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library, AIA Dallas, and Dallas Center for Architecture. Everyone was very helpful, but … nothing. Designs for Dallas and the later Goals for Dallas are better known projects, but it seems that there would be something connected with this film lying around somewhere. I’d love to see it. It sounds like it would be entertaining and informative … and depressing. We’ve come so far. …We haven’t come far at all.


walls_FWST_061867Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 18, 1967 (click for larger image)


Sources & Notes

“The Walls Are Rising” was introduced to the Dallas public in Dorothie Erwin’s article, “A Design for Dallas Proposed,” which ran in the Feb. 12, 1967 edition of The Dallas Morning News. Additional descriptions of the film can be found in the article “A Courageous Look at Today’s City” by Larry Howell (DMN, May 3, 1968).


UPDATE: Jan. 9, 2015 — Great news! AIA Dallas has found the film and has scheduled a screening!

  • To read my follow-up post “‘The Walls Are Rising’ — FOUND!” click here.
  • To read Robert Wilonsky’s Dallas Morning News article on the newly-found film, click here.
  • For info on the AIA Dallas screening, click here.

UPDATE: Jan. 20, 2015 — The public screening and panel discussion at the Sixth Floor Museum was great! Read about it here.

UPDATE: May, 22, 2015 — AIA Dallas has digitized and uploaded the film to Vimeo. Watch the complete film here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Whither Water? — 1956

drought_caterpillar-ad_1962_det“Dallas — The City That Decided Not To Die of Thirst”

by Paula Bosse

Between 1950 and 1957, Texas suffered the worst drought on record. By 1957, 244 of Texas’ 254 counties had been declared disaster areas. In 1952, Lubbock recorded not even a trace of rain. Elmer Kelton captured the period perfectly in his classic novel, The Time It Never Rained. It might not have achieved the epic catastrophic proportions of the Dust Bowl days, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t devastating.

In Dallas, the lakes and reservoirs were hit hard. White Rock Lake dried up — one was able to walk across the parched lake bed without a drop of water in sight. Lake Dallas (now Lake Lewisville) fell to 11% of capacity. Dallas was desperate for water, and in 1956, it began “importing” water from Oklahoma. Red River water was appreciated, but it was considered by many far too salty to drink. In addition to the unpleasant taste, residents were concerned that there would be permanent damage to pipes and plumbing, and, to a lesser extent (since watering restrictions were being strictly enforced) to their lawns.

According to one report, salt content in the water supply had gone from the normal 39 parts per million gallons to over 800 parts (at the height of the problem, some news outlets reported it to be well over 2,000 parts per million). While the water was generally considered perfectly safe for the average person to drink, many looked for cleaner, more palatable drinking water.

drought_FWST_082356Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Aug. 23, 1956 (click for larger image)

Suddenly bottled water became a boom business. Spring water was being trucked to Dallas from Glen Rose and Arkansas. Water was being sold in bottles and cartons — from 20 cents per half-gallon cartons to $2.50 for five-gallon bottles ($1.50 of which was for a deposit on the glass bottle). WBAP-TV news even sent a cameraman out to a Cabell’s convenience store to capture some boys testing out the Glen Rose water (watch it here, without sound).


The other source of acceptable drinking water that summer was from city wells dotted around Dallas. Long dormant, the city opened the wells and offered free water to residents. From The Dallas Morning News:

If you don’t like that hard, salty water coming from your taps, you can get soft, unsalty water at four city wells beginning Sunday. City manager Elgin E. Crull Saturday said that the city has installed faucets at the four wells where people may take their buckets or bottles and obtain drinking water. No trucks will be permitted to fill up. (DMN, Aug. 19, 1956)

The four wells mentioned above — and two more opened within a few weeks — were located at the following locations:

  • 1325 Holcomb, near Lake June Road
  • Opera and 13th, near the Marsalis Zoo
  • 875 North Hampton, near Lauraette Street
  • 2825 Bethurum, in South Dallas, near the public housing project
  • Northwest Highway and Buckner
  • Matilda and Anita, on the grounds of Stonewall Jackson Elementary School, in East Dallas

These wells were hugely popular, with thousands of people showing up with jugs, jars, kettles, canteens, and bottles of every conceivable size. (More WBAP news footage of people filling up at these wells can be seen here, without sound; details below).



The popularity of the city wells led to private citizens having wells dug on their own property. Not only were bottled water suppliers making a killing during the summer of ’56, so were the owners of drilling businesses. From The Dallas Morning News:

As salty water from city mains reportedly discourages shrubbery and affronts the taste, drillers of shallow residential water wells ride the crest of a boom. […] Luckiest of the water-seekers are residents of the southern section of the city in the Fruitdale, Pleasant Grove and Home Gardens area, and in the neighborhoods that border Loop 12. That is where drillers are finding pay dirt — water-bearing gravel — at shallow depths. (DMN, Oct. 7, 1956)

It wasn’t just professional drillers who were busy — it wasn’t uncommon for the DIY-ers to be out in the backyard on weekends, digging away, hoping for their own personal source of fresh water. And there were probably even some dowsers out and about, water witching their little hearts out.

The drought ended the next year, and personal wells were a thing of the past, but that mania for bottled water really dug its heels in.

Texas developed the Water Planning Act of 1957, and in 1962, this new mandate and what had happened in Dallas during the drought was used as the basis for a Caterpillar ad which had a bit of a hyperbolic headline, “Dallas — The City That Decided Not To Die Of Thirst”:

drought_caterpillar-ad_19621962 ad (click for larger image)


Sources & Notes

Picture of the four boys tasting the Glen Rose water is taken from the WBAP-TV news story that aired on Aug. 12, 1956. The silent, edited footage was shown as the news anchor read the script, seen here. Film footage (linked above) and script from the Portal to Texas History.

The two pictures of people availing themselves of water from the city’s wells are taken from the WBAP-TV news story that aired on  Aug. 19, 1956. The silent footage ran as the anchor read the script seen here and here. Film footage (linked above) and script from the Portal to Texas History.

1962 Caterpillar ad from eBay.

More on affect of the drought on Dallas can be found in these Dallas Morning News articles:

  • “Sparked by Salt: Business Booming For Bottled Water” (DMN, Aug. 5, 1956)
  • “Citizens Stock Up On Saltless Water” by Sue Connally (DMN, Aug. 20, 1956)
  • “Thirsty City Witnesses Revival of Well Drilling” by William K. Stuckey (DMN, Oct. 7, 1956)
  • “Resourceful Citizens Tap City Water Well” (DMN, Oct. 16, 1956)
  • “Continuing Drouth Produces Top Local News Story in ’56” by Patsy Jo Faught (DMN, Dec. 30, 1956)

Read about how the drought affected Texas water management here; read about the Texas Water Rights Commission here.

Read “The City of Dallas Water Utilities Drought Management Update” in a PDF, here.

Finally, I encourage everyone to grab a tall glass of ice water and settle down to read Elmer Kelton’s classic Texas novel, The Time It Never Rained. Or if you’re pressed for time, read Mike Cox’s article about the book in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Dallas Police Department & Their Fleet of Harleys — 1951

ad-harley-davidson_dpd_19511951 ad (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Group photo day!

Like so many cities all over the country — whether large or small — the motorcycle division of the Dallas Police Department is equipped with Harley-Davidsons exclusively. Effective traffic regulation is assured through the use of 35 solo Harley-Davidsons and 29 Servi-Cars. Traffic experts recognize that no other method matches motorcycles for efficiently handling so many phases of traffic control work and accident prevention.


1951 Harley-Davidson ad from … somewhere — probably eBay.

Back in 1910, the DPD was perfectly happy with Indian motorcycles, as can be seen in a previous post, “Dallas Motor Cycle Cops — 1910,” here.

Click ad for much larger image.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

When the Spanish Influenza Hit Dallas — 1918

American Red Cross at Love Field, spraying soldiers’ throats, Nov. 6, 1918

by Paula Bosse

The Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 caused as many as 50 million deaths worldwide — about 600,000 of which were in the United States (11 times greater than the number of American casualties during World War I). Locally, the influenza first hit the soldiers at Camp Bowie in Fort Worth in September, 1918. The flu spread quickly, and on Sept. 27, it was reported that there were 81 cases in the camp. Well aware of the devastation the flu had wrought in other U.S. cities, most notably at military camps, Fort Worth was, understandably, taking the situation seriously. Dallas leaders, on the other hand, were all-but pooh-poohing the need for concern. On Sept. 29, The Dallas Morning News had a report titled “Influenza Scare is Rapidly Subsiding” — the upshot was that, yeah, 44 reported cases of “bad colds” had been reported in the city, but there’s nothing to worry about, people.

In the opinion of the military and civil doctors, the Spanish Influenza scare is unwarranted by local conditions. The few cases of grip, it is claimed, are to be expected as the result of the recent rainy weather.

Just two days later, though, officials were jolted out of their complacency when the (reported) cases jumped to 74 (click for larger image):

spanish-influenza_dmn-100218DMN, Oct. 2, 1918 (click for larger image)

The months of October and November were just a blur: the city was plunged into an official epidemic. There was no known cure for the flu, so a somewhat ill-prepared health department preached prevention. People were encouraged to make sure their mouths were covered when they coughed or sneezed, and they were directed to not spit in the street, on streetcars (!), in movie theaters (!!), or, well, anywhere. (Handkerchief sales must have soared and spittoon sales must have plummeted.)

At one point or another, places where people gathered in large numbers — such as schools, churches, and theaters — were closed. Trains and streetcars were required to have a seat for every passenger (no standing, no crowding) (…no spitting). The number of mourners at funerals (of which there were many) was limited. And there was a major push for citizens to clean, clean, clean their surroundings in an attempt to make the city as sanitary as possible. Instructions appeared often in the newspapers.

spanish-influenza_dmn-101218DMN, Oct. 12, 1918

It was estimated that there were 9,000 cases of Spanish Influenza in Dallas in the first six weeks. By the middle of December, when the worst of the outbreak was over, it was reported that there had been over 400 deaths attributed to the Spanish Influenza and pneumonia in just two and a half months. As high as these numbers were, Dallas fared much, much better than many other parts of the United States.

spanish-influenza_ad_dmn_101818Ad, DMN, Oct. 18, 1918


Sources & Notes

Photo at top was taken on November 6, 1918 and shows American Red Cross Workers spraying throats of military personnel based at Love Field in hopes of preventing the spread of the influenza. The photo is from the Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine; I found it on the NMHM site, here. (Click photo for larger image.)

Ad for Pepto-Mangan (“The Red Blood Builder”) was one of a flood of medicines and tonics claiming to be effective in the fight against Spanish Influenza (none were).

For a detailed and remarkably well-researched, comprehensive history of the Spanish Influenza in Dallas, see the article prepared by the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine, here. It’s pretty amazing.

To read about the history of pandemics (including several good links regarding the Spanish flu), see the Flu.Gov site, here.

And, NO, Ebola is not transmitted like the flu. But it’s still good practice to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze,wash your hands frequently, and never EVER spit in the street, because that’s just disgusting. ((This post was originally written whilst Dallas was the center of the Ebola universe.))


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Dallas in 1879 — Not a Good Time to Be Mayor

main-jefferson_1879_greeneA view from the courthouse, looking north (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a view of Dallas in 1879, looking north from the courthouse (one of many in the city’s past that eventually burned down); the intersection in the right foreground is Main and Jefferson (now Record Street).

This is such a cool photo that, on a whim, I checked to see what exciting things might have happened in Dallas in 1879. I found that the city’s voters had just elected a new mayor, James M. Thurmond, who had run on an “independent reform and morality ticket.” Yawn. On the surface, that hardly seemed very interesting — a  historical fact, yes, but not all that exciting. But, wait, there’s more to the story.

Thurmond’s post-election honeymoon was short-lived because, even though he had won a second (one-year) term, he had made some serious enemies in his first term. He was removed from office in 1880 by the city council in a lack-of-confidence vote, the result of a nasty trial and probably slanderous accusations by lawyer Robert E. Cowart.

The feud between Thurmond and Cowart grew more and more bitter as time passed, and on March 14, 1882 — moments after the two men had exchanged angry words in Judge Thurmond’s courtroom — Cowart shot and killed Thurmond. Witnesses described the shooting as an act of self-defense. They said that Cowart shot when the judge reached for his pistol. (For an incredibly gruesome account of this incident, the contemporary newspaper report is linked below.)

The photograph above was taken from the courthouse where this shooting took place. When the photograph was taken in 1879, the animosity between the new mayor and an unhappy lawyer had already begun to percolate. I suppose men with “Esq.” after their names in the 1880s were predisposed to shoot-outs indoors in well-appointed courtrooms rather than out in the dusty streets at high noon. It’s classier.

thurmond_headstone_greenwood-cemetery_findagraveGreenwood Cemetery, Dallas (photo: David N. Lotz)


Top photo is from Dallas, The Deciding Years — A Historical Portrait by A. C. Greene. (Austin: The Encino Press for Sanger-Harris, 1973); photo is from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.

Photo of J. M. Thurmond’s headstone in Greenwood Cemetery is from Find A Grave, here. Cowart — who died in 1924 — is buried in a nearby plot in the same cemetery. (Incidentally, Cowart’s claim to fame — other than shooting a judge in his own courtroom — appears to be that he was the person who inadvertently came up with Fort Worth’s nickname, “Panther City” when he wrote a tongue-in-cheek newspaper article about Fort Worth in 1875. Read a great history of this amusing kerfuffle in Hometown by Handlebar’s post, here — scroll to the second story.)

