Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Christmas

Celebrate the Pecan Tree’s 150th Christmas!

pecan-tree_bigOur beautiful Pecan Tree! (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Ever since I realized that 2015 was the sesquicentennial for what may the world’s most famous pecan tree, I’d planned to do a nice post worthy of such an occasion. Except that, as usual, time seems to be slipping away from me, and I have time today to post only a few photos of one of my very favorite local landmarks.

The pecan tree — or, the Pecan Tree (it deserves to be capitalized) — is in Highland Park on Armstrong Parkway at Preston Road, and if you grew up in the Dallas area, driving past the huge tree decorated with lights is an annual Christmas ritual. I remember when I was going through my sullen teen years how I always rolled my eyes when my parents said we were going to go see the Pecan Tree — but when we got to the tree and saw it … it was just wonderful.

The tree began life in 1865 (!) as a sprout in the middle of a cornfield owned by the Coles, one of Dallas’ pioneer families. In October of that year, young Joe Cole, just returned from the Civil War, was working the field and discovered the little plant in a furrow, crushed under the wheels of his wagon. The story goes that Joe, still overwhelmed from the horrors of war, got out of his wagon and replanted the sprig, taking pains over the years to make sure it grew into a large healthy tree. And it did.

I discovered recently that the very first house I lived in was Joe’s old farmhouse, part of which, somehow, was still standing across from North Dallas High School into the 1980s. I’ve always felt a kinship with that tree, and it’s nice to know that my very first home was the home of the man responsible for the tree that has given so much pleasure to so many people. Thank you, Joe!

Below, a short, six-and-a-half-minute film about the history of the tree, produced by KERA: “Million Dollar Monarch,” directed by Rob Tranchin.

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1909 (via DeGolyer Library, SMU)

pecan-tree_lee-hite
Photo by Lee Hite

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Sources & Notes

First two photos were reproduced as promotional postcards by the Park Cities Bank in the 1970s; thanks to the Lone Star Library Annex for allowing me to use these images. Source of other photos as noted.

Read about the tree on the Highland Park website, here.

More about the history of the tree can be found in a 1933 article from The Dallas Morning News, with memories from the then-92-year-old Joseph Cole: “Million-Dollar Tree of Dallas, Big Pecan Centering Parkway, Set Up by Hand of Man Now 92” (DMN, March 5, 1933).

A 2012 report on the aging tree can be found in a Dallas Morning News article by Melissa Repko, here.

This famed Pecan Tree was planted in the fall of 1865, which would make this its 150th anniversary. I haven’t seen any mention of this. I know the tree has been in bad shape at times throughout the years, but I’m pretty sure it’s still standing. I haven’t seen the tree this year, but it was still looking pretty impressive last year. Happy 150th, Pecan Tree!

Click photos for larger images.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“A Haven From the Usual Turmoil of Holiday Shopping”

ABS_xmas_haven_nd“A superlative selection…”

by Paula Bosse

Remember the quiet joy of shopping in bookstores? Remember bookstores? In celebration of the completion of this year’s Christmas shopping, I give you two ads from The Aldredge Book Store, where there’s “plenty of parking  space […] and a pleasant Christmas spirit.”

ABS_xmas_19631963

No one is in a hurry. And we all try to see that you still have your Christmas spirit when you leave.

I practically grew up in this store, and I miss it.

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Sources & Notes

Both ads from the early 1960s. They appeared in the Sunday book sections of The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times Herald. (Remember when we had two newspapers? Remember when we had Sunday book sections?)

Previous posts on The Aldredge Book Store can be found here.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Christmastime in Lakewood — 1951

xmas_WWW_1952Mad tree-trimming fun ahead (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, Woodrow kids with a Christmas tree crammed into their convertible, taking a moment to wave at someone in the distance, probably a classmate coming out of Harrell’s Drug Store. Next stop, wholesome 1950s tree-trimming fun, complete with mugs of warm cocoa and Perry Como singing about Christmas on the radio.

If you’re familiar with Lakewood, it might take a second to get your bearings, but this was Abrams Road. It’s now the short stretch known as Abrams Parkway, directly across Abrams from the Lakewood Whole Foods — it basically serves as a parking lot for the businesses now occupying these buildings.

Here is a list of the businesses seen in this 1951 photo, along with what currently occupies those same buildings:

  • 2015 Abrams: then, Abrams Road Cleaners; now, The Heights (formerly Legal Grounds)
  • 2017 Abrams: then, Massey’s Beauty Salon & Barber Shop; now, part of Blow Hair Salon
  • 2019 Abrams: then, Lakewood Shoe Service; now, Blow Hair Salon
  • 2021 Abrams: then, Lakewood Recreation Club; now, Scalini’s Pizza & Pasta
  • 2023 Abrams: then, Lakewood Sporting Goods; now, part of Curiosities
  • 2025 Abrams (mostly out of frame): then, Teter Plumbing Co.; now, Curiosities (an emporium of eclectic antiques and overall super-cool stuff)

Just out of frame to the right, a couple of doors down, was the old El Chico restaurant, now Hollywood Feed.

A detail of a page from the 1952 Mapsco, which will be confusing to those who might not know about the weird “Abrams Bypass” that happened in the early ’80s (click for larger image).

1952-mapsco_lakewood-det

Here’s what this strip looks like today (or recently, anyway — Legal Grounds is now The Heights):

abrams_today_google-street-viewGoogle Street View

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Photo from the 1952 Woodrow Wilson High School yearbook, The Crusader. Apologies for the quality — the photo appeared across two pages and was scanned at a pretty low resolution. It’s still pretty cool, though.

To see a magnified detail of the businesses on the left half of the photo, click here; for those on the right half, click here.

Since I don’t have access to a street directory showing this block’s info in 1951, here are the businesses that occupied that block per the 1948 and 1953 directories:

48-53

When in doubt, click pictures to see if they get bigger — they usually do!

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Spider-Man: Christmas in Dallas! (1983)

xmas_spider-man_cover_sm

by Paula Bosse

Remember when news photographer Peter Parker was covering a charity ball in Dallas? You  know, the one attended exclusively by millionaires from around the country who were raising money for orphans?

xmas_spider-man_intro(click for larger image) via Sense of Right Alliance blog

And then the Kingpin showed up dressed as Santa Claus and held the wealthy crowd for ransom, but Peter Parker managed to slip away and — whoa! — hey, Spider-Man appeared, and he and the Kingpin duked it out for awhile until an inventor of an anti-gravity device stepped in to aid the Webbed Wonder, and together they sent the Kingpin packing as he floated away, presumably into outer space. And, with Evil thwarted, Peter Parker was able to fly back home to spend Christmas morning with his beloved Aunt May. I’m sure you remember that! It was in all the (evening) papers.

This exciting adventure was told in a special give-away supplement included in a 1983 edition of The Dallas Times Herald. In the panels I’ve seen, there isn’t anything overtly Dallas-y, but that’s probably because the comic book aficionados who have scanned various pages are more interested in Spider-Man than in Dallas.

There are local ads, though. Like this one for Morgan Boots. (Is it too much to ask for them to have slipped a couple of special custom-designed sticky-soled boots onto Spider-Man’s Spidey-feet? Come on, Stan Lee!)

xmas_spider-man_morgan-boots-_1983(click for larger image)

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Sources & Notes

“Spider-Man: Christmas in Dallas!” (by Jim Salicrup, Alan Kupperburg, and Mike Esposito) was issued as an advertising supplement by The Dallas Times Herald in 1983. I haven’t found a scan of the full mini-comic book online, but several panels are here and here and here (the first two of these linked blogs have scans of several of the local ads).

 Quite honestly, this looks like it could have been prepared for Anytown, USA (“Spider-Man: Christmas in [insert your city’s name here]”). I much preferred Captain Marvel’s visit to Dallas in the ’40s when there were Dallas-specific things EVERYWHERE: see my previous post “Captain Marvel Fights the Mole Men in Dallas — 1944” here.

