Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Hispanic Dallas

“Hola, Folks!” — Big Tex at the State Fair’s “Exposition of the Americas” — 1965


by Paula Bosse

This “Howdy from Big D” postcard features Big Tex wearing a colorful Mexican serape at the 1965 State Fair of Texas. The theme that year was a salute to the Americas, with events celebrating Canadian and Latin American culture held during the fair’s run. In honor of Mexico Day (and the arrival of the Danzas y Cantos de Mexico troupe of performers), Big Tex donned a snazzy 60-foot-long serape which was provided by the Dallas Beer Distributors Association as a “goodwill gesture.”

Looking good, Big Tex. El Guapo Grande!

big-tex_serape_sfot-1965_plano-star-courier_090165Plano Star-Courier, Sept. 1, 1965 (click to read)


Sources & Notes

Postcard is from the collection of Dallas Heritage Village, via UNT’s Portal to Texas History; more info is here.


Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Santos Rodriguez: The March of Justice — 1973

santos-rodriguez_march_contact-sheet-12_andy-hanson_degolyer_SMUThe March of Justice, July 28, 1973… (photo: Andy Hanson / SMU)

by Paula Bosse

In the wee hours of the morning of Saturday, July 24, 1973, 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez — who was handcuffed in the front seat of a police car — was shot in the head by a Dallas police officer attempting to coerce a confession in a deadly game of Russian roulette. Santos died instantly, as his 13-year-old brother — also handcuffed — watched in horror from the back seat. The shooting (which I wrote about here) set off an explosion of outrage in Dallas, with the bitterest and angriest coming from the Mexican American community.

Four days after Santos was killed, a “March of Justice for Santos Rodriguez” was scheduled to be held in downtown Dallas, beginning at the Kennedy Memorial and ending at City Hall (the old Municipal Building, at Main and Harwood). The event was to be a peaceful march to show the solidarity of the Hispanic community and to protest what many felt was racial prejudice within the Dallas Police Department.

The march down Main Street to City Hall was earnest, and the speeches at City Hall by Dallas activists and concerned civic leaders were impassioned calls to action. After the speeches, many of the marchers headed back to the Kennedy Memorial. About halfway back, they encountered another group of marchers.

At some point, various groups described as “outside agitators” arrived. While the first crowd was listening to speeches at City Hall, a second (and perhaps later even a third) group of protestors assembled and began their own march to City Hall. These new arrivals (many said to be from Fort Worth and Waco) appear to have been the spark that set off what has been described as a “riot,” which erupted back at City Hall, with protesters attacking the police (who had been ordered to refrain from retaliation), breaking windows, and looting several downtown businesses. The image most emblematic of the day was a burning police motorcycle lying in the street just outside City Hall.

…[A]ll was havoc. A motorcycle was burning, a news vehicle was smashed, several officers injured and the sound of shattering glass filled the street… [T]he stench of burning rubber filled the air.” (“Police Taunted By Crowd” by Mitch Lobrovich, Dallas Morning News, July 29, 1973)

Luckily, there were few injuries, and the crowd dispersed after less than an hour.

A couple of days after the protest, the Rodriguez family issued this statement:

The Rodriguez family would only ask that when the people of Dallas hear the name Santos Rodriguez they think not of the unwanted violence that became associated with his name Saturday; but they think of the real Santos Rodriguez, a gentle and well-liked 12-year-old boy who had his life tragically taken from him.


Below (and above), photos taken that day by Dallas Times Herald photographer Andy Hanson which were recently unearthed by curator Anne Peterson, from the collection of his photographs at SMU’s DeGolyer Library:


The only footage I’ve found of the actual march is this video, uploaded recently to YouTube by Mountain View College. It was apparently shot by a Dallas police officer. There is no sound. This is great. Thank you, Mountain View, for preserving this important historical moment.


Sources & Notes

Photos taken by Andy Hanson on July 28, 1973; from the Collection of Photographs by Andy Hanson, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. See the rest of the photos from this day, here. (Note: this does not appear to be the entirety of Hanson’s photos taken that day.) Read about the full Andy Hanson Collection at SMU, here

Read “Honoring Santos Rodriguez” by Anne E. Peterson, Curator of Photographs at the DeGolyer Library (and the person who unearthed these Andy Hanson photos), here.

