Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Night Scenes

Jerry Bywaters: “City Suburb at Dusk” — 1978

bywaters_city-suburb-at-dusk_1978_amer-art-review_2008Northwest Highway noir…

by Paula Bosse

You’re a Dallasite. You’ll probably immediately recognize the location of this (somewhat uncharacteristic) painting by famed Dallas painter Jerry Bywaters: it’s Northwest Highway, looking west from just past Hillcrest. Its title — “City Suburb at Dusk” — is a bit misleading. It was sort of a suburb (Preston Hollow) back when Jerry was a young man, but by 1978, when this was painted, its “suburb” days were long, long gone.

I love this painting. On the “suburb” side it’s got Kip’s, El Fenix, Centennial Liquor, and the cool curved Preston Tower. On the University Park side it’s got the silhouettes of the omnipresent water tower (once a much more pleasing shape than it is today, back when it was painted in a whimsical red-and-white checkerboard pattern), the spire of the Park Cities Baptist Church, and a Preston Center-adjacent office building. West Northwest Highway never looked so tranquil.

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Sources & Notes

“City Suburb at Dusk” by Jerry Bywaters, 1978 — oil on masonite, 18 x 24, collection of G. Pat Bywaters.

Printed in American Art Review, Vol. XX, No. 1, 2008.

bywaters_city-suburb-at-dusk_1978_amer-art-review_2008_sm

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Nighttime Skyline — 1965

skyline_st-marks-yrbk_1965_dallas-power-and-lightAll. Lit. Up.

by Paula Bosse

Dallas is always at its most impressive at night, as seen in this view to the northwest, with Memorial Auditorium in the foreground.

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Sources & Notes

This photo, credited to Dallas Power & Light, appeared in the 1965 Marksmen, the yearbook of St. Mark’s School of Texas. It continued on another page, but I couldn’t fit the two parts together without an annoying gap. The second bit is below (click to see a larger image).

skyline_st-marks-yrbk_1965_dallas-power-and-light_b

See another cool photo from the same year in the Flashback Dallas post “Dallas Skyline at Night — ca. 1965.”

skyline_st-marks-yrbk_1965_dallas-power-and-light_sm

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Copyright © 2021 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

“Christmas in Dallas” — LOOK Magazine, 1957

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_spread-1

by Paula Bosse

Here are photos from a 4-page spread in the Dec. 24, 1957 issue of LOOK magazine — “Christmas in Dallas,” by David Zingg with photos by Frank Bauman.

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“When Christmas comes to Dallas, the city of oil, boom and shiny limousines becomes a glowing land of magic. Even without snow, the Christmas spirit of Dickens, Bethlehem and Santa Claus seems to take on the 10-gallon dimensions of Texas. Here is a scintillating sampler of Christmas in the modern Southwest.  

 “In the early days of Texas, the arrival of Christmas was often greeted by a fusillade of pistol shots. In some areas, wizened mesquite bushes served as Christmas trees. Guns have since been silenced and trees are easy to get, but the exuberant Texas spirit remains. As always, a booming sense of cheer and joy seems to sweep across the Western plains to brighten Christmas in Dallas.”

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xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_spread-2

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Caption for the photo below: “Santa greets city from skyscraper roof, under gleaming tower.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_santa

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“Glittering headdress of store manikin typifies richness of Christmas in Dallas.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_headdress

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“Double-exposure contrasts member of Dallas County sheriff’s posse with beacon and lighted-window cross of the Republic National Bank Building.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_window-reflection

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“Photographer Frank Bauman captures himself and a window full of toys in a mirror’s golden frame.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_toys

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“At Neiman-Marcus, a stuffed tiger carries a fabulous burden of a million dollars in gems.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_tiger_neimans

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“Children’s faces pressed against a toy-filled window express the age-old anticipation of Christmas morning.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_children_window

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“Busy car lights of Christmas shoppers swirl a colorful pattern around Dallas’s oldest Christmas tree, in Highland Park.” (Sadly, our beloved Pecan Tree is no more.)

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_pecan-tree

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“A fairy makes Christmas come true as she throws candy to children at Oak Cliff Shopping Center.”

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_oak-cliff-shopping-ctr

Merry Christmas, y’all!

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Sources & Notes

All images from LOOK magazine, Dec. 24, 1957, from the collection of the author. Photos by Frank Bauman.

