Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Preston Hollow

The Henry Russells Take Possession of Their Rolls Royce Silver Wraith — 1948

russell-henry_life-mag_alternate
The car, the couple, the driver … Preston Hollow, 1948

by Paula Bosse

People seem to expect stories about painfully wealthy Texans to have larger-than-life outrageous elements. The April 5, 1948 issue of Life magazine devoted several pages to the Southwest’s “New Crop of Super Rich.” The photo showing Col. and Mrs. H. E. Russell at their Preston Hollow home appeared with the following caption:

New Rolls-Royce (price $19,500) was bought by Colonel Henry Russell of Dallas as a birthday present for his wife. She liked it because “it goes with my blue hat.” The Russells claim they are just “camping out” in their house, plan to turn it over to the servants and build a bigger one for themselves as soon as they get around to it.

One can only hope this was just gross exaggeration. Or a misinterpreted joke. Or just amusing fiction. Because if not … yikes. 

russell_rolls-royce_1948

Henry and Alla Russell had not been in Dallas very long when they took possession of their fabulous Rolls Royce — a Silver Wraith. When production of this model was announced in 1946, it was described as “the world’s most expensive automobile.” The Russell’s purchase made local news, with this blurb appearing in The Dallas Morning News on Feb. 12, 1948:

Col. and Mrs. H. E. Russell, 4606 Park Lane, have taken delivery on their new Rolls-Royce. Known as the Silver Wraith model, the silver and blue car features a bar, vanity and other luxuries. The price? $19,274. Dealers S. H. Lynch & Co. said the car was the first Rolls-Royce sold in the Southwest.

That postwar price would be the equivalent in today’s money of about $200,000. In a 1956 Dallas Morning News article, Frank X. Tolbert wrote that Col. Russell “is still driving his ’48 model, and it’s the only one we ever see around town although there may be one or two more” (DMN, “Rolls-Royce Hard To Find in State,” Nov. 15, 1956).

There had been Rolls Royces in Dallas before 1948, but according to S. H. Lynch — the Dallas dealer of imported British vehicles including Jaguars, Bentleys, MGs, Morris Minors, and James motorcycles (as well as other high-ticket British items such as English china) — he had sold only five or six of the prestigious automobiles while he had the dealership, and that only that first one bought by the Russells had stayed in Dallas.

rolls-royce_s-h-lynch_020148
S. H. Lynch & Co. ad, Feb. 1, 1948 (click for larger image)

rolls-royce_s-h-lynch_030748
March, 1948

In 1948, S. H. Lynch (located at 2106 Pacific, at Olive) was one of only three Rolls dealerships in the county, the others being in New York and Los Angeles. In postwar Britain, American dollars were in such demand that a Rolls spokesman said that at least 75% of his company’s production was earmarked for the U.S. — American orders would take priority over their U.K. counterparts.

s-h-lynch_postcard

Even though a Roller’s always going to wow the hoi polloi, it wasn’t always easy to find a trained mechanic, as Roy Lee discovered:

rolls-royce_abilene-reporter-news_072046
Abilene, TX Reporter News, July 20, 1946

We all have our bad days, I suppose.

***

Sources & Notes

The two photos of the Russells are from the Life magazine article “Southwest Has a New Crop of Super Rich” (the top photo was not published).

Col. Russell, an Army veteran of both world wars, appears to have been retired by the time he got to Dallas. The only clue to the source of what must have been fabulous wealth was the final line in the obituary of Mrs. Russell, which noted that he was the son (or possibly the grandson) of the founder of the Russwin Lock Co. Mrs. Russell died in a massive fire which destroyed the large Park Lane house in January, 1976; the colonel died about 15 years earlier, in New York.

*

Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Preston Royal Fire Station — 1958

fire-station-41_royal-laneStation No. 41, 5920 Royal Lane (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Above, Dallas Fire Station 41 on Royal Lane, just west of Preston Road, about the time it opened (the back of the photo says service at the station began Jan. 16, 1958). It looks as if it’s been set down upon a bleak and barren piece of land in the middle of nowhere, but, actually, commercial development in this Preston Hollow-area neighborhood was … um … on fire in 1958. The large shopping centers at Preston and Royal were under construction at this time, and even though it was very far north, it was most certainly a desirable area in which to live (as, of course, it still is).