Incidentally, tons of these are available on eBay right now — averaging about $5.00 each. Need one?

xmas_hulk_spider-man-xmas-in-dallas_1983

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Merry Christmas From the Dallas Police Department’s Parking Enforcement Squad

xmas_santa_DPDSanta on Elm Street (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I don’t know what the story is behind this photograph of Santa Claus riding on the back of a three-wheeled motorcycle (they were used by the Dallas Police Department to patrol downtown streets for parking violations). Maybe Santa’s sleigh has broken down and he’s thumbed a ride to get to a scheduled event at a department store. Let’s hope it wasn’t the result of said sleigh being parked in a No Parking zone and a rather too strenuous ticket dispute by Mr. Claus necessitating a visit to the station to discuss the situation further. (Look at the brick-paved street!)

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I’m not sure of the original source of this photo, but I want to thank reader Chris Walker for sending this to me. Thank you, Chris!

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Merry Christmas!

xmas_santa_lightcrust_1932

by Paula Bosse

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas — I only hope Santa brought you what YOU wanted!

xmas-santa-letters-dmn_122499-detDallas Morning News, Dec. 24, 1899

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Top image from a WBAP Christmas mailing to radio fans of The Light Crust Doughboys of the Burrus Mill, 1932.

To read more letters from Dallas-area children printed in “Santa’s Letter Box” (Dallas Morning News, Dec. 24, 1899), click here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The World’s Largest Santa & The Christmas Tragedy — 1953

santa_chevrolet_color_observerSanta considers a test-drive, 1953 (photo: Roy Addis)

by Paula Bosse

Back in 2010, Robert Wilonsky (now a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, but back then a reporter for The Dallas Observer) posted a 1950s-era photo of a giant Santa Claus sitting on the roof of a Dallas car dealership. Robert had found the photo on eBay and wondered what the story behind the promotional stunt might have been. The thing that sparked my interest (other than it being a giant Santa Claus — holding a full-size car in his lap!) was the fact that the dealership, Porter Chevrolet (which I’d never heard of), had been just around the corner from where I grew up — it was in the 5500 block of E. Mockingbird, right across from the old Dr Pepper plant, about where the Campisi’s parking lot is now. I, too, really wanted to know more about that huge Santa Claus that had once been hanging out so ostentatiously in my neighborhood.

At about the time when Robert’s post appeared in 2010, I had only recently discovered that the Dallas Morning News archives were available online. For free. All the way back to 1885! (All you need is a current library card from the Dallas Public Library, and you’re on your way to losing absolute days while reading about one fascinating thing after another.) I had just begun to dabble with searches in the archives, so this seemed like a great opportunity to test my research skills and see if there was more to the story. And there was! I sent Robert what I’d found, and he wrote a great follow-up, here (which has yet another photo of the giant Santa). And a year later he did another follow-up, this one including the color photo seen above, sent in by a reader.

This is just such a great and weird holiday-related bit of Dallas’ past, that I thought I’d revisit the story, especially since some of the links in the original Observer posts no longer work.

First, a quick re-cap (but, please, read Robert’s story, because you’ll enjoy  it, and it’s much more colorful than my quick overview here). During the 1953 Christmas season, Porter Chevrolet (5526 Mockingbird) commissioned Jack Bridges (the man who had previously made Big Tex (who was himself originally a giant Santa Claus)) to construct an 85-foot-tall steel-and-papier-mâché Santa Claus (he’d be that tall if he were standing) to sit on the dealership building and hold an actual 1954 Chevy in his lap. It was definitely a promotion that would grab people’s attention. The day the giant Santa was put in place, using a crane, a man whose company had done the installing (as they had with Big Tex), thought it would be a great opportunity to get a Christmas card photo of himself dangling from the crane next to Santa. The man, Roy V. Davis, was recovering from heart-related health problems, and, as it turned out, he experienced a “myocardial rupture” while hoisted 35 feet above the concrete parking lot. He lost his grip and fell to his death. This tragic news made the front page of local papers and was picked up by the Associated Press, but, oddly, it was never spoken of again. Giant Santa apparently remained at his perch throughout the holidays, but as far as I can tell, there was no further mention of Mr. Davis’ death — until Robert Wilonsky stumbled across the photo and wrote about it 57 years later.

Below is the AP photo and blurb which ran nationally, showing Mrs. John Ashmore and her 4-year old daughter Ruth Ann looking up at the towering Santa Claus. 

santa_porter-chevrolet_news-photo_1953_PEB
Photo: Collection of Paula Bosse

The caption (click for larger image):

santa-claus_porter-chevrolet_caption

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UPDATE: Okay this is VERY EXCITING — and also kind of chilling: there is WBAP-Channel 5 television news footage of the Giant Santa as well as the on-the-scene tragic aftermath of Mr. Davis’ accident. The Dec. 10, 1953 footage is without sound (the script the anchor read on the air as the film played during the newscast can be found here). The video starts off with children marveling at the giant Santa Claus but suddenly turns dark with shots of the bloody Mr. Davis being loaded onto a stretcher (helped by Jack Bridges, the man who built the giant Santa, seen wearing a beret and white coveralls). The one-minute clip titled “Worker Dies at Santa’s Statue” can be viewed on the Portal to Texas History site here.

Below are a few screen captures:

santa-kids_wbap-1_portal

santa-face_wbap-2_portal

santa-crane_wbap-3_portal

santa-dr-pepper-plant-ambulance_wbap-4_portal

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santa_denison-press_122553Denison Press, Dec. 25, 1953

santa_FWST_121153_AP_photoFort Worth Star-Telegram, Dec. 11, 1953

santa_lubbock-avalanche_121153_APLubbock Avalanche, Dec. 11, 1953

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Sources & Notes

Top color photo (which I’ve cropped) is by Roy Addis. It appeared in the Dallas Observer blog Unfair Park in Robert Wilonsky’s 2011 update to the previous year’s story — it was sent in by a reader who discovered it in his personal collection. To read that story, click here.

Wilonsky’s original Unfair Park post — which contained the photo he found on eBay — is here. And, again, his post containing “the rest of the story” is here. (Robert Wilonsky continues to write enthusiastically about Dallas — its past as well as its present — and his Dallas Morning News pieces are, quite frankly, where I get most of my news about what’s going on in the city. Thanks for the opportunity to be part of the unearthing of this story, Robert!)

The news photo of Mrs. Ashmore and her daughter is from the author’s personal collection.

The video is from the KXAS-NBC 5 News Collection, University of North Texas Libraries Special Collections, accessible on the Portal to Texas History site. The main page of the video is here (click picture to watch video in a new window).

Dallas Morning News articles on the giant Santa and the tragic accident:

  • “Santa Claus Turns Texan” (DMN, Sept. 23, 1953)
  • “Figure of Santa Claus Will Overshadow Tex” by Frank X. Tolbert, with photo of Jack Bridges (DMN, Nov. 18, 1953)
  • “Santa Claus Too Large For Trucks” (DMN, Nov. 29, 1953)
  • “Christmas Card Picture With Tragic Ending” (DMN, Dec. 11, 1953)
  • “Man Falls to Death Off Cable,” with photo of Roy V. Davis (DMN, Dec. 11, 1953)

UPDATE: Robert Wilonsky has written on the giant Santa in a new Dallas Morning News article, with some interesting new tidbits about Porter Chevrolet’s proposal to the City Council requesting permission to put this huge structure on top of the building. Read his 2017 update here. Robert keeps telling me we should write a book about this — or make a documentary. Which, of course, we should! After all these years now of visions of the giant Santa and sober thoughts of Roy Davis — more “real” now, having seen film footage of him bloody on that stretcher — I really do feel this is all part of some personal family Christmas lore, recounted every year around the table.

Pictures and clippings are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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