More Christmas posts from Flashback Dallas can be found here.

xmas-in-dallas_look-mag_dec-24-1957_santa_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Holiday Greetings from Jefferson Tower — 1937

xmas_jefferson-tower_oak-cliff_portal_1937_bChristmastime in Oak Cliff…

by Paula Bosse

Jefferson Tower, on West Jefferson Boulevard between S. Bishop and S. Madison, looked pretty great in 1937 all decorated for Christmas. It was (and is) the tallest building on West Jefferson. This must have made quite the statement!

xmas_jefferson-tower_oak-cliff_portal_1937

Here’s a zoomed-in detail (all images are larger when clicked):

xmas_jefferson-tower_oak-cliff_portal_1937_det

And here’s the building a few years later — no Christmas-tree decoration and in the daytime, but still fantastic.

jefferson-tower_mccoy-collaborativevia McCoy Collaborative

And, I mean, look at how commanding this building is, even now:

jefferson-tower_google-maps

I’d like to see a 21st-century return of a Christmas tree to the exterior of this building — it would still be impressive!

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Sources & Notes

Christmas photos of Jefferson Tower are from the Private Collection of Mary Newton Maxwell, via the Portal to Texas History — more info may be found here and here.

Photo of Jefferson Tower in the daylight is from the McCoy Collaborative website — more on their work in rehabilitating this historic building may be found here.

See the building on Google Street View here.

More Christmas posts from Flashback Dallas may be found here.

xmas_jefferson-tower_oak-cliff_portal_1937_b_small

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Neiman’s First Suburban Store: Preston Road — 1951-1965

neiman-marcus_preston-road_dallas-mag_feb-1949Original design by DeWitt & Swank, 1949 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

In January, 1949, Neiman-Marcus announced they would soon begin construction of their very first “branch” store. It was to be built in the new “Varsity Village” shopping area on Preston Road, just south of Northwest Highway (on the east side of Preston, facing Preston Center). This store was referred to in early articles as their “town and country store.” The downtown store was running out of room (in fact the expansion and renovation of their downtown store was announced at the same time as this new “suburban” store) — and the new store was to provide 30,000 square feet of primo retail space.

The original idea for the store’s design is seen in the drawing above, which was accompanied by this caption in a Chamber of Commerce publication:

New suburban shop of Neiman-Marcus Company (pictured above in drawing by Roscoe DeWitt and Arch Swank, architects for the building) is scheduled for construction this year in Varsity Village on a plot 30,000 square feet facing Preston Road and extending from Wentwood to Villanova Drives. The store will conform to the general architectural plan of Varsity Village and will represent a total investment of about $1,500,000. (“Dallas” magazine, Feb. 1949)

I LOVE that drawing! Unfortunately, things changed between the time that DeWitt and Swank offered that initial drawing and the almost three years that passed before the store was actually completed. The store was expanded to two floors (with mezzanine and basement), and… I don’t know — it just lost all of its supercool sleekness. It went from mid-century-modern fabulousness to big boring blocks. I’m sure the interior was still fantastic (designed by Eleanor Le Maire), but that exterior is uncharacteristically (for Neiman’s) blah.

n-m_preston-center_1951_departmentstoremuseum
1951, via thedepartmentstoremuseum.org

But back to the decor. This store was aimed at suburban families — the shoppers were primarily stylish mothers with kids, so there was a lot of thought put into making the store appealing to children. The basement — which was home to the toy and nursery department — sounds pretty great, complete with a Willy Wonka-esque attraction: at the entrance was an enchanted forest mural and a giant cage filled with toy animals, and “in the toy shop there is a magic tree — one with a built-in dispenser that pours out an endless supply of orangeade” (Dallas Morning News, Oct. 14, 1951).

The store was designed in a Southwestern color palette, featured a glass mosaic, lots of Kachina dolls, a glass-walled landscaped patio, a specially commissioned Alexander Calder mobile, and it was an immediate hit. The denizens of the Park Cities and Preston Hollow would still have to make the trek downtown if they wanted a gown for that do at the country club, but for casual clothing for mom and a large selection of clothing for children and teens, the “town and country store” was perfect. And nearby.

It lasted until NorthPark opened in 1965. Realizing the Preston Road store would be unable to expand, Neiman’s decided to close the 14-year-old store and move into Raymond Nasher’s striking new NorthPark Center.