The YouTube video is titled “Santo Rodriguez 1973 News Footage,” with the description “Rare news footage taken during the 1973 protests in downtown Dallas following the tragic shooting death of 12 year old Santos Rodriguez by a Dallas Police officer. No audio.” I’d like to know more about the story behind this footage.

The coverage of the march(es) and ensuing riot is confusing. A couple of months after the march, Jose Antonio Gonzales wrote a fascinating and (seemingly) comprehensive report for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on how the events developed and unfolded, with an almost moment-by-moment timeline and insight into the individuals involved. Read his fantastic job of reporting in the (awkwardly-titled) article “Chicano Leadership Unity Faulted in Study of Boy’s Death” (FWST, Sept. 16, 1973): part one is here; part two is here.

My previous post on Santos Rodriguez — “Santos Rodriguez, 1960-1973” — is here.

Click pictures to see larger images.


Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Santos Rodriguez, 1960-1973

david-and-santos-rodriguez_austin-american-statesmanDavid and Santos Rodriguez (via Austin American-Statesman)

by Paula Bosse

Today is the 45th anniversary of the tragic shooting of Santos Rodriguez, the 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head by a policeman as he and his 13-year-old brother David sat handcuffed in a police car. It shocked the city of Dallas in 1973, and it is still shocking today.

Santos and David had been awakened and rousted out of bed by Officers Darrell L. Cain and his partner Roy R. Arnold who were investigating a late-night burglary at a nearby gas station where money had been stolen from a cigarette machine — the boys matched a witness’ vague description. The boys said they had nothing to do with the burglary but were taken from their home as their foster-grandfather (an elderly man who spoke no English) watched, helpless, as they were handcuffed and placed in a squad car.

The boys were driven back to the scene of the burglary — a Fina station at Cedar Springs and Bookhout. Santos was in the front passenger seat, and Cain sat behind him in the backseat, next to David. Cain insisted the two boys were guilty and, in an attempt to coerce a confession, held his .357 magnum revolver to Santos’ head. He clicked the gun, as if playing Russian Roulette, telling Santos that the next time he might not be so lucky. The boys continued to insist they were innocent. And then, suddenly, Cain’s gun went off. Santos died instantly. Stunned, Cain said that it had been an accident. He and Arnold got out of the car, leaving 13-year-old David, still handcuffed, in the backseat of the police car — for anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour — alone with his brother’s bloody body. (It was determined through fingerprint evidence that Santos and David did not break into the gas station that night.)

More in-depth articles about this horrible case can be found elsewhere, but, briefly, Cain (who had previously been involved in the fatal shooting of a teenaged African American young man named Michael Morehead) was charged with committing “murder with malice” and was found guilty. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison but ended up serving only two and a half years in Huntsville.

The killing of Santos Rodriguez sparked outrage from all corners of the city, but particularly in the Mexican American community. All sorts of people — from ordinary citizens to militant Brown Berets — organized and protested, persistently demanding civil rights, social justice, and police reform. If anything positive resulted from this tragic event, perhaps it was a newly energized Hispanic community.


I am ashamed to say that I was not aware of what had happened to Santos Rodriguez until I began to write about Dallas history a few years ago. This was an important turning-point in the history of Dallas — for many reasons (namely the Chicano movement, race relations, the fight for social justice, and an examination of Dallas Police Department procedure). Over the past week I’ve read a lot of the local coverage of the events of this case, and I’ve watched a lot of interviews of people who were involved, but perhaps the most immediate way I’ve experienced the events and emotions swirling about this case has been to watch television news footage shot as the story was unfolding. Thanks to the incredibly rich collection of TV news footage in the possession of the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at SMU, I’ve been able to do that.

Below is footage shot by KDFW Channel 4, which has, most likely, not been seen for 45 years. Some of it appeared in news reports and some is just background B-roll footage shot to be edited into news pieces which would eventually air on the nightly news. The finished stories that aired do not (as far as I know) survive, but we have this footage. It’s choppy and chaotic and darts from one thing to the next, which is how a red-hot news story develops. Of particular interest is the short interview with 13-year-old David at 9:16 and the violent aftermath of what began as a peaceful march through downtown at 19:54.

A more comprehensive collection of the events — from just hours after the shooting, to the conviction of Darrell Cain — can be found in this lengthy compilation of WFAA Channel 8 news footage. Heads up to anyone considering a 50th anniversary documentary on Santos Rodriguez — this and the Channel 4 footage are essential sources.


santos-rodriguez-cropped_smuSantos Rodriguez (Nov. 7, 1960 – July 24, 1973)


Sources & Notes

Top photo is a family photo, from the Austin American-Statesman article “Is It Time For Dallas To Honor Santos Rodriguez?” by Gissela Santacruz, here.