The station was designed by architect Raymond F. Smith who had previously designed a couple of other fire stations in town, but who was known mainly for his work designing movie theaters, such as the Casa Linda (1945), the Delman (1947), and — hey! — the (long-gone) Preston Royal Theatre, which opened in 1959 right across the street from this fire station (both of which were, rather conveniently, a mere four blocks away from Smith’s Royal Lane residence).

The station is still in operation, working to keep North Dallas flame-free — it just has a few more neighbors (and trees!) now than it did in 1958.

fire-station_royal_google

**

UPDATED Oct. 22, 2019: A powerful tornado hit northwest Dallas on Oct. 20, 2019 and devastated much of the Preston Hollow area. This fire station was hit hard, and it is currently out of commission. Below are photos from DFR’s Twitter feed.

preston-royal-fire-station_dfr-twitter_102119_int

preston-royal-fire-station_dfr-twitter_102119_ext

***

Sources & Notes

Photo from the Dallas Firefighters Museum, via the Portal to Texas History. It can be viewed here.

Second image of the firehouse from Google Street View.

Bottom two photos of the station post-tornado are from the Twitter feed of @DallasFireRes_q.

*

Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Preston Elms: Your Country Estate Awaits — 1935

preston-elms_dilbeck_dmn_100135Preston Elms home designed by Charles Dilbeck, 1935 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

This beautiful home, designed by the wonderful architect Charles Stevens Dilbeck, was featured in an ad touting an exclusive new “country estate” development called Preston Elms, located at Preston Road and Walnut Hill Lane. From the text of the ad:

The home pictured above will be erected immediately in a new tract set aside for a Demonstration Home. It will have three bedrooms, large dining room and living room. Terrace porch on south and east will be 32 feet long and can be reached from dining room, living room or hall. Two baths — most  modern type! Extraordinary hardware! …

The backyard will be walled in assuring privacy to servants and parked automobiles. …

All the details of the house and location have been studied and planned for months. …

The Better Homes of America are gradually drifting away from the urban abode of restricted activity to the freedom, comfort, seclusion and the individuality of the COUNTRY ESTATE.

*

A later ad would include this grabber of a line: “In the heart of Preston Road District, All City Conveniences, Minus City Taxes.”

*

Tracts ranging from one-half to two acres would start at $1,700. The house pictured above would cost $12,500. (I would kill for that house, but I fear it has long since been torn down as being too teensy for the neighborhood.)

“Preston Elms” (along with Preston Downs, Preston Hollow, Preston Highlands, Preston Heights, Inwood  Road Addition, Sunnybrook, and El Parado) were the subdivisions in the so-called “Preston Road District,” an area of some 1,200 acres north of Northwest Highway. When this area was being developed (by savvy speculator Ira P. DeLoache), it was not within the Dallas city limits. In 1939, after a failed attempt at some sort of merging with University Park, the residents voted to incorporate, and the somewhat sparsely-populated area became the “city” of Preston Hollow. With a mayor and everything.

But back to that house. God, I love that house. As I said, I bet that sucker was elbowed out long ago. If it’s still there, I’d love to know.

A photo of the man responsible for developing most of the Preston Road District, Ira P. DeLoache, namesake of one of the area’s streets.

deloache_legacies_fall-2002

***

Sources & Notes

The Dilbeck drawing at the top is from a half-page real estate ad, here.

Photo of Ira P. DeLoache from the Fall, 2002 issue of Legacies.

Examples of Dilbeck’s beautiful houses (several of which are in Preston Hollow) can be seen here.

Background on Preston Hollow and its road to incorporation can be read about in the Dallas Morning News article “Preston Road Incorporation Plan Climaxes Weeds to Orchids Development,” (DMN, Sept. 24, 1939).

For an aerial view of what would become Preston Hollow, check out a mostly empty 1930 vista (from SMU’s Edwin J. Foscue Library), here. Development, here we come!

Click picture for larger image.

*

Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House … In Preston Hollow — 1948

blandings_preston-hollow_dallas_dream-houseThe Blandings Dream House in Preston Hollow… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I watch a lot of old movies, and one of my favorites has always been Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, the 1948 comedy about the trials and tribulations of home renovation and construction starring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Melvyn Douglas. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I learned there had been a nationwide promotion in which replicas of the “dream house” were built in cities around the country. And, to my surprise, one of those houses was built in Dallas! To be exact, in Preston Hollow. To be precise, at 5423 Walnut Hill Lane (the northwest corner of Walnut Hill and Hollow Way). Sadly, when I went looking for it last week, I found an empty lot. (Figures.) The photo above shows the house in September, 1948 when it (and, not so coincidentally, the movie) opened to the public.