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n-m_preston_dallas-history-guildvia Dallas History Guild Facebook page

Below, two night-time photos by Squire Haskins, taken on May 23, 1952:

n-m_preston_night_squire-haskins_UTA_1952_bvia UTA Libraries

n-m_preston_night_squire-haskins_UTA_1952_avia UTA Libraries

Instead of placing a “Grand Opening” announcement, Neiman’s teased the public with a “we’ll be opening soon-ish” announcement (in fact, the store opened exactly one week after the appearance of this ad). This ad describes that the new location will be more geared to families — to children (“from pram to prom”), adult casualwear, and gift items. With a restaurant and salon. The more typical Neiman’s couture lines and more expensive items would be available only “in town.” (Click ad to see a larger image.)

n-m_preston_100851_adOct. 8, 1951 ad

In the “Wales” column — a regular feature of N-M ads, with chatty text written by Warren Leslie (“Wa” from “Warren” and “les” from Leslie), a Neiman-Marcus executive and spokesperson and, later, author of the controversial book Dallas Public and Private) — the store’s opening is discussed, including the unexpected appearance of John Wayne (in town for the “Movietime in Texas, USA,” a promotional Hollywood caravan tour through Texas, packed with movie stars (watch cool footage here). Too bad about that orangeade, kids.

n-m_preston_102351_ad-det

One of the features of the new store was a specially commissioned mobile by artist Alexander Calder which hung above the stairway (a bit difficult to see in the photo below, but it’s there!). This was the first permanent installation of one of Calder’s kinetic sculptures in Dallas. (The three photos below are by Denny Hayes.) The staircase was used for fashion shows (watch Channel 5 news footage from a swimsuit fashion show from April 25, 1958 here, via the UNT’s Portal to Texas History site — according to the news script, the last suit was priced at a whopping $500, which in today’s money, would be about $4,500). (UPDATE: Perhaps because of its current financial situation, Neiman’s decided to sell the Alexander Calder mobile, titled “Mariposa” — it was auctioned by Sotheby’s on Dec. 8, 2020 and sold for $18.2 million, far surpassing its high estimate of $8 million — more info and several photos of the sculpture can be found on the Sotheby’s site here.)

n-m_preston_DPL_1954_hayes-collection_calder1954, via the Dallas Public Library (PA76-1/5388.1)  

Those floor-to-ceiling windows and sheer draperies are wonderful.

n-m_preston_DPL_1951_hayes-collection1951, via the Dallas Public Library (PA76-1/5388.5)

n-m_preston_DPL_1954_hayes-collectionca. 1954, via the Dallas Public Library (PA76-1/5388.2)

The listing in the 1953 directory described the Preston store as “the New Preston Center Station Wagon Store.” That’s right, the “station-wagon store.”

n-m_preston_1953-dallas-directory1953 Dallas directory

In May, 1960 there was a relief drive throughout Dallas to send much-needed supplies to Chile, which had recently experienced almost simultaneous devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, and avalanches. Neiman’s coordinated with several agencies and the State Department to rush food and clothing to Chile. The view in the screenshot below shows Preston Road looking south (watch the 1-minute Channel 8 news footage, via SMU, here).

n-m_preston_SMU_053060_preston-road

After 14 years, the Preston location closed up shop in July, 1965. This coincided with the opening of the much larger Neiman’s store in NorthPark. Bye-bye, “suburbia”!

n-m_071565_preston-closingJuly 15, 1965 ad

The Preston Road building still stands, but it’s not very interesting-looking these days. I think I’d prefer the “blah” look from 1951.

n-m_preston_bldg_google-street-view_2017Google Street View, 2017

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Sources & Notes

Top image appeared in the Feb. 1949 issue of “Dallas,” a monthly magazine published by the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

Photos by Squire Haskins are from the Squire Haskins Photography, Inc. Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Special Collections.

Photos by Denny Hayes are from the Hayes Collection, Dallas Public Library.

Image of the 1960 Chilean American Red Cross relief drive is a screenshot from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, G. William Jones Archive, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.

neiman-marcus_preston-road_dallas-mag_feb-1949_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

West Jefferson Blvd. at Night

oak-cliff_jefferson-blvd_night_oldoakclifflodge_flickrW. Jefferson & S. Madison (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I love night-time views of a lit-up city, and this circa-1949 bird’s-eye view of West Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff, looking east, is pretty cool. If this photo had a soundtrack, it would be moody and atmospheric saxophone music.