My sincerest thanks to Jeremy Spracklen at SMU for alerting me to these two collections of important historical news footage from KDFW-TV/Ch. 4 and WFAA-TV/Ch. 8, both of which are held by the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University. (All screenshots from these two videos.)

An excerpt from the 1982 KERA-produced documentary “Pride and Anger: A Mexican American Perspective of Dallas and Fort Worth” (the Santos Rodriguez case is discussed) is on YouTube here.

“Civil Rights in Black & Brown” is a fantastic oral history project by TCU. I watched several of the interviews focusing on Santos Rodriguez, but I was particularly taken with the oral history of Frances Rizo — her 2015 interview is in two parts, here and here.

More on the events surrounding the killing of Santos Rodriguez can be found at the Handbook of Texas History site, here.

My continuation of this story can be found at the Flashback Dallas post “Santos Rodriguez: The March of Justice” — 1973,” here.


Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

From El Chico and the Cuellar Family: Feliz Navidad!


by Paula Bosse

…y Prospero Año Nuevo!



Sources & Notes

Images from a matchbook cover in the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more on the item can be found on the SMU site here.

A couple of super-folksy El Chico commercials can be watched here.


Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Little Mexico: Turney & Payne — 1940

little-mexico_ca_1940_WPA-GD_DHSLooking southeast, toward Pegasus… (click for much larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, a photo taken in 1940 at the intersection of the unpaved Turney Avenue and Payne Street, in Little Mexico — El Barrio — just north of downtown. St. Ann’s school can be seen at the end of the street, and the Villasana Food Store (prop. Rodolfo Villasana, est. 1932) is at the left; in the distance, Pegasus atop the Magnolia Oil Building. (A similar view from 1941 during ongoing street-widening — taken a bit farther back and from a slightly higher elevation — can be seen here.)

In 1941, Turney Avenue was widened and paved and then … lost its name; it became part of the brand new Harry Hines Boulevard.

Hines Boulevard begins at Five Point, where the $100,000 Tom Field Circle will be built and stretches eight miles into Dallas over Turney Street to Cedar Springs, joining Akard at Harwood. (Dallas Morning News, July 23, 1941)

Another view of the area during this period of road work can be seen in the photo below. Ramon Alonzo’s store seen at the lower right was at 2209 Caroline. (The once-familiar “smokestacks” seen in the background belonged to the Dallas Power & Light Company, which sat on land now occupied by the American Airlines Center.)


Adios, Turney. Big changes are ahead. You’ll never believe how much your old neighborhood is going to change.


Here are the residents and businesses along both Turney and Payne as listed in the 1939 Dallas directory, one year before the upheaval began (click to see larger images):

1939 Dallas directory

1939 Dallas directory

To get an idea of where Turney was, here’s a detail from a 1919 map.


Today? It’s part of Victory Park. If you took a right on Payne at the sign advertising “milk” (in front of the Villasana gas station), you’d be about two blocks from what is now the American Airlines Center. Yep. A current Google Street View is here.


Sources & Notes

Top photo from the WPA Guide and History (which has been fully scanned and may be accessed at UNT’s Portal to Texas History site, here); photo from the collection of the Dallas Historical Society.

More great photos of Little Mexico from this time can be found in the article “Little Mexico and the Barrios of Dallas” by Gwendolyn Rice (Legacies, Fall, 1991), which can be found here. (The photo of Alonzo’s store is from this article.)

Several images of Turney under construction in 1940/1941 can be see in the Department of Public Works collection at the Dallas Historical Society site, here. (The linked image in the first paragraph is from this collection.)

The top photo also appears in Dallas’s Little Mexico by Sol Villasana (his family owned the store and the gas station at the Turney-Payne intersection); see it — and a northward view of the gas station, here.

For those who enjoy articles about road construction, here are a couple of Harry Hines-related News articles which might be of interest:

  • “Dedication Rites Planned For Boulevard; New Highway Named For Harry Hines Opens About Aug. 1,” DMN, July 3, 1941. (Officials were a little optimistic with that August opening — it didn’t officially open until October, 1941.)
  • It’s weird to think of Harry Hines being an actual person, but see a photo of him at the ribbon-cutting, along with another name more familiar to us today as a freeway than as a flesh-and-blood human being, Woodall Rodgers, then mayor: “Ribbon Road Barrier Snipped,” DMN, Oct. 15, 1941.

