Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Nature

Highland Park’s Azaleas

azaleas_turtle-creek_spring_swb-phone-book_1968_ebaySpringtime in Dallas…

by Paula Bosse

I just realized I haven’t seen the azaleas this year. I don’t really hear about people doing it anymore, but when I was a kid, my mother always made a point every Spring to drive us around Highland Park, Exall Lake, and Turtle Creek to see the beautiful azaleas, which were in bloom everywhere you looked.

Local lore has it that the first big splash azaleas made in Dallas were in the early 1930s when Joe Lambert, Jr. (of the still-going-strong, 100-plus-year-old legendary Lambert’s Landscape Co.) imported 100 or more plants from Shreveport to Dallas — to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter W. Lechner in the 6900 block of Lakewood Boulevard. Azaleas apparently don’t grow well in Dallas soil unless you know what you’re doing, and Lambert knew what he was doing, because his azaleas thrived in Lakewood, and they were a huge hit with people who would drive from miles away to look at the exotic blooms.

That success led to numerous calls from residents of Highland Park, which, in turn, led to lots and lots of landscaping work for the Lambert family — so much so that they moved their business from Shreveport to Dallas.

Of particular note was the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Penn at the corner of Preston and Armstrong where azalea bushes were planted terrace-like to prevent soil erosion on the part of their property which sloped down to the banks of Turtle Creek. One newspaper report said there were more than 500 azalea bushes on the Penn estate. It caused a sensation — the plants began to pop up all around Turtle Creek, and people flocked to Highland Park to see them.

In a 1971 newspaper article it was estimated there were 50,000 azaleas in Dallas parks. I have no idea what the number is these days, but for two weeks every year, it is an absolute pleasure to drive around Highland Park and Oak Lawn — and every other part of town where azaleas bloom — and to enjoy Dallas’ brief, very pretty springtime.

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A Channel 5 news story from 1979 (which you can watch here) says that azaleas was first brought to Dallas by the La Reunion settlers, which would have been in the 1850s. The earliest mention I could find was in an 1886 ad in The Dallas Morning News — there were several other ads before the turn of the century offering the exotic “imported” plants for sale.

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March, 1886

In the 1950s there was an explosion of interest in people heading to Lakeside Drive every spring in order to commune with nature and gaze lovingly at the profusion of azaleas. I mean, lordy, read this breathless ode to the azalea in this detail of a Neiman-Marcus ad. (These little essays by “Wales” appeared regularly in N-M ads — I don’t  know who the author was, but I suspect it was Stanley Marcus.) (Click for larger image.)

azaleas_032753_neiman-ad-det
March, 1953

And here’s evidence of the bumper-to-bumper traffic along Lakeside Drive and the mass of humanity armed with cameras converging on the banks of Turtle Creek in (silent) footage from Channel 8, shot on April 10, 1960 (it seems almost criminal, though, that the film is in black and white!) — the pertinent clip begins at the :43 mark. (From the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, G. William Jones Collection, Hamon Library, SMU.)


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Here’s a Lambert’s ad, from 1963:

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April, 1963

Another WFAA clip, this one from 1972, which shows azaleas in COLOR — not in Highland Park, but in downtown Dallas during the 3rd annual Azalea Festival:


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Here’s a postcard view:

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And here’s a photo I took a couple of years ago of my favorite searingly hot-pink variety (seen here before the peak of the blooming period — note the still bloomless bush to the right):

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Sorry I missed you, azaleas. Next year, for sure.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo is from the cover of Southwestern Bell’s 1968 Dallas phone book.

Bottom photo by Paula Bosse, taken March 29, 2018.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Spring, Brought to You by The Texas Seed & Floral Co.

1913_tx-seed-floral_1913_rosesThe Texseed Home Collection, 1913

by Paula Bosse

In honor of Spring’s arrival, I give you a collection of lovely illustrated covers from the Texas Seed & Floral Company’s seed catalogs. The company was established in Dallas around 1885 and was located for many years at the northwest corner of Elm and N. Ervay, with offices and a warehouse opening onto Pacific’s railroad tracks. (See photos of the interior of the business — later renamed Lone Star Seed & Floral — in the post “Next-Door Neighbors: The Palace Theater and Lone Star Seed & Floral — 1926.”)

Happy Spring! (All images are larger when clicked.)

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1917_tx-seed-floral_1917_flowers1917

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Below is the citation for the company from the book Greater Dallas Illustrated, published in 1908.

Texas Seed & Floral Co.

The great progress which has been made in agricultural and horticultural lines in the southwest has resulted in an ever increasing demand for a high quality of seeds, and to meet this demand many reliable seed houses have been established, among which is the Texas Seed & Floral Co., whose retail store is at 387 Elm street, and whose office and warehouse department is at 311-313 Pacific avenue. The line of seeds carried in stock includes all kinds of garden and flower seeds as well as field seeds, their leading brand being known under the name of “Texseed,” and they have the exclusive right to sell this brand in the southwest.

The company was established in 1885 and it is recognized as the largest seed house in the southwest, and its beautifully illustrated catalogue, which tells all about the best seeds for the southwestern planter, can be had upon request. R. [Robert] Nicholson is the secretary of this company, and the active manager of its affairs. He is of Scottish birth and has resided in Dallas for thirty years. He is a member of the Commercial Club, and is an Elk. Ably assisting him is F. J. Poor who comes to this firm from Kansas City.

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Sources & Notes

All images from the Internet Archive.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Rugged Highland Park

highland-park_charles-arnold_postcard_postmarked-1909

by Paula Bosse

Two views of Turtle Creek, wending through Highland Park. The view above is from a postcard mailed to East Hampton, Long Island in 1909 (“Haven’t seen this but it must be true. Pretty good for Texas…”); the view below is from about 1915, the year Highland Park was incorporated (the photo appears to show the same three children seen in my earlier post, “Wading in Turtle Creek, 100 Years Ago”). (Both images of the bluff-lined creek are larger when clicked.)

dallas-educational-center_turtle-creek_ca-1916

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Sources & Notes

Top image is from a C. Weichsel postcard titled “Woodland Scene. Highland Park. Dallas, Tex.” (photo possibly by Charles A. Arnold). Another image of this postcard can be seen on the cover of the Fall, 2015 issue of Legacies (here); the story it illustrates is “Attempts to Annex the Park Cities,” here.

The black-and-white photo (captioned “Highland Park”) is from a booklet on Dallas education, published around 1916.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

University Park’s Monarch Butterfly Wrangler

monarch_life_colorCarl Anderson & friends (John Dominis, Time-Life Pictures/Getty Image)

by Paula Bosse

Carl Axel Anderson (1892-1983) was a mild-mannered internal revenue executive by day and a mild-mannered Monarch butterfly expert by night (and weekend … and probably every waking second). Anderson had been interested in insects and butterflies from an early age, and he studied entomology at the University of Minnesota and Columbia. When he was away from the office, he was raising, tagging, tracking, and, perhaps, training Monarch butterflies at his University Park home on Centenary Avenue, which writer Frank X. Tolbert dubbed “the Butterfly Ranch.” Even the neighborhood children — who called themselves The Centenary Monarchs — joined in and learned all about Monarchs from Anderson, their butterfly mentor.

Anderson’s primary interest was studying the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly, and, conveniently, Dallas was on their pathway, twice a year, so he had a front-row seat. Not only did he observe them passing overhead, he also raised them from eggs laid on the underside of his milkweed plants, enjoyed them as caterpillars, and when they became butterflies, he “branded” their wings painlessly (see below) and released them into the wild, hoping to be able to track their migration from fellow butterfly spotters around the country. He wrote letters to newspapers around the country and mailed hundreds of postcards to groups and individuals, hoping to get his message out. His message, in part:

Monarch butterflies raised from the egg are being released. A number is placed on their wings before they are released. Members of the public are invited to join the observers on the magic carpet of these wings to see where it will take us. Invite your friends and associates to come along, too…. Examine the wings of the Monarch…for numbers or other marks. Allow the butterfly to go on its way after your observation. Please report any observation where marked wings are found….”

In 1950, big news was made when one of his butterflies — one with the number “9” on its wing — was reported to have been seen in California by a 10-year old boy named Ben Harris in Santa Monica, California. That must have been one of the happiest moments of Anderson’s life.

Every year during Monarch migration over Texas, Mr. Anderson was a reliable go-to story for the local media. Particularly fascinated by Anderson and his “butterfly ranch” was Dallas Morning News writer Frank X Tolbert, who wrote about him numerous times. A very early profile by Tolbert rhapsodized about Anderson’s “pet” butterfly Pete which set the tone for all his very sweet subsequent articles about Anderson that appeared over the years. (Next time you’re wandering around in the Dallas News archives, check out Tolbert’s story “An Affectionate Fellow Was Pete the Butterfly” published on May 16, 1948 — but if you like happy endings, beware of the last two paragraphs of the story: personally, I’d advise readers to stop reading when Pete sets off on his journey.)

Anderson was the subject of newspaper and magazine articles all over the country, but the high point was, undoubtedly, his appearance in the pages of Life magazine in 1954, accompanied by the striking photo of him with several of his butterfly pals resting on his face.

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The caption for this photo reads: “Mottled with Monarchs, butterfly breeder Carl Anderson stares serenely ahead as the domesticated insects swarm all over his face.” (That is NOT a “swarm,” Life!)

The two-page photo spread was titled “Monarch Man: Texan Breeds Bushels of Them To Help Map Butterfly Migration.”

Each spring Mr. Anderson raises hundreds of Monarchs in cages. If released, they flutter about him, looking for a sip of sugar water. When the Monarchs mature, he brands them and turns them out, alerting friends across the U.S. to watch for them. One of Anderson’s butterflies turned up 1,200 miles away. But instead of clarifying the northward migration it added another enigma by flying cross-country and winding up almost directly west of Dallas. (Life, May 24, 1954)

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Anderson died at the age of 91, having spent the bulk of his long life engrossed in the study of his beloved Monarch butterflies. This excerpt from a 1955 interview shows a glimpse of the wonder and enthusiasm that kept him fascinated by the butterflies his entire life:

“Just at dusk on Oct. 26, the wind shifted to the north with a velocity of 15 MPH. It brought in a huge cloud of Monarchs riding ahead of the cool front. The cloud changed into the shape of a tremendous, brown, moving carpet of unusual surging design. A signal from some leader or leaders in the great flight designated a grove of our hackberry trees as the resting place for the night. Down came the flying carpet of thousands of butterflies. And in a few minutes every twig was bent by the weight of Monarchs. They took off in small groups the next morning, leaving our Dallas hackberries bare of leaves.” (DMN, May 3, 1955)

Thanks, Carl. I wish I’d known you.

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Sources & Notes

Color photo of Carl Anderson by John Dominis (Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image). It is from the same session that produced the slightly different black and white image featured in Life magazine.

The profile of Anderson (which includes the text and photos reproduced above) appeared in the May 24, 1954 issue of Life; it can be accessed here.

Read another profile of Anderson from the Bakersfield Californian, “Lepidopterist Traces Branded Butterflies” (July 11, 1949), here.

A bunch of Monarch butterfly sources:

  • “The Monarch Butterfly’s Annual Cycle” from the Monarch Butterfly Fund, is here.
  • “The Monarch Butterfly Journey North News,” a regularly updated blog on the current (overwintering/leading-up-to-Spring 2105) migration, is here.
  • A regularly updated map of Monarch sightings (currently at Winter 2015, showing Monarchs warming up in the bullpen along the Texas coast) is here.
  • An animated map of 2014’s Spring migration is here. UPDATE: An animated map of the Fall/Winter 2015 migration is here.
  • “Monarch Butterflies Could Gain Endangered Species Protection,” from the Scientific American blog, is here. (“Populations of the iconic and beloved Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus plexippus) have dropped an astonishing 96.5 percent over the past few decades, from an estimated 1 billion in the mid-1990s to just 35 million in early 2014.”)
  • Information on the Monarch butterfly conservation program — and some beautiful photographs — can be found on the World Wildlife Fund site, here.

Keep your eyes peeled — they’ll be on their way soon

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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