Hunt’s department store was at 303 W. Jefferson, and the Oak Cliff Bank & Trust Co. was at 250 W. Jefferson — S. Madison is the intersecting street in the center of the photo. At the upper left you can see the bright lights and triangular marquee of the Texas Theatre. Below is a view of the same street today, still recognizable.

oak-cliff_jefferson-blvd_google-aerialGoogle Maps

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Sources & Notes

Top photo is from the Flickr photostream of OldOakCliffLodge, here.

oak-cliff_jefferson-blvd_night_oldoakclifflodge_flickr_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Bel-Vick’s Anchor: The Angelus Arcade and The Arcadia Theatre — 1920s

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060730The 2000 block of Greenville Avenue, 1930… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I’ve written about the Arcadia Theatre before (here and here), but until I discovered the above photo from 1930, I’d never really thought about what had been on that site previously (the northwest corner of Greenville Avenue and Sears Street, now the home of a Trader Joe’s). There’s a lot going on in that photo, not the least of which is the fabulous Arcadia “tree” sign/marquee, made of sculpted concrete.

Greenville Avenue in the 1920s had a small business district with buildings clustered between Ross Avenue and Belmont, an area which many now call “Lowest Greenville” (the stretch of Greenville a little farther north which is now generally refered to as “Lower Greenville” was being developed but was not really an area of note yet — and “Upper Greenville” — which I don’t really hear people say anymore — was a rural highway which passed through small communities and was mostly surrounded by a lot of open farmland).

A look at city directories of the early 1920s suggests that business owners were trying to establish “Belmont” as the name of the area between Ross and Belmont, and many used the word in their business name (“The Belmont Pharmacy,” for instance). But things began to change in 1922 as development picked up, and “Belmont” suddenly became “Belmont-Vickery” (in a nod to the Vickery Place neighborhood), and then that very quickly became “Bel-Vick” or “Belvick” (a couple of rebel business owners went with “Belvic” but that didn’t seem to catch on). In the 1927 directory there were eight Belvick businesses, almost all of which were in the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Greenville, the blocks seen in the photo below (you can see the Arcadia “tree” in the distance on the left).

greenville-avenue_1930
Greenville Avenue, 1930 (Dallas Public Library)

belvick_1927-directory
1927 Dallas directory

At least one business came up with a cutesy “Belvick” logo:

belvick-plumbing-logo_1908-greenville_1928-directory_ad-det
Belvick Plumbing logo, 1928

(One of these businesses, Belvick Electric Co., ended up on Garland Road, owned by the family of “King of the Hill” writer and producer Jim Dauterive, a name which should be familiar to all “King of the Hill” fans; I wrote about that tidbit of hyper-trivia at the end of this post.)

There was even a small theater at 1804½ Greenville Ave. for a year or two, pre-dating the Arcadia by five years. The Belmont Theatre opened in Sept. 1922, but when it changed ownership a few months later it became, you guessed it, the Belvick Theatre. I hope patrons didn’t get too attached, because it was out of  business by the time the 1924 directory was published. Here’s what that building looked like in 2012 (sadly, it no longer looks anything like this) — the theater was, I believe, in the right half of the building.

belvick-theater_google_2012
Google Street View, 2012

In 1923, a Greenville Avenue developer, Albert J. Klein, built a large building called the Angelus Arcade in the 2000 block of Greenville, at Sears Street. Here are a couple of woefully fuzzy classified ads for the under-construction “Greenville Market Place” and a list of the types of “first-class” businesses wanted to occupy the new arcade (click for larger-but-still-hard-to-read images).

angelus-arcade_070423
July, 1923

angelus-arcade_112823Nov., 1923

The arcade had several tenants and served as something of a public meeting place for the neighborhood — politicians frequently appeared in front of the large building to give speeches or talk to crowds in impromptu town-hall-like meetings. Like the use of “Belvick,” the name “Angelus” showed up in many of the less-than-imaginitively-named (first-class) businesses:

angelus-arcade_greenville-ave_1927-directory1927 Dallas directory

In 1927 Klein made a deal with the Dean Theatre company to build a new movie theater on the same premises as the Angelus — there would be additions and modifications made to the building, but it would still be home to several other businesses — there’d just be a movie theater inside. It would continue to be an “arcade.” Even though one newspaper article attempted to tie the name “Arcadia” to the new theater’s Italian garden motif which suggested a pastoral harmony with Nature, it seems more likely that people were already calling the building “the arcade,” and “Arcadia” was the next logical step.

The Arcadia Theatre opened on Nov. 4, 1927 with the Mary Astor movie “The Sunset Derby.” A newspaper report noted that “in spite of its remote location” the crowd-size was healthy. Patrons could even pop next door for a chicken dinner if so inclined.

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060928_front1928

One of the unusual things about the theater was the seating. The backs of the chairs were in a variety of colors (desert sand, cafe au lait, light blue, orchid, green, and “Chinese red”) which were placed in a randomly pattern throughout the auditorium. I think the operators probably thought this design-breakthrough was quirky and cutting edge, but it just looks a little odd. The Dallas Morning News described this feature as being reminiscent of a fun carnival; the Arcadia publicity person wrote that “the effect is as startling as it is pleasing.” …I’ll give you “startling.”

arcadia-theater_exhibitors-herald-world_060928_toward-screen1928

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Below are a few more images of the Arcadia Theatre through the years.

First, just an odd little postcard from 1934 which found its way into SMU’s archive — a drawing of that cool tree!

arcadia-sign_postcard_1934_cook-collection_degolyer-library_SMUvia George W. Cook Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU

arcadia-marquee_1941_ad-det1941

The Deco years, and a painfully pruned tree, in the daytime, and at night:

arcadia-theater_ca-1941_DHS1941, via Dallas Historical Society

arcadia-theater_mcafee_degolyer_SMUvia DeGolyer Library, SMU

arcadia-theater_mid

There were a few fires over the years — here’s one from November, 1958.

arcadia_fire_nov-1958_portalDallas Firefighters Museum, via the Portal to Texas History

Eventually its days as a second-run suburban theater dwindled, and it became a live-music venue for a while in the 1980s, as seen in this absolutely fabulous photo from 1985 (Joan Jett played the Arcadia on June 13, 1985) taken by Dan Allen, owner of super-cool clothing boutique Assassins.

arcadia-theatre_june-1985_daniel-m-allen-photo_FB©Daniel M. Allen 2014, via Facebook

It also showed Spanish-language films for a few years.

arcadia_spanish-language-theater_dayvia American Classic Images

arcadia_spanish-language-theater_nightvia American Classic Images

But, ultimately, a fire ended it all, on June 21, 2006: 120 firefighters responded to a six-alarm blaze caused by a fire that originated in a restaurant — all the businesses in the block were destroyed.

arcadia_on-fire_2006via Cinema Treasures

Bel-Vick hasn’t been the same since. RIP, Angelus/Arcadia.

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Sources & Notes

Top photo from Exhibitors Herald World, June 7, 1930.

The 1930 view of Lowest Greenville, looking north from Alta, is from the Frank Rogers Collection, Dallas Public Library; titled “[Lower Greenville Avenue],” the call number is PA84-9/49.

The two photos from 1928 are from Exhibitors Herald World, June 9, 1928. To see the full 4-page article on the still-new Arcadia (with many photos of the interior) as well as a 2-page article from April 12, 1930 about how the Angelus Arcade building had been renovated to accommodate a theater — complete with floor plan — see a PDF here.

More on the Arcadia Theater — including additional photos of the ever-changing facade — can be found in these Flashback Dallas posts:

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Here are a couple more photos of Greenville looking south from Sears, one from 1927 with buildings I’ve never seen, and one from 1930 with brand new buildings replacing those unfamiliar ones. Here’s the first, from 1927, which shows an unusual building with arches and a church (?!), Riggs Memorial Presbyterian Church, at the northeast corner of Greenville and Oram. (I used to have a little bookstore — Chelsea Books — at 1925 Greenville, in the space occupied by Criswell Furniture in this photo.)

greenville-ave_1920s_DPL
1927, Dallas Public Library, call number PA78-2/1047

chelsea-books_dallas_1925-greenville-avenue

And then, just three short years later… bye-bye, weird building and church. The buildings seen in the 1930 photo below are still standing (except for the gas station at the southwest corner at Sears). I love that this street has been immediately recognizable for decades, even though there has been some unfortunate architectural revision going on in ol’ Bel-Vick in recent years.

greenville-ave_south-from-sears_bud-biggs-collection_1930_DPL
1930, Dallas Public Library, call number PA84-9/48 

And here’s a detail from a 1931 Fairchild Aerial photo showing the Angelus/Arcadia at the center left (you can see the tree sign).

arcadia_fairchild-aerial_1931_detail_DPL
Dallas Public Library, call number
PA83-32/16 

And, finally, the mural inside Trader Joe’s, located on the spot of Arcadia Theater.

trader-joes_arcadia_mural_dec-2020

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Bright Lights, Big City — ca. 1948

elm-ervay-live-oak_weather-sign_ca-1948“Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares…”

by Paula Bosse

I think present-day downtown Dallas looks really great at night. But it pales in comparison to what downtown Dallas — especially Elm Street — used to look like at night. It was bursting with lights and signs and people. The scene above shows Elm Street looking east from Ervay around 1948. The Coca-Cola weather-forecast sign at the left is one of my favorite by-gone downtown landmarks (other photos of the sign can be seen here and here).

I wouldn’t really encourage anyone to click the link to see what this part of Elm Street looks like today, but if you must, it’s here.

Whenever I imagine times in Dallas history that I’d like to time-travel to, for some reason I always wish I could walk around downtown Dallas in the 1940s. It must have been quite something to have seen this pulsating view in person. 

elm-street_from-ervay-live-oak_1948-directory
Elm Street, 1948 directory (click to see larger image)

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Sources & Notes

I’m unsure of the source of this photo, but there is one almost identical to it in the collection of the Dallas Public Library, but the library’s copy is over-exposed and dated 1930 (it is titled “[Intersection of Elm, N. Ervay, and Live Oak streets]” and has the call number PA82-00324).

This photo was taken sometime between the end of 1947 and very early 1949. Mangel’s department store opened in its brand new building at 1700 Elm in September, 1947, and the Artificial Flower Shop (… “the artificial flower shop”?) lost its lease in early 1949. I can’t make out the lettering on the “Welcome” banners along the street, but there was a large hardware convention in Dallas in January, 1948.

elm-ervay-live-oak_weather-sign_ca-1948_sm

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Copyright © 2020 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Grand Elm Street Illumination — 1911

elm-street_illuminated_night_rppc_ebay

by Paula Bosse

As most of Dallas has now clawed its way back into the world of full electric power after last weekend’s surprise “weather event” (…although, as I write this another big storm is passing through the area), I thought this image might be a timely one. It’s from late 1911 and shows Elm Street with its brand new electric street lights, the installation of which prompted Dallas boosters to dub the street “The Great White Way.” The view is from Ervay, looking west.

1910-1911 was a time of remarkable growth in Dallas. Construction had been started or completed on three important downtown buildings (the Adolphus Hotel, the Southwestern Life Building, and the Butler Brothers building); the historic Oak Cliff viaduct was nearing completion; the dam at the city’s new White Rock reservoir was in operation; and — lo and behold! — ornamental electric street lights (with underground conduits) had been installed along Elm Street, from Market to Harwood.

The buzzword in municipal governments of large American cities at that time was “ornamental street lighting.” What was it? According to The Dallas Morning News:

“Ornamental street lighting” contemplates just what the term signifies. Instead of somewhat indiscriminate and often far from attractive methods of lighting the streets of a city, the adoption of a systematic plan by which, with the placing of uniform lights of pleasing design at regular intervals, a street is not only illuminated, but is ornamented as well. (DMN, Nov. 5, 1910)

The article went on to say that this type of street lighting was an essential element of a progressive and prosperous city (which Dallas most certainly was): not only did it help beautify the city, it also increased property values and helped to decrease crime. …And Dallas leaders really, really wanted it. They just didn’t want to pay for it. Somehow, an agreement was struck in which the cost of the materials, installation, and maintenance of these “ornamental street lights” would be paid for by Elm Street merchants and/or property owners; after one year, the City would take possession of the lights and assume responsibility for their upkeep. Seems like a novel way to fund a city project.

Dallas’ first “ornamental” lights and poles (which, because I like details like this, were painted a soothing olive green) were topped with “bishops’ crooks” (or “shepherd’s crooks”) fashioned in wrought iron, with the lamps suspended from the gooseneck bend. Just over 100 of the magnetite arc lights were installed along Elm, staggered on opposite sides of the street to maximize the illumination’s reach.