All pictures and clippings larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


North Dallas High School, The Pre-Beatles Era

1962_before-school_ndhs_1962-yrbkBefore school, 1962 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Today, a few random photos from the 1960, 1962, and 1963 yearbooks of North Dallas High School.

The top photo (from 1962) is my favorite, because, had I not known what part of town this photo was taken in, I would never have guessed. I’m still not 100% sure, but I think this shows Cole Avenue running alongside NDHS. The Cole and Haskell Drug Store (Coke sign) was on the corner of … Cole and Haskell, but things have been so Uptown-ified that this area is now almost completely unrecognizable from even 20 years ago. At least the school and Cole Park remain (mostly) unchanged.

So, a few moments in the life of NDHS students in the days just before The Beatles and Vietnam. (All photos are larger when clicked.)

From 1960, majorettes practicing, with batons and headscarves — two things one doesn’t encounter often these days.



From 1962, cheerleader Gene Martinez with the school’s bulldog mascot, Duchess.



The rest of the photos are from 1963, when most of the girls had the Laura Petrie flip hairstyle. (Seen here are Suzy DeGaw and Olga Delgado.)


As far as the boys, an alarming number of them sported haircuts like the ones below (although these two seem to be a bit on the extreme side — most were shorter) — it’s a sort of early-’60s version of the ’80s’ Flock of Seagulls hair-do where you look back on it and shake your head in wonderment. I’m not exactly sure what “butch wax” is for, but I’m thinking it’s for this. (Pictured here are Jody Chenoweth and Robert Paul Reid.)


Girls “gabbed.”


Boys loitered.


Girls had beauty pageants (and wore a lot of plaid).


And boys practiced shooting.


North Dallas had their very own rock and roll band — “The Misters,” headed by the enormously popular Jesse Lopez (younger brother of Trini Lopez, who went to Crozier Tech). (Morning sock hops?!)


In fact, The Misters won the high school combo contest at the State Fair several times. And speaking of High School Day at the fair….


And back on campus, I don’t know who you are, Rufus Jara, but I nominate you as Coolest-Looking NDHS Student of 1963. (Caption from the yearbook: “Rufus Jara appears to be bothered by the light in the lunch room.”)


These last two photos leave a lot to be desired in quality (I did my best with yellowed paper and a broken book spine), but I think it’s interesting to see what the street looked like in front of the school, and on McKinney Avenue, to the left. Again, not recognizable today.



ndhs_map_1962Detail from a 1962 city map


All photos from The Viking, the North Dallas High School yearbooks from 1960, 1962, and 1963.

More from these yearbooks: see a LOT of ads in the post “Ads For Businesses Serving the  North Dallas High School Area — Early 1960s,” here. Several feature NDHS students.

All pictures larger when clicked!


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

When a Virgin Sacrifice at Fair Park Almost Caused an International Incident — 1937

pan-american_aztec-sacrifice_colteraAztec sacrifice with a warrior, not a virgin, on the official postcard

by Paula Bosse

The Greater Texas and Pan-American Exposition at Fair Park was a four-and-a-half-month extravaganza which opened in June, 1937 as a follow-up of sorts to the previous year’s Texas Centennial Celebration. According to promotional material, its goal was to celebrate the Americas and “to promote the feeling of international goodwill between the twenty-one independent nations of the New World.” (It was also hoped that the city could rake in some more Centennial-sized cash.)

One of the biggest attractions of the Pan-American Expo was a huge production called Cavalcade of the Americas, which presented highlights from the history of Latin America and the United States. There were scenes from ancient Mexico, Columbus’ landing, the Revolutionary War, Stephen F. Austin’s arrival in Texas, the settling of the Old West, etc., right up to FDR’s participation in the Inter-American Peace Conference in Argentina in 1936. Utilizing much of the same infrastructure as the previous year’s Cavalcade of Texas, it was staged outdoors, in the old racetrack, with a 300-foot stage and elaborate scenery depicting an ocean, mountains, and a smoking volcano. Horses, wagons, “ships,” and a cast of hundreds took part in the production.

cavalcade-americas_FWST_060637Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 6, 1937

It was quite elaborate. The postcard view below will give you an an idea of the scale of what was being billed as the world’s biggest stage.(I  believe the whole thing revolved — or at least part of it did — with another stage on the side facing away from the audience; the scenery, cast, and perhaps the donkeys, would change out before revolving to face the audience.)


The opening scene featured an Aztec sacrifice and an angry volcano. Start big! This relatively brief portion of the show caused a lot of headaches (and/or much-welcomed publicity) for the producers, State Fair organizers, and, probably, the image-conscious Dallas Chamber of Commerce. But why? As originally written (by the remarkably prolific Jan Isbelle Fortune), the Aztec sequence involved the sacrifice of a struggling young maiden atop a blood-stained pyramid. Two months before the opening of the Expo, a rather sensationalistic photo of this historical reenactment appeared in the pages of newspapers across the country, no doubt resulting in raised eyebrows and whetted appetites. (Click to enlarge!)

aztec_greencastle-indiana-daily-banner_080437Greencastle (Indiana) Daily Banner, 1937

The star of this scene was 17-year-old Geraldine Robertson, who had been crowned Queen of the Centennial the previous year and who played a multitude of roles in the current production, including Cortés’ “lover and interpreter,” a young woman in a Boston Massacre scene, Martha Washington, and the wife of Jim Bowie. Here she is in real life in 1936, with Jean Harlow platinum-blonde hair, posing for one of a seemingly endless number of publicity photos.

robertson-geraldine_queen-of-centennial_1936Geraldine Robertson, 1936

And the thing that caused so much trouble? Probably not what you would assume.

Before the Exposition opened, the Dallas-based Mexican Consul, Adolfo G. Dominguez, became aware of this casting choice. And that was when the mierda probably first hit the ventilador. Dominguez was adamant that the virgin be replaced with the more historically accurate male warrior. He probably said much the same thing to the Cavalcade producers when confronting them about his concerns before the Expo began as he did when he said this in a Dallas News article on the topic weeks later:

“We Mexicans feel that use of a girl in the role can bring nothing but racial prejudice and misconception of the true meaning of the Aztec human sacrifice as it was performed, not thousands of years ago, as has been wrongly represented, but as late as 1521.” (DMN, July 28, 1937)

The producers acquiesced, and when the Exposition began its run on June 12, 1937, the opening scene of the Cavalcade did, in fact, feature a sacrificial warrior. But on Sunday, July 25, the producer of the extravaganza brought the scantily-clad virgin back and nixed the warrior, hoping the added sex appeal and pizzazz would increase audience numbers. (Interestingly, when the Exposition opened, tickets to Cavalcade of the Americas cost 50⊄ — about $8.00 in today’s money — but on July 18, it was announced that, except for 600 reserved seats, admission to the show would be free. Promoters said this was being offered as a gesture of goodwill to Expo visitors, but one wonders if they weren’t having a hard time filling the 3100-seat grandstand.)

Señor Dominguez was not amused by this sexed-up revamping and protested. A. L. Vollman, the Cavalcade’s producer-director pooh-poohed the diplomat’s protestations and responded in true impresario fashion: “What history needs is more sex appeal.” That didn’t go over particularly well with the consul, who thought he’d already dealt with the problem weeks before. (Click to see larger image.)

aztec_waxahachie-daily-light_072737Waxahachie Daily Light, July 27, 1937

Dominguez complained to Frank K. McNeny, Director General of the Exposition, saying that the scene was historically inaccurate and was an injustice to the founders of Mexico. McNeny disagreed, saying that the scene involving the plunging of a dagger into the breast of a sacrificial virgin was “a very lovely historic scene.” He declined to bring back the warrior, because, as Vollman noted, the revamping had increased attendance: “It’s packing them in the aisles.” An exasperated Dominguez said that if the change from maiden back to warrior was not made, he would take the matter to the Mexican government.

aztec_FWST_072837FWST, July 28, 1937

At this point, a disagreement over the gender of a character in what was, basically, an oversized school history pageant was dangerously close to setting off an international incident. It was also causing embarrassment for local civic leaders who were looking upon the Exposition as a major marketing tool for the city as well as a symbolic display of Pan-American solidarity and goodwill. Can’t we all just get along, amigo?

The refusal of the Cavalcade to UN-revamp the show did not deter the Mexican Consul who, by now, was probably more het-up than ever. Dominguez decided to go over McNeny’s head. He pulled out the written agreement he had made with fair officials back in the spring — which clearly stated that a male warrior and NOT a young woman would feature in the theatrical human sacrifice — and he took it to the top man, State Fair president Fred F. Florence. Florence discussed the matter with his board of directors who voted “to a man” to uphold the original agreement.

The warrior would be reinstated as the writhing victim on the bloody sacrificial stone. The sexy maiden would have to hand over the 30-foot-long robe, which had been made from 9,000 feathers and which had trailed behind her as she was carried up the great pyramid at Tenochtitlán. The actor playing the warrior was probably happy to get back in the spotlight. Geraldine Robertson, the virgin who had trailed that robe, was relegated to a role as a daughter of Montezuma.

Presumably the dagger kept plunging into the flailing warrior’s heart twice nightly for the remainder of the show’s run, and the memory of that short-lived international squabble was quickly forgotten (…until now).

And they all lived happily ever after. / Vieron felices por siempre.



Hey! If you’ve read this far, here’s a little reward. A Universal Newsreel titled “Pan-American Exposition Is Opened For 1937, Dallas, Tex.” — which contains 20 whole seconds of the Aztec (warrior) scene!  — can be viewed on the T.A.M.I. (Texas Archive of the Moving Image) site, HERE. The entire short newsreel is interesting (sadly, it has no sound), but if you want to jump to the sacrifice scene, it begins at the :49 mark. (If you’re watching on your desktop, make sure to click the little square just to the left of the speaker icon beneath the viewing area to watch it full-screen.

aztec_newsreelSuper-grainy screenshot from the Universal newsreel, 1937


Sources & Notes

Postcards of the Pan-American Exposition are from “the internet.”

Color souvenir program image from the Watermelon Kid site; background on the Pan-American Exposition can be found on the same site, here.

All other clippings as noted.

Related Dallas Morning News articles:

  • “As Sacrificial Virgin, Star of Cavalcade Put In Showy Opening Act” (DMN, July 26, 1937)
  • “Cavalcade Dispute Is Won by Consul As Virgin Is Replaced” (DMN, July 28, 1937)

Below, an interview with Jan Fortune on her Cavalcade of the Americas; it appeared in her hometown newspaper, The Wellington (Texas) Leader on March 18, 1937. She also wrote the Centennial’s big production, Cavalcade of Texas, the previous year, in 1936.


And, speaking of Aztec human sacrifices in DFW (a phrase I don’t believe I’ve ever written…), the following tidbit was contained in an article about Six Flags Over Texas’ 1970 season.

aztec_FWST_052170-six-flagsFWST, May 21, 1970

Promotional material about Los Voladores — a group of aerialists from Mexico — informs us that in their show “a beautiful maiden’s life is given as tribute to Tlaloc, the rain god.” Those beautiful maidens can’t catch a break. Sorry, Adolfo.

Most images and clippings are larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


Teatro Panamericano / Cine Festival — 1943-1981

teatro_villasana_1950sEl Panamericano (click for larger image) (Villasana)

by Paula Bosse

In 1937, Joaquin José (J. J.) Rodriguez opened the first theater in Dallas to show Spanish-language movies. It was the Azteca, at 1501 McKinney Avenue, one block away from the still-there El Fenix. He soon changed the name to the Colonia and later to El Patio.

colonia_1938-directory1938 city directory

Even though a journalist later described this theater as being “dingy” and “unprepossessing” (DMN, July 31, 1944), the theater was quite successful, little surprise as the Hispanic community of the day was sorely underserved in almost every way. This endeavor was so successful that in the fall of 1943, the 36-year old entrepreneur made a big, BIG move: he bought the stunning and palatial Maple Avenue building that once housed the famed Dallas Little Theatre, an amateur theatrical group that had burst on the scene in 1927, but which had fallen on hard times in recent years.


Rodriguez raised the necessary $35,000 (equivalent to almost half a million dollars in today’s money), bought the beautiful building at 3104 Maple, and renamed it Teatro Panamericano. The angle of the article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 22, 1943 announcing the new theater had the new moviehouse as being a boon to students and Anglo members of the community who might need to brush up on their Spanish rather than as a welcomed entertainment venue for the “Mexican colony” living and working in the adjacent Little Mexico neighborhood.

El Panamericano was an immediate success and soon became not only a place to see movies, but also a place for Dallas’ Spanish-speaking community to meet and mingle, with PLENTY of room for all sorts of events. (It was so big that Rodriguez and his family lived in back. He also had TWO offices and more storage space than he had things to store in it. No skimping on the parking lot either — one ad touted an acre of parking space.)

The theater’s importance to the Hispanic community of Dallas was both cultural and social:

For Mexican-Americans growing up in Dallas during the ’50s and ’60s, the films at El Panamericano, were a link with their historical and cultural heritage. For some, it would be their only exposure to cultural ties; for those whose families were stressing their Americanization by using only English in the home, it was a chance to practice their Spanish. (“Festival Fades, but Mexican Movies Thrive,” DMN, Aug. 9, 1981)

After more than 20 years of running a successful theater that catered to his core niche audience, Rodriguez was persuaded to change the theater’s focus. Mexican families had slowly moved out of the neighborhood, many to Oak Cliff where the Stevens Theater on Fort Worth Avenue had begun showing Spanish-language movies in the early ’60s and had siphoned off a large portion of Rodriguez’s audience. In 1965 the Panamericano became an arthouse cinema which showed mostly subtitled European films (and, later, underground and cult movies) — these were movie bills which were clearly aimed at college students and an upper-class Anglo audience. The Panamericano became the splashy Festival Theatre.

festival_box-office-mag_112265BoxOffice magazine, Nov. 22, 1965

An indoor-outdoor restaurant — the Festival Terrace — was added, and it boasted of being “the only theater in the history of Texas with a wine and beer license.”

festival_box-office-mag_112265-restaurantBoxOffice magazine, Nov. 22, 1965

teatro_villasana_1960s1960s (Villasana)

As impressive as the Festival and its array of films were, the theater struggled, and Rodriguez later called this period a “big mistake.”

“As soon as I could, I changed it back to the way it was before. In fact, I lost money on that deal.” (DMN, Aug. 9, 1981)

Another unusual misstep for Rodriguez at this time was his decision to open a drive-in that showed only Spanish-language films. What sounded like a great idea was another surprising failure for Rodriguez. Despite its non-stop advertising in the first half of 1965, the wonderfully-named Auto-Vista (located in Grand Prairie) lasted less than a year.

auto-vista_dmn_032565“Cine en su coche”! (March, 1965)

Rodriguez’s new-old Spanish-language theater — now the Cine Festival — was still popular, but it never regained its former glory. Rodriguez retired in 1981 and sold the property. Despite efforts by preservationists to save the beautiful Henry Coke Knight-designed building, it was demolished a few months later — in early January, 1982 — in the dead of night under cover of darkness (… that happens a lot in Dallas…). A nondescript office building was later built in its place.

J. J. Rodriguez died in 1993 at the age of 86, almost exactly 50 years after opening one of the most important entertainment venues for Dallas’ Hispanic population. He was a respected leader in the community and was for many years president of the Federation of Mexican Organizations, an organization he helped found in the 1930s. His theater was both culturally important and beloved by its patrons.


pampa-news_AP-073044J. J. with daughter and wife (Pampa News, July 30, 1944) AP photo

rodriguez_villasana_downtown_1940sWith his wife, Maria, downtown 1940s (Villasana)

rodriguez_villasana_1950sIn the projection booth, 1950s (Villasana)


The matchbook cover image below gives an indication of how large the theater was. The building at 3401 Maple — at the corner of Carlisle, across Maple from the Maple Terrace — was gigantic.


festival-theatre_cook-collection_degolyer_smu_matchbook-insideMatchbook via George W. Cook Collection, SMU

In a Dallas Phorum discussion (here), the space was described thusly:

It was an interesting building with an outdoor terrace restaurant, a full proscenium stage, rehearsal space downstairs below the stage, dressing rooms, shop/storage areas, and even a puppet theatre built into a wall in the balcony lobby area.

To see what the corner of Maple and Carlisle looks like now, click here (have a hanky ready). Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to still have that elegant building and still see it in use as a theater and restaurant?


In what may well be research overkill, I thought it was odd that there was an Azteca Theatre at 1501 McKinney a year before Rodriguez owned it. I wondered if, in fact, Rodriguez had owned the first Spanish-language movie theater in Dallas, or whether that distinction belonged to Ramiro Cortez (whose name is often misspelled as Ramiro Cortes). It seems that Cortez’s theater might have featured live performances rather than motion pictures. Like Rodriguez, Cortez had ties to Dallas entertainment — read about him here.

azteca_1937-directory1937 city directory


Sources & Notes

Photos with “Villasana” under them are from the book Dallas’s Little Mexico by Sol Villasana (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011); all are from the personal collection of Mariangel Rodriguez. More photos of J. J. Rodriguez can be seen here (click “Next” on top yellow bar).

The full article from the Nov. 22, 1965 issue of the industry journal, BoxOffice, includes additional photos and information and can be seen here and here.

All other images and clippings as noted.

Articles on J. J. Rodriguez and his theaters which appeared in The Dallas Morning News:

  • “Pan-American Theater to Aid Spanish Study” (DMN, Sept. 22, 1943)
  • “Teatro Panamericano” by John Rosenfield (DMN, Oct. 12, 1943)– coverage of opening night festivities
  • “Maple Location Regains Swank” by John Rosenfield (DMN, Sept. 18, 1965) — about the change from El Panamericano to the arthouse Festival Theater
  • “Festival Fades, but Mexican Movies Thrive: Theater Owner Says Adios to Film Business” by Mercedes Olivera (DMN, Aug. 9, 1981) — about the closing of the Festival Theater
  • “Encore No More” (DMN, Jan. 4, 1982) — photo of the partially demolished theater
  • “Rites Set for Hispanic Leader J. J. Rodriguez — He Co-Founded Federation of Mexican Organizations” by Veronica Puente (DMN, Sept. 26, 1993) — Rodriguez’s obituary

“Dallas Theater Owner Is One-Man Pan-American Agency” — a syndicated Associated Press article by William C. Barnard — can be read here.

Read about Teatro Panamericano at Cinema Treasures, here.

Read about the competing Stevens Theater in Oak Cliff on Fort Worth Avenue, here.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Teenagers, Hot-Rods — 1960s

little-mexico_hot-rod_villasana A cool cat and his kittens… (photo, Dallas Mexican American Historical League)

by Paula Bosse

Teenagers and hot-rods, man. These kids are cool. Possibly taken at Reverchon Park or Turtle Creek?


Photo from the book Dallas’s Little Mexico by Sol Villasana (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2011); photo is credited to Dallas Mexican American Historical League. Caption reads: “These Little Mexico teenagers show off their hot-rod in this 1960s picture. Shown are, from left to right, ? Santos, Rudy Trevino, and Maria Rodriguez.”

Click for larger image.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

El Presidente y Su Sombrero — 1975

Pres. Ford In SombreroEl Prez at SMU, Sept. 13, 1975  /  ©Bettmann/CORBIS

by Paula Bosse

Politicians have to do a lot of silly things at public appearances, and some of them handle the baby-kissing and tedious chit-chat more gracefully than others. President Gerald R. Ford seems to have been pretty good-natured about this sort of thing, even in the wake of the Nixon impeachment and even while being incessantly lampooned by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live every week.

For reasons I’ve never understood, politicians and foreign dignitaries always seem to be presented with hats when they make an official visit somewhere, and when they come to Texas, they almost always get a cowboy hat. But on President Ford’s 1975 visit to Dallas and the SMU campus, he was made an “honorary Mexican-American” and was presented with a (very large) sombrero by Andrea Cervantes of the Mexican-American Bicentennial Parade Committee. He looks ridiculous, but it’s a fun ridiculous. I think he liked it — Mrs. Cervantes even got a kiss for her gift.

ford-sombrero_FWST_091475Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sept. 14, 1975

The sombrero re-appeared a few months later, autographed and on display at Pike Park. It never left Dallas. What a shame. I would have liked to imagine the President and First Lady relaxing at Camp David, Jerry wearing his sombrero, smoking a pipe, and watching college football on TV, while Betty sat at the other end of the couch, chuckling to herself, and shaking her head.


Top photo from CorbisImages, here.

More on this in the Dallas Morning News article (with photo) “Ford Commends Group for ‘Feliz Cumpleanos'” (Dec. 15, 1975).

This sombrero-donning was just seven months before the now-legendary “Great Tamale Incident” in San Antonio. Read how NOT to eat a tamale here.

Ford took his gaffes in stride, even going so far as to appear on the show that made note of his every stumble, literal and figurative. Read a behind-the-scenes account of Ford’s 1976 Oval Office taping of one-liners for SNL — including his “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” show opener (although I’m pretty sure he did it without the exclamation mark) — here.


Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


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