For an interesting contemporary report of the shooting — including gruesome eyewitness accounts — check out the article from the March 15, 1882 edition of The Dallas Herald (under the headline “The Deadly Pistol”), here, via the Portal to Texas History.

A short background on the Thurmond-Cowart feud, from the WPA Dallas Guide and History (which includes the verdicts of Cowart’s two trials for murder), can be read here.

Click top photograph for HUGE image.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“There Are Eight Million Stories in the Naked City…” — ca. 1920


by Paula Bosse

The photograph above, by George A. McAfee, shows Ervay Street, looking south from Main, in about 1920. Neiman’s is on the right. The two things that jump out right away are the number of people on the sidewalks and the amount of  congestion on the streets. In addition to private automobiles (driven by “automobilists” or “autoists,” as the papers of the day referred to them), the street is also packed with standing cars in the taxi rank (cab stand) at the left, and a long line of hulking streetcars. This busy intersection is jammed to capacity.

The city of Dallas was desperately trying to relieve its traffic problems, and there were numerous articles in the papers addressing the concerns of how to manage the congestion of streets not originally designed to handle motor vehicle traffic. Dallas and Fort Worth were working on similar plans of re-routing traffic patterns and instituting something called “skip stop” wherein streetcars would not stop every block, but every other block. Streetcars, in fact, though convenient and necessary, seemed to cause the most headaches as far as backing up and slowing down traffic, as they were constantly stopping to take on and let off passengers. There was something called a “safety zone” that was being tried at the time. I’m not sure I completely understand it, but it allowed cars to pass streetcars in certain areas while they were stopped.

That traffic is crazy. But, to be perfectly honest, it’s far less interesting than all that human activity — hundreds of people just going about their daily business. It’s always fun to zoom in on these photos, and, below, I’ve broken the original photograph into several little vignettes. I love the people hanging out the Neiman-Marcus windows. And all those newsboys! Not quite as charming was all that overhead clutter of power lines and telephone lines; combined with the street traffic, it makes for a very claustrophobic — if vibrant — downtown street scene. (Click photos for much larger images.)




5-ervayMy favorite “hidden” image in the larger photograph. The only moment of calm.

6-ervayI love this. The woman in front of the Neiman-Marcus plaque looking off into the distance, the display in the store window, the newsboy running down the street, the man in suspenders, the women’s fashions, and all those hats!


8-ervayA barefoot boy and litter everywhere.



11-ervayThe congestion is pretty bad above the streets, too.


13-ervayCabbies, newsboys, and working stiffs.


15-ervayI swear there was only one streetcar driver in Dallas, and he looked like this! Those motormen had a definite “look.”


Original photograph attributed to George A. McAfee, from the DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University, accessible here.

For other photos I’ve zoomed in on the details, see here.

Click pictures for much larger images.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

That Time When Dallas Changed the Numbers of Every Single Street in Town — 1911

young-street-sign_flickrPhoto by Silver Lighthouse/Flickr

by Paula Bosse

Here’s a topic that isn’t very sexy, but it’s one of those mammoth-scale city-wide operations that had to be done, but no one wanted to tackle it because it was a huge undertaking and it was going to be a big hassle: re-numbering the streets. All of them. Throughout the entire city. I wasn’t aware that something like this had ever happened until I started using old criss-cross directories to try to pinpoint the location of old buildings that were originally built on streets that no longer exist (such as Poydras and Masten).

Why, for instance, is the current address of the Majestic Theatre 1925 Elm St., but in 1909 that same parcel of land on Elm had an address of 463 (-ish)? Weird, huh? Obviously street numbers changed at some point, but when? And why? Eventually I zeroed in on 1910 or 1911 as the year when addresses seemed to have changed, but I was having a hard time finding any information about what prompted the change in the first place. Until I hit on the key phrase “century system.” After that, my search became much easier.

As far back as the 1880s, the city seemed poised to address the haphazard street numbering situation, as it was causing “endless confusion” — the powers-that-be had even seemed to settled on the “century system” (so called because each block is numbered up to 100, with a new hundred starting in the next block). But progress moves at a snail’s pace in city government, and the plan didn’t start picking up steam until fifteen or twenty years later.

In the early days of the 20th century, the numbering of Dallas streets was, as one mail carrier described it, “freakish.” Numbers weren’t always consecutive. Sometimes odd and even numbers were on the same side of the street. Sometimes a run of numbers would suddenly start all over again. Houses sometimes had TWO numbers. People would move and expect to take their number with them. Buildings and houses often had NO numbers. Street signs were few and far between, and it wasn’t uncommon for street names to be duplicated in different parts of town. As you can imagine, unless you were intimately familiar with the area or neighborhood, chances were that you weren’t going to  be able to find anything. Unsurprisingly, the real pressure to come up with some sort of logical, uniform street numbering system came from the city’s postmasters and postal employees (that they managed to regularly deliver mail to the proper recipients is just short of miraculous).

Postmaster Albert G. Joyce (one in a line of several postmasters who tried to effect change over the years) wrote an impassioned/frustrated plea for action in 1904:


1904_street-numbering_dmn_051804b(DMN, May, 18, 1904)

Everyone agreed that something needed to be done — especially as the city’s population was growing at an astronomical rate, but … nothing got done. Here, at the end of 1907, another exasperated postal employee shared examples of the problem:

1907_street-numbering_dmn_120707(DMN, Dec. 7, 1907)

 By 1909, a plan was finally starting to come together. This article describes how the numbering system would be implemented downtown, starting from the Trinity River, with Main and Ervay being the east-west and north-south anchors:

1909-street-numbering_dmn_121709-ervay(DMN, Dec. 17, 1909)

Even though the plan had basically been decided on, it wasn’t put into action for at least a year. There were three main reasons to delay the implementation: city directories had already been compiled and were to be issued soon, the 1910 census survey was about to begin, and the post office (which would bear the brunt of the impact of the drastic change) asked that the changeover take place before or after the busy holiday season.

By the end of 1910, the final details had been hammered out. The main change to the previous version of the plan was that the city, rather than the property owners, would pay for the re-numbering. Also, I don’t know if this was a new detail or not, but there is mention here that numbering east of Greenville Ave. would “begin anew.” The re-numbering was expected to be completed in January, 1911.

1910-street-numbering_dmn_100110(DMN, Oct. 1, 1910)

By the middle of January, 1911 the long-put-off task was completed, ending in Oak Cliff. The cost to the city of the “number placement” and the new street signs was $10,500.

1911_street-numbering_dmn_011511(DMN, Jan. 15, 1911)

The problem that had been moaned about for decades had been fixed, and a uniform system of street numbering had finally been put in place.

 1911_street-numbering_dmn_043011(DMN, Apr., 30, 1911)

 I can’t imagine how much of a headache and how unbelievably confusing the whole process and aftermath must have been. Several businesses, concerned that their clientele might have a difficult time “finding” them, hedged their bets by including BOTH address — the old and the new — on their letterhead and in their ads. This two-address thing went on for quite a while with some businesses — in fact, leading real estate man J. W. Lindsley was so annoyed by this practice that he complained about it to the Morning News in 1916 (a full five years after the switch!). Even though, ahem, Lindsley was one of the few advertisers in the Blue Book Directory for 1912-14 who did that very thing:


Unlike his competitor, Murphy & Bolanz, who had just the one (but still felt compelled to add the “new” to the address):


And that is today’s lesson on how Dallas finally bit the bullet and gave the entire city new addresses.

(And now I know that Neiman Marcus apparently IS the center of Dallas.)



UPDATE: HOW TO FIND THE OLD OR NEW ADDRESS. When I first wrote this, I’m not sure if I knew about the very handy resource Jim Wheat provided on his website: the 1911 Worley’s Dallas street directory, here. This is one way you can determine what the post-address-changeover was if you know the pre-1911 address (or vice-versa): find the street name and click on it. You’ll find two columns: one showing the “new” address, and the other the “old” address. (These aren’t always exact, but it at least gets you in the right block number to investigate further.) If you don’t know a specific address, you can make an educated guess according to the cross-streets. Thank you, Jim Wheat!


Photo of Young St. sign from Flickr, here. It’s great.

All newspaper articles from The Dallas Morning News.

The two real estate ads from The Standard Blue Book of Texas, 1912-14, Dallas Edition (Dallas: A. J. Peeler and Company, n.d.).

 Slightly fuzzy Ervay-Main sign from Google Street View.

An early article about this issue, “Street Numbering, A Neglected Matter to Receive Attention Soon” (Dallas Daily Times-Herald, Nov. 22, 1889) can be found here.

And if you’re interested in just what goes into tackling a problem like this in modern times, hie yourself over to “Street-Naming and Property-Numbering Systems” by Margaret A. Corwin (American Planning Assn., ca. 1976). Read the entire report here, in a PDF. I’m nothing if not thorough.



Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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