Ahead of the movie’s release, Selznick Studios approached local builders around the country and provided them with architectural plans, asking that they build houses as near to the specifications of the movie house as conditions would permit. The studio contracted Dallas builder A. Pollard Simons and supervising architect Lucien O’Brien to work on the Dallas dream house, seen below in a rendering.

blandings_a-pollard-simons_rendering

Simons greatly increased the size of the original two-story, three-bedroom house quite a bit (of course he did!), and he allowed the Junior League to raise money by selling 25-cent tickets to curious dream-house-wanters clamoring to wander through the house and gawk at its plush interior and its state-of-the art appliances. Afterwards, Simons put the completely furnished house on the market (in some cities the houses were put up as raffle prizes), and life, presumably, returned to normal for all concerned.

It was a clever way to promote the movie, and, as most of the contractors rushed to boast of their participation by taking out large ads (likely bought in conjunction with studio money), it was also an advertising bonanza for local newspapers. In amongst such ads I discovered that the company owned by my mother’s uncle and my grandfather — Fred Werry Electric Co. — did all the electrical work for the house!

Below are some of those ads that appeared at the time — and, trust me, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The ads were non-stop. This was a huge campaign, going far beyond traditional Hollywood promotion — and it certainly paid off. I’m fairly certain that most Dallasites who read the paper during that time were aware of the house (and the movie), even if they had absolutely no interest in houses (or movies). It was that that unavoidable. (Scroll to the bottom of this post to listen to a FABULOUS commercial-slash-PSA made by actor Melvyn Douglas at a local radio station during a trip to Dallas to tour the Preston Hollow house.)

There were other Texas “Dream Houses” built in Fort Worth (still standing, see link at bottom of page), Austin, Houston, and Amarillo. I only wish Dallas still had its “Dream House,” but I fear a tasteful-but-puny, little ol’ 3,000-square-foot house would not meet today’s definition of a “dream house” in ultra-swanky Preston Hollow.

*

ad-blandings_dallas-ford-dealers_sept-1948The Ford people got into the advertising. This appears to be have been taken in front of the Dallas house.

ad-blandings_werry-electric_sept-1948My great-uncle and grandfather! I can now claim my six degrees of separation (LESS!) from Cary, Myrna, and Melvyn.

ad-blandings_langs_sept-1948Kitchen porn from Lang’s.

ad-blandings_baptist-book-store_sept-1948The Baptist Book Store stocked the shelves of the Blandings library!

I really like the Wyatt’s Cafeteria ad below, which begins with an itinerary. “Program for today: go to church, eat at Wyatt’s, drive out to see the Mr. Blandings’ ‘Dream House’ in Preston Hollow.” This cafeteria ad sneaked in a mention of the Wyatt’s grocery stores by informing the reader that they had supplied the food for the Dream House’s refrigerator and pantry shelves. But this was my favorite part: “When Mr. Blandings takes his family out for a delicious meal you may rest assured that he will take them to a Wyatt’s De Luxe Cafeteria where each may choose the foods of his own liking from Wyatt’s tremendous varieties. Mr. Blandings won’t mind paying the bill because Wyatt’s prices are really modest.” If Cary Grant was going to be dining at a Dallas cafeteria, I only hope he was choking down large slabs of Wham.

ad-blandings_wyatts_sept-1948

*

The original “dream house” from Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House — cute, but much smaller than its Dallas counterpart.

***

Sources & Notes

All ads relating to the Dallas Dream House appeared throughout September, 1948.

A nice look at the still-standing Fort Worth Dream House can be found in “Standing at the Corner of Hollywood and Cowtown,” here.

A short radio promo about the Preston Hollow Dream House was recorded on Aug. 10, 1948 by the wonderful Melvyn Douglas, one of the stars of the film (who, by the way, went on to win an Oscar for his role as the family patriarch in the brilliant — and iconically Texan — film Hud in 1963). It was recorded when he visited Dallas in August, 1948 at station KIXL (in which he was an investor), and it can be heard here. (By permission of the great Dallas DJ and broadcasting archivist, George Gimarc.) I LOVE THIS! Thank you, George!

melvyn-douglas

*

Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

%d bloggers like this: