Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Fair Park

Miscellaneous Dallas

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Wah Hoo Club Lake, Members Only…

by Paula Bosse

Here are several images, most in varying degrees of low resolution. I don’t know what else to do with them other than post them all together, randomly. No research. They’re just HERE! Enjoy!

Above, a handsome couple posing under the entrance to Wah-Hoo Club Lake (I’ve seen it more often spelled “Wahoo” — south of Fair Park).

Below, the Coca-Cola Company building, McKinney and N. Lamar (still standing).

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Speaking of Coke, here are some Keen folks, standing on the steps of the Jefferson Hotel (Union Station is out of frame to their right).

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A couple of blocks away, the Old Red Courthouse, seen here from an unusual angle — looking toward the northwest (postcard postmarked 1908).

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This is a super low-resolution image, but I’ve never seen it before, so, what the heck: I give you a fuzzy Jackson Street looking northeast (postmarked 1907).

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The “new” Post Office and Federal Building at Bryan and Ervay (postmarked 1964).

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A jog over to Oak Cliff — here’s a horse-drawn hearse.

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Up to Preston and Royal (northeast corner, I think) — a Mobil station.

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Even farther north, LBJ under construction, looking west at the intersection with Central (1967). (Can’t pass up the opportunity to link to one of the most popular photos I’ve ever posted which shows what is now LBJ and Valley View in 1958 — nothin’ but farmland.)

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And, lastly, my favorite of these miscellaneous images: the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue (from about Metropolitan — a couple of blocks south of Fair Park). This part of town used to be really interesting. Unfortunately, it looks nothing like this now (see it on Google Street View here). This is a screenshot from the KERA-produced documentary “South Dallas Pop” (which you can watch in its entirety here).

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Sources & Notes

All images found on eBay except for the following: Preston-Royal Mobil station, from Coltera’s Flickr stream; LBJ photo from Red Oak Kid’s Flickr stream; and the photo of 2nd Avenue, which might be from the collection of the Dallas Public Library.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas — From “Texas, The Big State” (1952)

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_triple-underpassBehold…

by Paula Bosse

It’s always fun to see Dallas on film — and it’s even better when it’s a Technicolor film. Below are a few screenshots from “Texas — The Big State,” a 1952 travelogue produced by Santa Fe Railroad as a promotional film. It’s very enthusiastic. …Very. Dallas’ Norma-Desmond moment lasts only about three and a half minutes, but visits to downtown, Chance Vought, SMU, Fair Park, a Cotton Bowl game, and the State Fair of Texas manage to get crammed in, surrounded by a warm bath of dynamic adjectives.

Above, a scenic view of the triple underpass and the approach to downtown Dallas from the west. Nice foliage.

Below, a birds-eye view from the south (the same shot as the one by Eisenstaedt in the ’40s seen here, only a decade later — even the Falstaff Beer billboard is still there).

texas-big-state_santa-fe-film_jones-film_SMU_skyline

The well-dressed mean streets of Big D:

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A woman walking on water at the Esplanade in Fair Park:

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Rolloplane, cotton candy, etc., at the State Fair of Texas:

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And, lastly, a fun fact I bet no one alive on this planet knows (or remembers): in 1952 Dallas was the second largest manufacturer of WASH DRESSES in the country. Probably the world. What a random piece of information for the Chamber of Commerce to have given to the Santa Fe people to include in a fluffy little film like this. Forget Neiman’s — we were number two in wash dresses! Number TWO!! (“Wash dresses”? Apparently they were house dresses made from washable fabrics. Like what Lucy Ricardo used to wear around the house when she didn’t have to don a hat and gloves to go pick up Ricky’s tux at the dry cleaners. Like the one seen in this “wash frocks” ad from 1950.) And here you go, two of the women who pushed us to runner-up wash-dress greatness:

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The 24-minute film — which premiered in Austin on May 28, 1952 and was included for months afterward as a “featurette” on double bills across the country — can be seen in its entirety on the SMU Jones Film YouTube channel. The Dallas bit starts at 9:43, followed by the Fort Worth bit at 13:19. I understand there are other cities, too.

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Sources & Notes

All images are screenshots from the 16mm film posted on YouTube by the G. William Jones Film Archive, Hamon Library, Southern Methodist University.

Special thanks to Erik Swanson for bringing this to my attention.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Guys and Dolls” at the State Fair Music Hall — 1951

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Wearing the *dress* boots… (photo: John Dominis, © Time, Inc.)

by Paula Bosse

This is the most Texans-going-to-the-theater photo I’ve ever seen.

And this is the most Texans-selling-minks ad I’ve ever seen:

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Sources and Notes

Photo by John Dominis, taken in October, 1951 on assignment for Life magazine, ©Time, Inc.; more info is here.

Neiman-Marcus ad is also from October, 1951.

“Take Back Your Mink” is a song from “Guys and Dolls” (hear it here), the musical that played during the 1951 State Fair of Texas, starring Pamela Britton, Allan Jones, Jeanne Ball, and Slapsie  Maxie Rosenbloom.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Marching to Mess — 1918

ww1_fort-dick_fair-park_marching-to-mess_roller-coaster_1918_natl-archivesNot your typical boot camp setting… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, Camp Dick, an Air Service training camp which took over Fair Park during World War I. The War Department caption of this 1918 photo:

Camp Dick, Dallas, Texas: Men marching to mess after evening parade. Roof in foreground is the Officers’ house.

At the right is a roller coaster, a popular ride when the State Fair of Texas (rather than the U.S. military) is occupying the park.

Here’s a photo from 1911:

state-fair_street-scene_john-minor_1911_cook-colln_degolyer

When Preston Sturges trained at Camp Dick — well before he became a legendary Hollywood writer and director — he and his fellow cadets did not let that roller coaster go to waste. He wrote this in his autobiography, Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges:

Out on the parade ground, boys fell over from [the intense heat] all the time and had to be revived with cold water and a sponge. Nights we would climb up the shaky apex of the large roller coaster in the corner of the fairgrounds to try to find a breeze.

An unexpected perk of basic training.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo is from the National Archives at College Park; more info is here.

State Fair photo is a real photo postcard, taken by John R. Minor, and is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info is here.

More Flashback Dallas posts on Camp Dick can be found here.

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Buried Alive at the Fair Park Midway — 1946

sfot_scotty-scott_buried-alive_coffin_cook-colln_degolyer-library_SMU_1946Welcome to my casket!

by Paula Bosse

In May, 1946 a new Fair Park midway opened with new rides and new attractions to entice entertainment-seekers to Fair Park at a time of the year when the State Fair of Texas wasn’t in session. On opening day a beauty queen was chosen, a new 17-inch telescope was introduced, and a man was buried alive.

That man was C. S. “Scotty” Scott, seen above lounging in a comfy-looking casket in pajamas and robe, looking happy, propping up the lid. On May 11, 1946, Scotty Scott was buried six feet below the midway where he vowed to remain until the last day of the fair — Oct. 20th. That’s five and a half months.

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Countless ads appeared over the weeks offering $500 (the equivalent of about $6,500 in today’s money) to anyone who might stop by his Fair Park lair and find him not there.

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The exact set-up is not fully clear, but, basically, he was buried in a coffin in a very small space, with a ventilation pipe. One report said that visitors were able to see him through a glass partition — another said that people were peeking at him and talking to him via an eight-inch vent pipe. However they were observing him, they weren’t doing it for free — if you wanted to get a look at Scotty doing whatever it was he was doing down there, you had to fork over 25 or 30 cents. All this being-watched and chit-chatting probably helped distract Scotty from the fact that he was buried alive! (I’m getting claustrophobic just typing this.)

