Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Deep Ellum

Stop at the Delmonico — ca. 1919

delmonico-hotel_degolyer_SMU_ca-1919The Delmonico Hotel & Thorburn Broom factory… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

How does one refer to the area just above Pacific and Central, where Swiss once crossed Central? “Deep Ellum-adjacent”? “Far North Deep Ellum”? The “Extreme Western Edge of Old East Dallas”? It was very close to the old union railroad depot, where the T&P and H&TC tracks crossed (about where Pacific and Central crossed). It was once a bustling area, but after the depot closed in the ‘teens, it didn’t bustle so much anymore. 

The photo above — looking to the northeast and taken about 1918 or 1919 — shows the Delmonico Hotel (at 2309-2311 Swiss Avenue) and, to the right, the Thorburn Broom & Brush Co. factory (2405-2409 Swiss). (See the Swiss Avenue occupants of these two blocks as listed in the 1919 Dallas directory here.) The street that runs between the two blocks is Central Ave. The railroad tracks running horizontally at the bottom of the photo run along Pacific, and the streetcar tracks curve up and to the right to run along Swiss.

The Delmonico Hotel was at this location for only a couple of years until it moved a block around the corner, facing Central — the new, larger “Greater” Delmonico opened in July, 1919, occupying the upper floor at 302 Central. The proprietress of both locations was Miss Mary Howard (later Mrs. L. O. Clark). Miss Howard was, apparently, an enterprising African American woman who ran what was described in Dallas’ premiere black newspaper as “the largest and most commodious hotel for Colored in Texas… [catering] to first class trade” (Dallas Express, July 5, 1919). It remained in business at its second location on Central Ave. until 1927 or 1928.

delmonico-hotel_dallas-express_011119Dallas Express, Jan. 11, 1919

Above, an ad for the hotel’s first location (the address should read “2309-2311 Swiss”). Below, a nice article on the opening of the second location on Central.

delmonico-hotel_dallas-express_070519_NEW-greater-delmonicoDallas Express, July 5, 1919

delmonico-hotel_dallas-express_082319Dallas Express, Aug. 23, 1919

It’s interesting that the 1919 Dallas directory has a business listing for this hotel (the first location, the one seen in the photo) — it is the sole hotel for “colored” patrons listed (denoted with the letter “c” — you can see the list of hotels from the 1919 directory here).

The first location can be seen in this detail of a 1921 Sanborn map, circled in black; the second location is circled in blue; the Thorburn Co. broom factory at Swiss and Central is labeled. (All images are larger when clicked.)

delmonico_swiss-central_sanborn_1921-sheet-14-det

The 2300 block of Swiss is no longer there — it is now empty land beneath the elevated North Central Expressway. The 2400 block (where the broom factory stood) is still there and is the site of a self-storage business (the Thorburn factory once stood here, across from the Lizard Lounge).

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The large white building housing the Delmonico appears to have been built in 1889 by Swiss-born John Jacob (“J. J.”) Yost, who soon opened the Bear Hotel, which seems to have been a popular rooming house/hotel for German immigrants. By 1902 Yost was looking for a buyer for the hotel (“with saloon”) and placed the ad seen below (an ad which appeared not too long after a court notice appeared in the papers showing  that Yost had been found guilty of operating a “disorderly house” (a brothel) and had been fined $200, which was a huge fine at the time).

bear-hotel_dmn_042602_for-saleDallas  Morning News, April 26, 1902

As Yost described it, the hotel really was in “a fine location” — just a block or two from a very busy passenger-train depot. Perhaps he was asking too much for it, but the Bear Hotel appears to have remained in operation until 1906, when it became the International Hotel (which was in business until 1918 when the hotel became the Delmonico, the first of these hotels to be owned by an African American for a strictly black (segregated) clientele). Below is an amusing (or terrifying) news tidbit from 1909 about a guest at the International Hotel. When you find yourself asking “what did people do before air-conditioning?” remember what happened to poor Fritz Brockmann:

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DMN, July 5, 1909

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The Thorburn Broom & Brush Co. manufactured … brooms and brushes in their factory seen at the right in the photo above. A few bristly factoids about the company were included in a Chamber of Commerce-like series of ads from 1922.

thorburn-broom-brush_june-1922June, 1922

Thorburn’s marquee brand seems to have been the trademarked Red Star brooms (“Red Star brooms are Wife Savers”).

thorburn_red-star-brooms_1924Piggly Wiggly ad, 1924

red-star-broom-label

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Sources & Notes

Top photo — titled “[Swiss Avenue at Central and the Houston and Texas Central Tracks]” — is attributed to George A. McAfee and is from the DeGolyer Library, SMU Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more information on this photo may be found here.

More info about the old Union Depot — which was one block south from the location seen in the photo above — can be found in these Flashback Dallas posts:

  • “The Old Union Depot in East Dallas: 1897-1935,” here
  • “The Union Depot Hotel Building, Deep Ellum — 1898-1968,” here
  • “The Gypsy Tea Room, Central Avenue, and The Darensbourg Brothers,” here

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Jefferson Dagnal’s Saloon, Deep Ellum — 1906

fritts-and-dagnal_brent-burton
“Fritts & Dagnal,” Deep Ellum saloon… (photo: Brent Burton)

by Paula Bosse

Reader Brent Burton commented on one of my tweets on Twitter to say that he had an old photo showing his great-great-grandfather standing in a saloon he had owned in Dallas around the turn-of-the-century and wanted to know how he might access old Dallas directories in order to try to determine where the bar had been. I told him that online scans of city directories are available for free from the Dallas Public Library and the Portal to Texas History (more on this is in my post How to Access Historical Dallas City Directories Online”). I also offered to see what I could find out.

The photo is the one above (click it to see a larger image). All he knew was that it was taken in a bar owned by his great-great-grandfather Jefferson Davis Dagnall (whose last name is most often spelled “Dagnal” in various documents such as census records, directories, and his death certificate, so I will refer to him with this spelling) and that the photo was taken in the late 1800s or early 1900s. I figured it would be pretty easy to find the info because his name was so uncommon, but that was complicated by the fact that his name was spelled and misspelled many different ways — I think I came across five or six permutations. It took a long time to figure out where that photo was most likely taken — mainly by going through census records and looking at all the city directories — year by year — to pin down where he was working each year. And he got around — he lived at a new address almost every year, and changed jobs almost as frequently.

Jefferson Davis Dagnal was born in 1861, probably in Fort Bend, Texas. His father, a South Carolina native, appears to have died fighting in the Civil War; Jeff (…I call him Jeff…) was 3 years old when his father died. By 1880 he was a teenager, working on a Dallas-area farm. In 1883, Jeff was working as a blacksmith. According to city directories, he held the following jobs: store clerk, laborer, streetcar driver, house-mover, electrician, and bartender.

1905 was the year he seems to have settled into bartending, a job he held in various establishments in Deep Ellum for a decade, until his death in 1915. He appears to have owned (or co-owned) only one of these bars: Fritts & Dagnal. It seems the venture with partner E. G. Fritts was short-lived: its only listing is in the 1906 directory — by 1907 Jeff had moved on, tending bar elsewhere.

1906-directory_dagnal_saloon_fritts-and-dagnal_673-elm

The saloon was listed in the 1906 city directory as being at 673 Elm — that address was changed in 1911 and became 2603 ½ Elm. This was in Deep Ellum, at the northeast corner of Elm and Good (possibly on the second floor). Below is a 1905 Sanborn map showing the location (the full map is here).

673-elm_fritts-and-dagnal_sanborn_sheet-42_1905_det
1905 Sanborn map, detail

The lot that building stood on at Elm and what is now Good-Latimer is empty, but a current-ish look at the location, from Google Street View, can be seen here (I am attempting to post a view from 2015, before all the construction work was going on near the Elm and Good-Latimer intersection — but just move up or down Elm a bit on Google and you’ll see construction images take over).

Below, a couple of ads from around the time Jeff Dagnal and E. G. Fritts decided to start up their short-lived saloon at 673 Elm: the first ad shows that it was not unusual in 1905 for large livestock to be kept in Deep Ellum (where they might even have been “rustled”), and the second ad shows that both the upstairs and downstairs spaces of the building at 673 Elm were available to rent:

1905_673-elm_strayed_dmn_051305Dallas Morning News, May 13, 1905

1906_673-elm_for-rent_dmn_050606DMN, May 6, 1906

(According to the Inflation Calculator, those 1906 rents of $20 and $40 would be about $550 and $1,100 in today’s money.)

Jefferson Davis Dagnal died in Dallas on Feb. 25, 1915. His death certificate — with information provided by his daughter, Cora — listed his occupation as “blacksmith,” even though he had been a bartender (and, briefly, a saloon owner) for at least the last ten years of his life.

1915_dagnal_death_dmn_022615
DMN, Feb. 26, 1915

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One interesting thing about Mr. Dagnal, was his relationship with his wife Alice, the mother of his second child, Clarence, who was born in 1893. Alice and Jeff appear to have hit a rough patch in their marriage pretty early on. In the 1900 census, they were living in different cities, and each claimed to be widowed. I don’t know if they ever officially divorced (or even if they officially married), but I suppose it was easier in that era to claim a spouse had died rather than admit the shame of divorce or abandonment. By 1903 both were living in Dallas — at the same address. But by 1904 they were living apart, and Alice was, again, claiming to be a widow — even though an alive-and-kicking Jeff was listed in the directory right under her name!

1904-directory_dagnal_alice-and-jeff1904 Dallas directory

I have come across this phenomenon so frequently that I now question every “widow” or “widowed” claim I come across. Information from the U. S. Census (where people give false ages and incorrect marital status ALL THE TIME) should be taken with a grain of salt!

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Sources & Notes

Photo of Jefferson Dagnal’s saloon was shared with me by Dagnal’s great-great-grandson, Brent Burton and is used here with his permission. Jeff is probably in the photo — in 1906 he would have been 45 years old. Thank you for the great photo, Brent!

All images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

R. S. Munger’s Cotton Gin Manufactory

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1889-dallas-directory_detElm & Trunk, the early years (detail of an ad from 1889)…

by Paula Bosse

When R. S. Munger moved to Dallas from Mexia around 1885, even he probably had no idea how revolutionary his patented inventions would become to the world of agriculture — he had several patents, but his “improved” cotton gin was hailed as the most significant advance in cotton ginning since Eli Whitney’s original invention. Munger had been producing his equipment for a while in Mexia, but he knew that in order for his company to grow, he would have to move to a larger city, one served by the all-important railroad. He arrived in 1885 and moved into an existing “East Dallas” building owned by the wealthy banker (and former cotton farmer…) William H. Gaston (who later became an officer of the company).

The following article appeared in an 1885 edition of the Dallas Herald. It is bulging with superlatives and grand statements which actually weren’t exaggerations: because of Munger’s relocation to Dallas and his products’ massive success, the city became a national hub of agricultural machinery manufacturing. This had a huge impact on Dallas’ economic development, and the unnamed writer of this article deserves credit for his prescient words. (Click to see larger image.)

munger_to-dallas_dallas-weekly-herald_052885Dallas Weekly Herald, May 28, 1885

Another article describes just what Munger’s “improvements” were and also has a description of his factory — the heart of which was a 25 horsepower engine (a quick Google search tells me that 25hp is the size of a standard outboard motor engine).

munger_dmn_092886
Dallas Morning News, Sept. 28, 1886

A very early want-ad:

munger_dmn_072886_very-early-ad
DMN, July 28, 1886

(You can read about Mr. Munger’s career accomplishments in A History of Greater Dallas, published in 1909, here, and in the Handbook of Texas entry here.)

munger-r-s_find-a-graveR. S. Munger (1854-1923)

Fast-forward to today: the factory which Munger began in Dallas in the 1880s is somehow still standing and is known by most as the Continental Gin Building.

Here are a few very early ads of Munger’s cotton-gin-manufacturing empire, from city directories (the illustrated ads are full-page, which even in 1886 cost a pretty penny).

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1886-dallas-directory_listingDallas city directory, 1886

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1886-dallas-directory_aDallas city directory, 1886

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1886-dallas-directory_bDallas city directory, 1886

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1888-dallas-directory_listingDallas city directory, 1888

munger-improved-cotton-gin_1889-dallas-directoryDallas city directory, 1889

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Sources & Notes

Photo of Robert Sylvester Munger from Find-a-Grave.

All other sources noted.

An aerial view of the complex of former Continental Gin Co. buildings can be seen via Google here.

More on the Continental Gin Company can be found in these Flashback Dallas posts:

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Holy Blues: Blind Willie Johnson and Arizona Dranes — 1920s

johnson-dranes

by Paula Bosse

Today a little Sunday-go-to-meetin’ music, courtesy of two powerful singers who recorded at about the same time — late 1920s — and who both spent time in Dallas. Blind Willie Johnson was from Marlin, Texas, but he recorded much of his music in Dallas and regularly played street corners in Deep Ellum. Arizona Dranes, also a native Texan, lived in Dallas for several years and was, like Johnson, blind. Listening to both of them, you can hear their influence in the gospel and blues music that came after them. Read about the short life and career of Blind Willie Johnson here. Read about the life and career of Arizona Dranes from Michael Corcoran, here and here. And listen to their music below. It’s fantastic. (All of the tracks by Johnson were recorded in Dallas.)

blind-willie-johnson
Blind Willie Johnson, 1927-ish?

That guitar!

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Here he is with his wife singing behind him.

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Johnson’s song “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” was included on the Voyager Gold Record, a collection of music chosen to represent Earth’s culture and diversity, carried into space aboard the Voyager.

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arizona-dranes_1953_corcoran
Arizona Dranes in 1953

That voice!

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The song below starts off deceptively “plinky” but picks up considerably when Arizona starts to sing.

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Want to know more about Arizona Dranes? Michael Corcoran can tell you what you need to know.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas Fire Stations — 1901

fire-dept_engine-co-3_gaston-and-college_1901Fire horse in Old East Dallas relaxing between calls (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

A few turn-of-the-century photos of Dallas’ fire stations, from a 1901 photographic annual. These seven firehouses were built between 1882 and 1894. One of these buildings is, miraculously, still standing on McKinney Avenue, in the heart of Uptown.

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At the top, Engine Co. No. 3, at Gaston and College Avenues. In service: January, 1892. Equipment: an Ahrens Steamer, capacity 750 gallons per minute, and a Cooney Hose Carriage. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the present location (Gaston and Hall) here. (And since I just used it a few days ago, here’s a 1921 Sanborn map, showing Mill Creek running right through the property.)

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fire-dept_central-station_main-harwood_1901

Above, Central Fire Station, Main and Harwood Streets. In service: October, 1887. Equipment: a double-sixty-gallon Champion Chemical Engine and a City Hook and Ladder Truck. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the present location here (the site of the old City Hall/Municipal Building).

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fire-dept_mckinney-leonard_engine-co-1_1901

Engine Co. No. 1, McKinney Avenue and Leonard. Equipment: an Ahrens Steamer, 750 gallons per minute, and a Cooney Hose Carriage. In service: August, 1894. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the present location here. NOTE: This is the only one of these firehouses still standing. I wrote about it here.

UPDATE: Well, sort of. Thanks to a comment on Facebook, I researched this station a bit more and found that it was rebuilt and modernized at the end of 1909 — using materials from the original building seen above, built on the same plot of land. So instead of being 122 years old, the building on McKinney today is a mere 106 years old.

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fire-dept_commerce-hawkins_engine-co-2_1901

Engine Co. No. 2, Commerce and Hawkins Streets. In service: January, 1882. Equipment: an Ahrens Steamer, capacity 750 gallons per minute, and a Cooney Hose Carriage. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see a shot-in-the-dark guess at a present location here.

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fire-dept_ervay-kelly_hose-co-2_1901

Hose Co. No. 2 and Chemical Co. No. 2, Ervay Street and Kelly Avenue. In service: September, 1894. Equipment: a Cooney Hose Carriage and double-sixty-gallon Champion Chemical Engine. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the present location here (right behind where the word “Cedars”).

fire-dept_bryan-hawkins_hook-and-ladder-1_1901

Hose Co. No. 1 and Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, Bryan and Hawkins Streets. In service: January, 1893. Equipment: Preston Aerial Truck with 75-foot extension ladder, and a Cooney Hose Carriage. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the approximate present location here.

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fire-dept_commerce-akard_engine-co-4_1901

Engine Co. No. 4, Commerce and Akard Streets, next door to the City Hall. In service: August, 1894. Equipment: an Ahrens Steamer, capacity 1,100 gallons per minute, and a Cooney Hose Carriage. See it on a 1905 Sanborn map here; see the present location here (just out of frame at the right was the City Hall; the block is now the site of the Adolphus Hotel).

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city-hall_1901_fire-dept-annual_portal

City Hall, Commerce and Akard Streets, now the location of the Adolphus Hotel. Half of the shorter building to the left housed the police department and Engine Co. No. 4.

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The “Historical” page from the book (click to read).

fire-dept-hist_dallas-fire-dept-annual_1901_portal

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Since there is no sign of the actual equipment in these photos, here’s what horse-drawn steam engines (Ahrens steamers) looked like at this time. (Photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society).

fire-steam-engine_wisconsin-hist-soc

UPDATE: I found this photo on Flickr, showing equipment from those early days being driven through the streets of Dallas during a fire prevention parade.

fire-department_pumper_flickr_coltera

UPDATE: Lo and behold, a photo from 1900 of Old Tige, the 600 gallons-per-minute steam pumper, built in 1884, which was in service with the Dallas Fire Department until 1921. (Old Tige can be seen in the Firefighters Museum across from Fair Park.) Found at the Portal to Texas History.

old-tige_1900_fire-dept-bk_1931_portal

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Sources & Notes

Photos by Clifton Church, from the Dallas Fire Department Annual, 1901, which can be viewed in its entirety on the Portal to Texas History, here.

A contemporary map of Dallas (ca. 1898) can be viewed on the Portal to Texas History site, here.

More Flashback Dallas posts on historic Dallas firehouses can be found here.

All photos larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Dallas Express — A Look Inside the Offices of the City’s Most Important Black Newspaper — 1924

dallas-express-bldg_dallas-express_0607242600 Swiss, home of The Dallas Express (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Without question, The Dallas Express (1892/3-1970) was the most important and most widely-read black-owned newspaper published for Dallas’ African-American community. In addition to stories of particular interest to its Dallas and Texas readership, it also covered national and international news, and in the Jim Crow era, when black Dallasites were rarely mentioned in white-owned newspapers except in crime reports, The Express reported on the people, the businesses, the churches, and the achievements of their large community. They also wrote about politics and issues of race and discrimination. One of the paper’s slogans was “A Champion of Justice, A Messenger of Hope.”

I’ve been interested in newspapers, journalism, and the actual physical process of printing newspapers for as long as I can remember, but until a couple of years ago, I was not aware of The Dallas Express, founded in 1892 by publisher/editor W. E. King. Discovering this paper and its stories about my hometown has been eye-opening. The Dallas Express is an important — and often overlooked — source of Dallas history. I love reading through issues of The Express because unlike white-owned papers of this period, it presents a realistic and human chronicle of the everyday lives of Dallas’ black men and women, something which was almost completely ignored by The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Times Herald.

For many years, the offices of the Express were just north of Deep Ellum, at 2600 Swiss — at the corner of Good Street, about where Brad Oldham’s Traveling Man sculpture stands today. (I have a feeling the actual location was in the middle of what is now Good-Latimer. See the location on a 1921 Sanborn map here.) Happily, the Express printed a full-page ad for itself in the June 7, 1924 edition, so we can see what the Swiss Avenue building, its offices, and its production rooms looked like. These photos were taken by noted Dallas photographer Frank Rogers. (Apologies for the muddy quality of these photos — I’d love to see the crisp originals!)

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These photos show the Dallas Express offices as they looked in 1924, when the newspaper had already been in business for 32 years. The exterior of the two-story building can be seen in the photo at the top — standing next to a private residence. (Click photos to see larger images.)

Below, president and business manger (and, later, owner), C. F. Starks:

dallas-express_c-f-starks_pres-business-mgr_060724

The editor’s office (John W. Rice was the editor at this time and is, presumably, the man in the foreground):

dallas-express_editors-office_060724

The business office:

dallas-express_business-office_060724

The composition room:

dallas-express_composition-room_060724

The linotype department (I have written about my fascination with linotype machines here):

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And the press room:

dallas-express_press-room_060724

The text from the ad (this special “Pythian Edition”of the paper was printed to coincide with the 40th annual meeting of the Knights of Pythias):

“YOUR Paper,” The 5th Largest of its Kind in America, Commends The Knights of Pythias Along With All of the Other Fraternities Represented Here for Their WONDERFUL PROGRESS.

THE EXPRESS believes that much of the splendid success which has come to the Fraternities of Texas, has come because of the fact that they have told the public “well and often” about the benefits which they offer and the advantages which they bring. And too, this paper takes a great deal of PRIDE in the thought that it has helped to bring this to pass because it is the medium in Texas best fitted to tell the world about the PROGRESS of the institution of our State.

These views of our force and the equipment at our plant explain why we can guarantee “Distinctive Service” and “Meritorious Printing” to every one of our customers.

The 20,000 copies in this special issue will go to every corner of America and to some foreign countries. No other journal of the Race in the Southwest does this.

The Dallas Express Pub. Co. Solicits Your Patronage not because it is a Negro institution but because it can guarantee to you the sort of service that you need. No job too small for the greatest consideration. No order too big for us to fill.

TEXAS’ OLDEST AND LARGEST NEGRO NEWSPAPER AND PRINTING PLANT
In Dallas Since 1892
2600 Swiss Avenue

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The full-page ad:

dallas-express_060724_p8_full-page
Dallas Express, June 7, 1924

Another photo of the printing room appeared in an Express ad which ran in the paper the following week:

dallas-express_061424_ad
Dallas Express, June 14, 1924

dallas-express_1923-directory
1923 Dallas directory

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Photos by Frank Rogers. Original prints might be in the Frank Rogers Collection at the Dallas Public Library, but nothing showed up when I searched the DPL database. Original crisp prints would be wonderful to see!

Photos appeared in the June 7, 1924 edition of The Dallas Express. The full newspaper can be found here. Only a few years’ worth of scanned issues of The Express are available on UNT’s Portal to Texas History site — mostly 1919-1924 — they can be accessed here.

Read about The Dallas Express at the Portal to Texas History, here; the Wikipedia entry is here.

Click photos to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

The Union Depot Hotel Building, Deep Ellum — 1898-1968

union-depot-hotel_1909_uta-detThe old Union Depot Hotel, about 1909 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, we see the hotel known originally as the Union Depot Hotel, built in 1898 across from the very busy old Union Depot, at the intersection of two major rail lines: the Houston & Texas Central (the H&TC, which ran north-south) and the Texas & Pacific (the T&P, which ran east-west). The tracks crossed at the intersection of Central and Pacific — streets named after the two railroads — in the area east of downtown we now call Deep Ellum. The hotel was on the southwest corner of that intersection.

The large, two-story hotel (which also housed a popular cafe and bar) was built by William S. Skelton — more commonly known as Wiley Skelton — to cash in on the large number of travelers coming to Dallas via the bustling passenger depot right across the street. When it opened, it was charging a hefty two bucks a day (the equivalent of about $60.00 in today’s money) — a large-ish sum in 1899, but … location, location, location. This two-dollar-a-day rate to stay at Skelton’s hotel was the same as the base rate of Dallas’ ritziest, priciest hotels, The Windsor and The Oriental. How could Skelton’s “wrong side of the tracks” hotel charge similar rates as the city’s most elegant hotels? Convenience, convenience, convenience. The Union Depot Hotel could not have been more convenient to weary travelers unless it had been located inside the depot.

union-depot-hotel_houston-post_012599Houston Post, Jan. 25, 1899

Skelton was a popular and successful businessman (and noted saloon pugilist) who was known far and wide for his substantial physical bulk. He was a founding member of the city’s “fat men’s club” and was reported to be the heaviest man in the city. When he died suddenly at the age of 45 (probably not a huge surprise, as his obituary mentioned that his weight had, at one time, reached 438 pounds), his new hotel had been open only weeks (perhaps only days).

skelton_dmn_011699Dallas Morning News, Jan. 16, 1899

His unexpected death threw the running of the hotel into confusion. His brother (another famed “fighting fat man”) took over the business side of its operations and occasionally placed ads in the paper seeking a hard-to-find buyer.

union-depot-hotel_1901_portal1901 ad

union-depot-hotel_dmn_111602DMN, Nov. 16, 1902

Eventually the hotel was sold, and it went through several owners and name changes over the years. Then, in 1916, a major catastrophe struck: brand new Union Station, which was waaaay on the other side of town, opened, consolidating passenger rail service to one depot, resulting in the shuttering of most of the city’s smaller depots. Location, location, location wasn’t such a great thing for the old Skelton hotel after this.

The hotel went through many changes over the years, but after the closing (and later razing) of the old Union Depot, it was on a general, inevitable, slide downward. By the time it was demolished in 1968 — when large swaths along Central Avenue were leveled to facilitate highway construction — the building was in disrepair and, apparently, long-vacant. It stood for 70 years.

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Below is a photo taken from Elm Street in 1908 or 1909, when the hotel (seen at the top left) was owned by Charles S. Conerty and named the Conerty Hotel (you can see the name on two signs, but you have to really zoom in to make them out). Conerty, an Irishman who had previously run bars, owned the hotel very briefly. By May of 1909, plagued with legal troubles stemming from his being charged with selling liquor on a Sunday, Conerty sold the hotel (which he seems to have been running as a boarding house), stating in his classified ad that he was “leaving city.” (He did not leave the city.) In 1910, with a new owner, the hotel was once again known as the Union Depot Hotel.

Back to the photo. Across Central Avenue from the hotel is the old Union Depot, where there was always a lot going on. Let’s look at the photo a little more closely. (Click photos to see larger images.)

old-union-depot_degolyer_ca1910

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old-union-depot_degolyer_det6

Just seven or eight years after this photo was taken, all that human traffic was gone.

In the fall of 1968, having been vacant for years and counting down its final hours, Dallas Morning News writer Doug Domeier wrote about the old run-down hotel which had long outlived the passenger depot it had been built to serve (see the article “Demolition Leveling Once-Noisy Deep Elm,” DMN, Oct. 19, 1968). Domeier’s entertaining article about those early days includes memories of Lizzie Mae Bass, who once worked in the hotel’s cafe as a waitress and remembers when “horses back[ed] away in fright when a locomotive pulled in at the lively intersection linking the Houston and Texas Central with the Texas & Pacific.”

And today? You’d never EVER suspect that that patch of empty land at the edge of Deep Ellum was ever occupied by one of the city’s busiest train depots.

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So where was it? Get a good visual idea of how things were laid out in the Sanborn map from 1905, here. Below is a street map that shows where the hotel was (red star) and where the train depot was (blue star). These days? Depressing. See it here (the view is looking north from Elm — the hotel would have been under the overpass, the train station straight ahead).

union-depot-hotel_1952-mapsco1952 Mapsco

It’s interesting to note that during the heyday of the Union Depot, the west side of the block of Central Ave. which ran between Elm and Pacific was the only block in this area not filled with black-owned businesses or residences. When the depot shut down and white-owned businesses moved out, the block began to fill with popular African-American establishments. It’s also interesting (to me, anyway!) to realize that the Gypsy Tea Room of the 1930s was just a few steps to the left of the hotel in the top photo. It took me forever to try to figure out where the Gypsy Tea Room had been — I wrote about it here.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo is a detail of a larger photo, from the Squire Haskins Photography, Inc. Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries; it is accessible here. The same photograph is shown in full farther down the post — this copy is from the DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University, and it is accessible here. The quality of both photos makes it difficult to zoom in on them with much clarity, but both sites offer very large images to view.

As mentioned above, an entertaining Dallas Morning News article full of historical info about the area around the depot is highly recommended: “Demolition Leveling Once-Noisy Deep Elm” by Doug Domeier (DMN, Oct. 19, 1968). (I’m not sure why the hotel is referred to as the “Grand Central Station Hotel” throughout — just substitute “Union Depot Hotel” whenever you come across that incorrect name.) The article also has a few paragraphs about the Harlem Theater which was also about to be torn down as part of what Domeier described as the “brutal change” then affecting Deep Ellum.

See a great early-’20s photo of the hotel building (the Tip-Top Tailors moved in around 1922) in the book Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas by Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield, here (the view is from Pacific to the southwest).

A related Flashback Dallas post — “The Old Union Depot in East Dallas: 1897-1935” — can be read here.

All images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Gypsy Tea Room, Central Avenue, and The Darensbourg Brothers

gypsy-tea-room_dallas-public-libraryThe 200 block of Central Ave., about 1937…  (Dallas Public Library photo)

by Paula Bosse

I’ve seen this photograph of Deep Ellum for years, and I’ve always loved it. But for some reason, I always thought this showed Elm Street — across from the Knights of Pythias Temple, just west of Good-Latimer (probably because that’s where a recent club with the same name was located). In fact, this scene was captured a couple of blocks west, just north of Elm, on Central Avenue, sometimes referred to as Central Track, along the Houston & Texas Central railroad tracks — a part of Deep Ellum that’s been gone for more than 60 years.

gypsy-tea-room-location_1952-map.jpgAfter Central Expwy. replaced Central Ave. (1952 Mapsco)

This area — which many have described as being the very heart of Deep Ellum in the 1920s through the 1940s (and which was somewhat ironically referred to as “the gay white way of the Negro in Dallas” by an uncredited WPA writer) — was demolished to make way for the construction of North Central Expressway (which closely followed the H&TC Railway tracks). This photo was taken in the 200 block of North Central Avenue, looking south toward Elm (the building farthest in the background, jutting out to the left, is across Elm, on the south side of the street).

You can see that the Sanborn map from 1921 shows that same building jutting out. (See the full Sanborn map here; it might be more helpful to see this detail rotated to show the same view as the photo, here.)

sanborn-map_1921_sheet-17-det1921 Sanborn map, detail (click for larger image)

Information about The Gypsy Tea Room is scant. The proprietor was a man named Irvin Darensbourg, whose family was from the black community of Killona, Louisiana in St. Charles Parish; they appear to have been of French Creole extraction, and the family’s last name was probably correctly spelled as D’Arensbourg.

The Darensbourgs were an interesting family (and not just  because their mother’s maiden name was Louise Jupiter!). There were several children, and at least two of them were professional musicians: Percy Darensbourg (1899-1950) and Caffery (often spelled “Caffrey”) Darensbourg (1901-1940). Both played with several jazz bands, and Percy even made a few recordings, playing banjo with various bands. Below are a couple of promotional photos showing them at work in the 1920s, when they still were based in New Orleans, before they settled in Dallas. (These are cropped details — click pictures to see the full photos.)

Percy Darensbourg, with Lee Collins‘ band, 1925 or 1926:

percy-darensbourg_duke_det

Listen to Percy on banjo, here:

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And, below, Caffery Darensbourg, with Manuel Perez’s Garden of Joy Orchestra (click photo to see full band — the other band members are identified here):

caffery-darensbourg_tulane-library

The first of the brothers to arrive in Dallas from New Orleans was Percy, in about 1929, and for the next few years he continued to make his living as a professional musician. Caffery followed in 1932 and opened the short-lived Frenchie’s Creole Inn on Boll Street. Their non-musician brother Irvin was here by 1935 and promptly opened the Green Tavern at 217 Central Avenue, just a few doors down from Percy’s drinking establishment, the Central Tavern Inn, at 223 Central. At about this same time, Percy was also running a club at 3120 Thomas called The Gay Paree — which The Dallas Morning News described as a “swanky negro night club” (April 12, 1938) in a short mention of Percy’s being fined for selling alcohol to an already-inebriated customer.

But back to that 200 block of Central Avenue — the one pictured in the photo at the top. Between 1937 and 1939, Irvin also owned/ran a small restaurant or cafe — and later a pool hall — out of 219½ Central. The Darensbourgs had that block locked up.

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In 1935, a song called “In a Little Gypsy Tea Room” by Bob Crosby swept the country. It was a huge hit. Suddenly there were scads of places popping up all over calling themselves The Gypsy Tea Room or The Little Gypsy Tea Room. Some might have been actual tearooms, but there were also a lot of clubs and bars with the “tea room” name — the most famous of these was The Gypsy Tea Room in the Tremé district of New Orleans, at Villere & St. Ann, which opened the same year the song was being played incessantly by every dance band in the nation. This famous New Orleans nightclub booked the biggest jazz bands around and was a legendary musician’s hangout.

gypsy-tea-room_new-orleans_1942_tulane-libNew Orleans’ Gypsy Tea Room, 1942 (via Tulane University)

gypsy-tea-room_NOLA_myneworleansNew Orleans’ Gypsy Tea Room, 1930s (via MyNewOrleans.com)

The Darensbourgs most likely knew the club, its owner, its patrons, and the musicians who played there. Perhaps Irvin Darensbourg decided to name his own little Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas in honor of the New Orleans landmark. Whatever the case, Deep Ellum’s Gypsy Tea Room appears to have come and gone fairly quickly (and one assumes there was more than tea being sipped inside).

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The life of a tavern and club operator could be a hard one, especially in those days, especially in the black neighborhoods of Deep Ellum and North Dallas. Irvin seemed to forever be sleeping on a relative’s couch, with a different address every few months. By 1940 he had moved to Fort Worth to open another bar, and after that … I’m not sure what became of him — but one hopes that he met a less violent end than his brothers did here in Dallas. According to  Caffery’s death certificate, he died in 1940 after having been shot in the abdomen while “in a public place.” His death was ruled a homicide. Percy, who by all indications was the most stable and successful of the brothers, was also killed — in 1950 he was stabbed in the neck (!) while out on the street at 4:20 AM.

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As for the original photograph, I’ve pored over it and looked through directories, but I can’t pinpoint the exact year this photo was taken or determine what the actual address of the Gypsy Tea Room was. Since it was mentioned in the WPA Dallas Guide and History, which was written and compiled between 1936 and 1940 and contains the only contemporary mention of the Tea Room, my guess is that this was taken about 1937, as this was the last year that Old Tom’s Tavern (209 ½ Central) seems to have been in business (although the bar that replaced it was owned by the same person, and the sign seen in this photograph could well have remained up for a while).

Craig’s Cafe, at 213 Central, was in business between 1929 and at least 1946 when property began to be demolished in order to begin construction on the expressway. The Gypsy Tea Room looks to be either two or three doors down from Craig’s place. My guess is that it’s 219 Central. The 1937 street directory has Irvin Darensbourg (whose name is constantly mangled and misspelled everywhere) listed as being the proprietor of both the Green Tavern (at 217 Central) as well as an unnamed restaurant at 219-A (sometimes written as 219 ½) Central. The 1938 and 1939 directories specify Darensbourg’s business at this address in those years is a pool hall, not a restaurant. So I’m going to venture that Irvin Darensbourg ran the Gypsy Tea Room at 219 Central Avenue in 1937. 

1937_gypsy-tea-room_central_1937-directory
1937 Dallas directory

That was exhausting!

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Sources & Notes

Photo of the Gypsy Tea Room at the top of this post is from the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division of the Dallas Public Library. The photo here (scroll to the bottom) identifies it as being from the WPA Dallas Guide & History Collection.

Thanks to Bob Dunn of the Lone Star Library Annex for deciphering “Darensbourg” from this badly garbled printed name on the Gypsy Tea Room sign.

gypsy-tea-room-sign

Here are a few of the numerous ways this Darensbourg’s family’s name is misspelled across the internet:

D’Arensbourg
Darensbourg
Darensburg
Darenbourg
Darenburg
Darnburg
Darnsberg
Dansberg

Darensborough

And I’m still not actually sure whether it’s “Irvin” or “Irving,” or “Caffery” or “Caffrey.”

When clicked, the photo of Percy Darensbourg above opens up to show the full band — the personnel is identified in a caption from the book Oh, Didn’t He Ramble: The Life Story of Lee Collins: “Lee’s band in Dallas, 1925 or 1926. From the left: Coke Eye Bob (Arthur Joseph?), Mary Brown, Freddie ‘Boo-Boo’ Miller, Octave Crosby, Henry Julien, ‘Professor’ Sherman Cook, Lee, and Percy Darensburg [sic].”

A couple of other versions of “In a Little Gypsy Tea Room,” if you must:

  • The version by The Light Crust Doughboys (no strangers to Deep Ellum), recorded in 1935 in Dallas at 508 Park, is here.
  • The at-least-peppier version by Louis Prima and His  New Orleans Gang, also recorded in 1935, is here.

See what the area once occupied by the vibrant street life of Central Track looks like now, here. The expressway overpass is now planted about where the photo was taken. It’s a shame this important part of town — in a way it was Dallas’ second downtown — was bulldozed into oblivion.

 Click pictures for larger images.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Movie Houses Serving Black Dallas — 1919-1922

palace-theatre_elm-st_1922-dplThe Palace Theatre, Elm St., Deep Ellum, 1922 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

In 1920, movie theaters — like most places in Dallas at the time — were segregated. If black customers were allowed at all in the downtown white vaudeville and movie houses, they had separate entrances and restricted seating areas (generally in the balcony). But Dallas’ African-American community had their own popular theaters, run by enterprising and energetic men who endlessly promoted their jam-packed and constantly-changing bills.

Judging by the amount of ad space purchased in the black-owned and operated Dallas Express, there were four main movie theaters catering to black Dallasites around 1920: the Grand Central Theatre, run by John Harris, the Mammoth Theatre, run by Joe Trammell, the Palace Theatre, run initially by Felix Moore, and the High School Theatre, run by Herbert Batts; the first three of these houses were in Deep Ellum, the last one was in what was then called “North Dallas.’ The theaters played both “white” films and films with “all-Colored casts.” The advertising for these theaters is great — far more ad space was available in the tiny Express to publicize the movies, the popular but now-forgotten Silent Film stars of the era, and the proprietors themselves than was available to the theaters on the other end of Elm Street in the much larger, white-owned News, Journal, or Times Herald. Sometimes it’s good being the big fish in the little pond — absolutely everybody knows who you are.

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The Grand Central Theatre was at 405-407 N. Central Ave. (which later became Central Expressway), between Swiss and Live Oak on the outer northern edge of Deep Ellum. John Harris, the owner, put himself in practically all of his ads. He included this autobiographical sketch in one of them:

micheaux-grand_dallas-express_052821-detDallas Express, May 28, 1921

I’m not sure if he operated “the first Negro moving picture show in Dallas,” but I wouldn’t doubt it — the man was a dynamo who possessed not only a bold self-confidence, but he also seems to have had an unlimited promotional budget. UPDATE: The first appearance of a theatrical enterprise by John Harris shows up in the 1913 city directory (directories generally collected their information the previous year, so he was probably in business in 1912). Harris is listed under the “Amusements” section at the same address as the Grand Central Theatre, a name which came later. The same 1913 directory also lists the Star Theatre, which later became the Palace (see below). These are the only two theatres designated as “colored.” It’s unclear whether the theaters hosted live performances or showed movies. Or both.

The Grand Central advertised relentlessly. (Click ads to see larger images.)

grand-central-theatre_dal-express_120420Dec. 4, 1920

grand-central-theatre_dal-express_051421May 14, 1921

grand-central-theatre_dallas-express_080621Aug. 6, 1921

Below, an ad showing one of the offerings to be a Ben Roy Motion Picture Corp. movie called “My Baby” which was “made in Dallas, featuring William Lee and All Colored Cast.”

grand-central-theater_dal-express_052722May 27, 1922

Harris was connected with the legendary black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Not only did he regularly run his films, but he also seems to have been working as a booker, promoter, and distributor of Micheaux’s films and ran the Micheaux Film Productions branch office out of the Grand Central. “Colored Pictures are Money-Getters.”

micheaux_dallas-express_051421May 14, 1921

One ad that caught my attention was this one, for a locally-shot film called “Colored Dallas.” I really, REALLY want to see this, but the possibility of an extremely minor, 95-year-old silent film having survived into the 21st century is slim.

colored-dallas_dallas-express_012420Jan. 24, 1920

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The Mammoth Theatre was located at 2401 Elm Street, between Central and Hawkins. It opened in late 1919 — the run-up to the opening was publicized in this Dallas Express item.

mammoth_dallas-express_112219Nov. 22, 1919

The Mammoth might not have advertised quite as much as the Grand Central did, but it frequently took out splashy full-page ads. Full-page! I bet that royally irked John Harris. Below, a Mammoth ad from 1920.

mammoth_dallas-express_040320April 3, 1920

Two details from the above ad:

mammoth_dallas-express_040320-det-2

mammoth_dallas-express_040320-det
“Operated by Colored folks for Colored Folks.”

The owner, Joe Trammell, seems to have had an inexhaustible source of money for advertising — those frequent full-pagers (unusual for the time) must have cost a pretty penny. I couldn’t find much information about any of these men, but I stumbled across this photo of Trammell, tacked on to one of his … um … mammoth ads.

mammoth_joe-trammell_dallas-express_021221Feb. 12, 1921

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The Palace Theatre, seen in the photo at the top, was at 2407 Elm Street, just a couple of doors down from the Mammoth. (This Palace is not to be confused with the “white” Palace Theatre, the stalwart of Theater Row at the other end of Elm.) It opened in 1920 in the remodeled space formerly occupied by the Star Theatre,

palace_dallas-express_030620March 6, 1920

palace_dallas-express_050820May 8, 1920

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Lastly, moving up to North Dallas, we find the High School Theatre, located at 3211 Cochran, between Central and N. Hall Street. The reason for its name was its close proximity to the Colored High School (the only high school for African-American students at the time — it would soon merge with and relocate to the new Booker T. Washington High School a short distance away). The following businesses were in this same block: the High School Cold Drink Stand, the High School Cafe, the High School Shine Parlor, and the High School Tailor Shop. Location, location, location.

high-school-theater_dallas-express_031519March 15, 1919

My favorite High School Theatre ad is this one, touting a serial called “The Master Mystery” starring Houdini … one of the screen’s first appearances of a robot! (Check out a scene featuring both Houdini and the robot/automaton, here.)

houdini_dallas-express_031519March 15, 1919

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The only one of these theaters still in business in 1930 was the Palace. by 1937, the Palace had become the Harlem Theatre.

harlem-theatre_deep-ellum

harlem-theatre_dpl

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Top photo showing Elm Street and the Palace Theatre and the bottom two photos showing the Harlem Theatre are from the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division, Dallas Public Library. The upsetting view of what that stretch of Elm looks like now can be seen on Google Street View, here. Below, side-by-side, 1922 and 2015 — Elm St. looking east to Deep Ellum, the Knights of Pythias temple in both images down the street on the left. Look what we’ve lost.

elm-looking-east_1922-2015

All ads and clippings from The Dallas Express, as noted. A few years’ worth of this important newspaper, which served Dallas’ African-American community, can be accessed here.

More on Oscar Micheaux, here.

A 1919 map from UNT’s Portal to Texas History shows the location of the Grand Central Theatre (red square), the Mammoth (blue), and the Palace (yellow).

black-cinemas_ca1920_deep-ellum

The High School Theatre — up in “North Dallas” (adjacent to present-day Uptown) — is seen on a different portion of the same map, below.

black-cinemas_ca1920_north-dallas

Most images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“A Perfect Auto Tent” — 1921

ad-dallas-tent-awning_dmn_061221-smRemember to turn off engine before retiring for the night…

by Paula Bosse

Personally, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be outside when it’s 157 degrees, but for those of you who are insistent campers who might be heading out for a sweaty and bug-filled weekend in the wilderness, might I direct your attention to the “automobile tent,” ready for purchase in 1921 at the Dallas Tent and Awning Co. at 2620 Main Street, in the heart of Deep Ellum. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of this admittedly charming-looking “car tent” would be the equivalent of about $200.

My weekend? I will be camped out in a blissfully air-conditioned house — shades drawn, blinds closed — with an iced tea in hand, moving slowly, and not smelling like insect repellent.

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Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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