Scotty’s tomb was equipped with air conditioning, a radio, a telephone, and an electric razor (which seems unnecessary, but, again, it probably helped pass the time…). (He might have kept up with his shaving, but he let his hair grow, a fact which apparently had the hoi polloi debating about whether Scotty was a man or a woman.) He was able to indulge in the occasional sponge bath and “exercise himself with a vibrator machine.” There was mention somewhere of a feeding tube.

If the thought of being buried alive gives you the willies, Scotty was not completely immune himself. One report mentioned this was probably the last time he would perform this stunt because he was reaching his “breaking point” and “He has to fight himself continuously to keep from being irritable and cross” (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 13, 1946). Luckily, claustrophobia did not seem to be too much of a problem for him as he had been doing this kind of endurance stunt for several years and kept coming back for more — he had, somehow, managed to remain buried in San Francisco for eight months!

Though he considered his main vocation to be a daredevil race driver, he had stumbled into this weird, but lucrative, line of work in 1935 when he had seen a similar stunt being performed in California, and a friend bet him $1,000 he couldn’t do it for 30 days. He won the bet. By the time of this 1946 Dallas stunt, he had been buried alive a LOT — he estimated that he had spent a total of more than four and a half years (!) buried alive.

According to Scotty, the worst part of the buried-alive-thing was the un-burying:

“From past experience the most painful part of the ordeal will come when they dig me up. My circulation will be so bad that my body will turn purple and I will be unable to sit or stand for any length of time. My whole body will feel like a leg or arm that has gone to sleep.” (DMN, Oct. 13, 1946)

Scotty Scott spent 162 days buried alive in Dallas — he even celebrated his 28th birthday underneath Fair Park. He was buried on May 11 and was disinterred on the final day of the fair, Oct. 20. Crowds gathered as men with jack-hammers cracked open the cement-covered tomb. As the coffin was lifted up a woman fainted. He was transported by ambulance to a hospital, and the next day he was interviewed on a national radio program.

Why on earth would anyone do this? More than 75,000 people had paid to take a look at Scotty Scott lying underground. The total amount of money people paid for this creepy privilege works out to almost $300,000 in today’s money. That’s why.

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Sources & Notes

Photo is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info can be found here.

Try not to think about being buried alive. TRY!

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Dallas Day” at the State Fair of Texas

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Hey, Big D — don’t forget “Dallas Day”!

by Paula Bosse

“Dallas Day” used to be an important day at the State Fair of Texas. Like really important. Like national-holiday-important. Below is a typical mayoral proclamation announcing the sweeping closures of public and private businesses and institutions on “Dallas Day,” from 1899 (click to see a larger image; transcription follows):

1899_dallas-day_sfot_dmn_101099Dallas Morning News, Oct. 10, 1899

THE GREAT TEXAS STATE FAIR

PROCLAMATION

Wednesday, Oct. 11, is hereby declared to be, and is to be, a full, free and public holiday within the corporate limits of our good city of Dallas, on account of Dallas Day at the Great Texas State Fair.

All business, public and private, the postoffice, the courts, the banks, and public schools, will close from Tuesday evening, Oct. 10, until Thursday morning, Oct. 12, to the end that all may turn out and have one full day’s benefit of this great educational institution.

Every employer in Dallas is charged to be loyal to this, our proclamation, for his own good, for the good of those he employs, for the good of their wives and families and of their sweethearts.

No loyal concern in Dallas will fail to observe this, our annual holiday, or fail to render to their employes every facility for observing it.

Every citizen of Dallas having in his possession a complimentary ticket to the Fair is hereby requested to keep his ticket in his pocket and to pay his way at the gate. Children in arms will be admitted to the Fair free. School children, accompanied by their teachers, at half price.

Done at Dallas this 9th day of October, 1899.

Signed:
John H. Traylor, Mayor

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For decades, it was expected that most Dallas businesses and government offices would close on “Dallas Day.” The central business district must have been a ghost town. Woe be to anyone needing a new frock, a replacement gasket, a bank draft, or even a postage stamp on “Dallas Day.” The city had bigger fish they wanted its citizens to fry.

1906_dallas-day_sfot_dmn_101806Oct. 18, 1906

Here’s an early “Dallas Day” ad from 1889 with pointing fingers:

1889_dallas-day_sfot_dmn_101489Oct. 14, 1889

The State Fair of Texas was (and continues to be) so filled with other ubiquitous “days” (such as old favorites “Hard Money Day” and “Chrysanthemum Day,” as seen in the ad below from 1895) that if Dallas weren’t Dallas, “Dallas Day” might run the risk of getting lost in the jam-packed fair schedule.

1895_dallas-day_sfot_dmn_102495Oct. 24, 1895

There were, of course, “Dallas Day” parades:

parade_state-fair_dallas-day_come-to-dallas_degolyer_SMU_ca1905ca. 1905, via DeGolyer Library, SMU

“Dallas Day” may still be a thing, for all I know (I guess I think of “Dallas Day” as the day Dallas’ elementary school kids get off to go to the fair, a tradition I hope never dies), but it had lost a lot of steam after those early days. Some businesses continued to close or shorten their hours to let employees enjoy the fair, but the era of a city shutting down so that everyone could flock to the State Fair began to fade after those early decades of the 20th century. But imagine how exciting that must have been, with all of Dallas descending on Fair Park en masse.

state-fair_dallas-day_101056Oct. 10, 1956

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

State Fair of Texas, Miscellaneous Tidbits from Its History

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by Paula Bosse

The State Fair of Texas is, once again, in full swing. Here are a few random SFOT images and ads from the past.

First up, an ad for the very first state fair in Dallas, in 1886. Almost unbelievably, this “Dallas State Fair” (held on 80 acres of land now known as Fair Park) was one of two competing state fairs held in the city that year — the other one was the “Texas State Fair,” which was held about three miles northeast of the courthouse on a 100-acre site roughly about where Cole Park is near present-day North Dallas High School. The two state fairs ran concurrently, and both were smash hits. The “Dallas State Fair and Exposition” eventually became the State Fair of Texas in 1904. Below are the ads for those competing two fairs. (Click to see a larger image.)

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The East Dallas fair, Dallas Herald, Oct. 9, 1886

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The North Dallas fair, Dallas Herald, Oct. 20, 1886

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One of the original buildings built for the 1886 Dallas State Fair was the massive Exposition Building, designed by architect James Flanders. On a site devoted to the career of Flanders, the architect recalled this project many years later: “The progress of the work on the structure was watched by most people with a degree of curiosity far more intense than is excited by the loftiest skyscraper in these days when people have no time to wonder. Such an apparition on the bald prairie attracted crowds of the curious from far and near on Sundays.”

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Above, the huge Exposition Hall, enlarged from its initial design, which, in 1886 was reported to contain 92,000 square feet of unrivaled exhibition space. Unfortunately, the wooden buildings seen above burned to the ground in the early hours of July 20, 1902. The blaze was so intense that “the whole of the city was lit up with the brilliancy of the sunrise” and that “flames rose to such great height that they were seen as far west as Fort Worth, where it was thought the whole city of Dallas was burning” (Dallas Morning News, July 21, 1902). More on this building can be found on the Watermelon Kid site, here.

Below, the Exposition Building can be seen from the fairgrounds racetrack in a photo published in 1900 in an issue of The Bohemian magazine (via the Fort Worth Public Library).

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A moment from the opening day parade festivities of the 1903 fair is captured in the photo below, with the following caption from the 1941-42 edition of the Texas Almanac: “Gov. S. W. T. Lanham (in rear seat of pioneer horseless carriage) in opening day parade for 1903 State Fair of Texas formed on Main Street. Fair President C. A. Keating was seated beside him, and Secretary John G. Hunter of Board of Trade is seen standing beside the gasoline buggy.”

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Main Street, looking west, via Portal to Texas History

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Here is a 1911 view of the state fair midway taken by John R. Minor, Jr. in a real-photo postcard. (More on Mr. Minor is here; more images of the Shoot the Chutes water ride can be found here.)

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via George W. Cook Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU

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From the 1920s, an ad for Clayco Red Ball gasoline (“It’s RED in color”). I’m always a sucker for ads containing photos or drawings of Dallas landmarks, and here we see the entrance to Fair Park. (Why was the gas red? Why not? It was the brainchild of Dallas advertising man Wilson W. Crook, Sr. who needed a way to make this Oklahoma gas different. He remembered that during his WWI days in France that higher quality airplane fuel was colored red to distinguish it from regular gasoline. When the gas was introduced to Dallas in August, 1924, he devised a promotion that gave away 5 gallons of this gas to every red-headed person who showed up at participating service stations.)

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ad-red-ball-gas_state-fair_dmn_101224Clayco Red Ball ad, Oct. 1924

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If we’re talking about the State Fair of Texas and we’ve come to the 1930s, there’s a pretty good chance there’s going to be a photo from the Texas Centennial. And, looky here: a nice shot of concessionaires waiting for thirsty patrons at the Centennial Exposition in 1936. A couple of nickels could get you a Coke and a phone call.

sfot_concessionaires_coke_unt_portal_1936via Portal to Texas History

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During World War II the State Fair was on hiatus. Here’s an ad from the 1941-42 Texas Almanac pre-closure, with a nice pencil sketch of the Esplanade and Hall of State:

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And a 1946 magazine cover story on the imminent reopening of the fair:

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via Portal to Texas History

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In 1956 Big Tex warned/assured you that the Esplanade lights would “knock your eyes out.”

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Speaking of Big Tex and lights knocking your eyes out, in the 1960s Big Tex was memorialized on the side of a downtown building, like a giant bow-legged Lite-Brite.

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Back at Fair Park, Huey P. Nash was supplying fair throngs with barbecue from his Little Bob’s Bar-B-Q stand. In 1964, Nash was the first African-American vendor to be granted a food concession at the State Fair. Little Bob’s (which I believe is still in business) was, at the time of this 1967 ad, located in South Dallas at 4203 S. Oakland (now Malcom X), at the corner of Pine. (Ad is from the 1967 Souvenir Program of the 74th Annual Session of the Missionary Baptist General Convention of Texas; more photos from this publication can be seen here.)

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The 1960s also gave us the Swiss Skyride, which replaced the Monorail (which, when it was introduced in 1956, was the first commercially operated monorail in the United States). The Swiss Skyride was erected in Fair Park in August, 1964, and the 6-minute ride debuted a few months later at the 1964 State Fair of Texas.

state-fair_swiss-sky-ride_tinkle-key-to-dallas_1965_replaced-monorail_
via Lon Tinkle’s children’s book Key to Dallas (1965)

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

A Texas Centennial Scrapbook — 1936

tx-centennial_scrapbook_starring-tx_portal
“Starring Texas”

by Paula Bosse

Here is an aerial view of Fair Park I’ve never seen. It shows Centennial buildings under construction, along with labels marking the locations of those not yet started. It’s always hard to place where some of these no-longer-standing buildings once stood, so this is very helpful. Click the picture to see a larger image, but to really zoom in on the photo, see it at the Portal to Texas History, here.

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Below is another view — an illustrated map from a Centennial visitor’s pamphlet (the zoom-in-able image is also at the Portal to Texas History, here). It was an early illustration, as it shows the original design for the Hall of State with wings never built.

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(all images larger when clicked)

These pictures came from a Texas Centennial scrapbook made by 10-year-old Doris Rae Levy for a contest in her class at Lily B. Clayton Elementary School in Fort Worth. The scrapbook is impressively packed with Texas History-related newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, and postcards. A couple of the things she included that I enjoyed seeing were photos of a giant Centennial “sombrero” and a photo of honorary Centennial Rangerette, Shirley Temple:

tx-centennial_scrapbook_hat_FWST_portal
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feb. 25, 1936

This photo shows four Fort Worth businessmen holding up a “200 gallon sombrero” which would soon be making an appearance at the Fat Stock Show.

And here’s Shirley Temple — who might have been the most famous star in Hollywood at the time — dressed in a snazzy cowboy outfit and an eye-catching pair of boots. She had been appointed honorary Chief of the Texas Centennial Exposition Rangerettes (a bevy of attractive Texas women who acted as goodwill ambassadors and made personal appearances all over the country promoting the Dallas exposition). Miss Temple’s honorary commission apparently came with a tie-in merchandising deal — see the official Shirley Temple with her official Shirley Temple doll below (the latter photo was not from Doris’ scrapbook).

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I thought I would look up Doris Rae Levy, the little girl who compiled the impressive, packed-to-the-gills scrapbook, to see what I could find out about her. This sad news appeared less than two weeks before the Texas Centennial Exposition opened in Fair Park:

tx-centennial_scrapbook_doris-rae-levy_FWST_052636
FWST, May 26, 1936

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Sources & Notes

Doris Rae Levy’s “Texas Centennial Scrap Book” was provided by the Fort Worth Jewish Archives to UNT’s Portal to Texas History; it has been scanned and may be viewed in its entirety here.

The photo of Shirley Temple with the Centennial Rangerette doll was found on Pinterest, with the original image here. Color images of the doll can be seen here.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Christmas Along the Esplanade

xmas_esplanade_dusk_pegasus_121918_paula-bosseA festive Pegasus…

by Paula Bosse

The holiday lights and “dancing waters” of the Esplanade in Fair Park are always worth a visit. I took these photos the other day after doing some volunteer research at the Dallas Historical Society, based in the beautiful Hall of State. I’m particularly fond of dusk, but nighttime is the really the time to see the lights and fountains at their best.

Above, the Pegasus pylon, by French artist Pierre Bourdelle, one of the many artists who worked on the Centennial Exposition in 1936, the year the Esplanade and many of the buildings in Fair Park were built. (All photos are larger when clicked.)

Below, a look toward the Hall of State from the end of the Esplanade.

xmas_esplanade_121918_dusk_toward-hos

One of the six sculptures along the Esplanade, this one represents Texas, by artist Lawrence Tenney Stevens:

xmas_explanade_dusk_texas-statue_121918_paula-bosse

The Automobile Building with the statue representing France, by French sculptor Raoul Josset:

xmas_esplanade_dusk_france_121918_paula-bosse

A closer look, after the sun has gone down, showing the impressive lighting design:

xmas_esplanade_121918_statue-2

Impressive even from the side:

xmas-esplanade_121918_france_night_side_paula-bosse

“Texas” again, lit up and in silhouette:

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The illuminated “dancing waters”:

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Another view toward the Hall of State:

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The jewel of Fair Park, the Hall of State:

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Below are two images of the Esplanade from 1936, when all of this was brand new:

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Sources & Notes

All photos by Paula Bosse.

More information on the statues along the Esplanade can be found at the French Sculpture Census page highlighting “Fair Park, 1936” here, and “The Six Ladies of Fair Park” page from the Texas Escapes site, here.

A very large aerial photo of Fair Park from 1936 can be seen here. Zoom in on the Esplanade.

More Flashback Dallas posts about Christmas can be found here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas History on the BBC

big-tex_bbc_radio-4_julia-barton_photo
“Howdy, chaps!”

by Paula Bosse

A few years ago, when writing about one of the many attempts in the never-ending saga of trying to make the Trinity River a navigable waterway, I stumbled across the 99% Invisible podcast website where I discovered Julia Barton and her long audio piece on the very same topic. I was surprised — and excited — to find someone with a similar background to mine tackling Dallas’ history and looking at it from a thoroughly 21st-century perspective. I felt she and I had been separated at birth, and I enthusiastically contacted her via Twitter. Since then we’ve met a couple of times, chatted back and forth online, and, this year, she asked if I would help with research for a radio piece about Dallas she was preparing for BBC Radio. Of course I would!

Julia Barton is a radio and podcast editor and has worked extensively in public radio; she is currently working on Malcolm Gladwell’s hugely successful Revisionist History podcast. She also presents stories, some of which are about Dallas, a city she seems to have a lingering fascination with, even though she hasn’t lived here in decades. Though born in Minnesota, Julia spent most of her childhood in Dallas, growing up in the Little Forest Hills area, attending Alex Sanger Elementary, Gaston Middle School, and Skyline High School (Class of ’87) where she appears to have been an overachieving student journalist. She lives in New York City now, where she puts those journalism tools to good use.

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Julia Barton, 1987 Skyline High School yearbook

The first tidbit I heard about Julia’s story for the BBC involved another former Dallas resident, Dennis Rodman (of basketball and North Korea diplomacy fame), who grew up in both South Dallas and South Oak Cliff and attended Sunset High School for a couple of years before transferring to South Oak Cliff High School, where he graduated in 1979.

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Senior photo, South Oak Cliff High School, 1979

I’m not sure about the chronology of the piecing-together of the various aspects of Dallas history which comprise the finished half-hour BBC program, but an important kernel was Rodman’s childhood memory of hiking for miles with friends through underground sewage tunnels to Fair Park in order to get into the State Fair of Texas without the burden of paying — they just popped up a manhole cover when they’d reached their destination and … voilà! — they were inside Fair Park. He wrote about this in his autobiography Bad As I Wanna Be, and you can read this passage here (if bad language offends you, buckle up). I really love Rodman’s story about these tunnels — so much so that after Julia shared it with me, it got to the point where I was asking everyone I ran into if they’d ever heard about what I assumed was an apocryphal story. But the tunnel-to-Fair-Park-legend was true. And that weird kernel snowballed into a half-hour personal narrative about Dallas, race, inequality, education, school desegregation, and, yes, Big Tex. History isn’t always pretty, but let’s hope we can learn from past mistakes.

Listen to Julia Barton’s “Big Tex,” here.

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Sources & Notes

“Big Tex” was presented by Julia Barton for the UK’s BBC Radio 4. It features Julia’s classmates Sam Franklin (Class of ’86) and Nikki Benson (Class of ’87), her former teacher at Skyline Leonard Davis (an all-around great guy and fellow Dallas Historical Society volunteer — hi, Leonard!), as well as former teenage tunneller Melvin Qualls, local historian Donald Payton, and sixth graders from Julia’s alma mater, Alex Sanger Elementary School. It is a Falling Tree production, produced by Hannah Dean and Alan Hall. The link to the audio — and background on the production — is here. (Top photo is from the BBC page.)

Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer wrote a great piece on this radio program (“Before Desegregation, Black Kids Had a Secret Tunnel Into the State Fair. Truth!”) — read it here (it includes a few production photos taken as Julia researched the story in Dallas).

Julia Barton’s website is here; a collection of her stories for Public Radio International (PRI) is here.

Two of Julia’s Dallas narratives:

  • “Port of Dallas” — history of the attempt to navigate (and monetize) the Trinity River: as an audio-only podcast, and as a video presentation done as a TEDx Talk at SMU
  • “The Failed Socialist Utopian Dream That Helped Dallas Become a Major City” — a look at the La Réunion community of the 1850s, from the PRI “World in Words” podcast (starts at about the 5:30 mark)

Thanks for asking me to help with research, Julia — I particularly enjoyed fact-checking the question “was-Mussolini-*really*-invited-to-the-Texas-Centennial?” (He was!)

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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