The electric lamps will be of a type entirely new in Texas and will give a steady white light that will be more pleasant than the flutter of the common arc light. […] One lamp of 2,000 candlepower will be placed on each pole. (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 14, 1911)

The project was delayed for several months for a variety of reasons (not least of which was the fact that the first shipload of iron poles was mysteriously “lost at sea” as it was en route from New York to Galveston…), but the festive grand unveiling was finally held on September 30, 1911, just in time for Dallas to show off another civic accomplishment to out-of-town visitors who would soon be streaming into town to attend the State Fair of Texas. Dallas’ “Great White Way” thrilled all who beheld it and blazed proudly every night from sunset to midnight. Business owners on Main and Commerce streets were envious of all that fresh, new, well-distributed light over on Elm, and it wasn’t long before those streets had also replaced their garish and old-fashioned, fluttering, stuttering arc lights with the brash new ornamental lights.

Here is a photo of what the lights looked like in December, 1911 (the photo shows the new 12-story Wilson Building annex):

wilson-bldg_expansion_dmn_121611_clogenson

Below are examples of what these street lights looked like a few years after they had been introduced in 1911 (the first two are details of photos from a post found here, and the third one is a detail of a photo taken in front of the Queen Theatre at Elm and Akard in 1914).

street-light_det-2

street-light_det-1

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Read the progress report on the installation of the new lighting system (all images are larger when clicked):

elm-street_illuminated_dmn_091411_detailsDMN, Sept. 14, 1911

Excited anticipation of the soon-to-be “Great White Way” was building:

elm-street_illuminated_dmn_092711DMN, Sept. 27, 1911

Sanger Bros. was one of the many businesses celebrating the arrival of the ornamental lighting. On the day the lights were to debut in downtown Dallas, the department store ran an ad which invited Dallasites to dine in their “lofty” seventh-floor cafe and, afterwards, stroll along the well-lit thoroughfare and soak up the brand new illumination:

elm-street_illuminated_093011_sangers-ad_detSept. 30, 1911, the night the lights were turned on

Below is the News’ report of the inaugural switch-flipping. (Missing from the article was the fact that someone had been stabbed that night as crowds jostled each other in the streets and along the sidewalks, climaxing with the perp being chased for several blocks before being apprehended; all of this had happened under the glow of the expensive, new, very-bright, law-enforcement-aiding artificial light — that new lighting system was already paying off!)


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DMN, Oct. 1, 1911

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Souces & Notes

Postcard showing “Grand Elm Street Illumination, Compliments of the Camera Shop” is from an old eBay listing. (There is also a copy in the George W. Cook Collection at SMU’s DeGolyer Library, here — you can zoom in a bit more for details, even though, ironically, it’s still pretty difficult to make much out in the shadows. A line from the postcard message reads, “This is a photo of Elm Street at night — pretty swell I think.”)

Businesses seen on the right side of the photo are the Texas Seed & Floral Co. and the Lontos Cafe, which were located near the northwest corner of Elm and Ervay (years later, this was the appoximate site of the Palace Theatre); the Wilson Building (then the Titche-Goettinger department store) is either wholly out of frame at the extreme left, or is only partially visible.

In 1911 — before the ornamental lights were installed — Dallas had something like 1,000 electric (and a few gas) street lights in operation around the city; the arrival of the brighter and more aesthetically appealing Brave New Luminescence of Elm Street’s “Great White Way” spelled the inevitable phasing-out of the old-fashioned arc lights.

Read about how Dallas responded to the 1912 lighting of the Oak Cliff viaduct, the world’s longest concrete bridge, at the bottom of this post.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Merry Christmas from Dallas Artist Bud Biggs

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The bright lights of Christmas in downtown Dallas…

by Paula Bosse

An evening in downtown Dallas at Christmastime — alive with traffic and lights and energy — by Dallas artist Bud Biggs.

The painting appeared on the cover of the Christmas, 1959 issue of The Shamrock, a magazine published by the Shamrock Oil and Gas Corporation. The magazine’s description:

On the sidewalks, shoppers dart to and fro. On the street, autos dash by, leaving streaks of light in their haste. Gay lights and laughing Santas swing gayly overhead, festooning the area in a holiday glow. Above all this man-made madness, stars twinkle in contrast, reflecting a serenity reminiscent of a night nineteen hundred years ago. This is what The Shamrock staff sees in this vivid water color of Downtown Dallas at Christmastime by Artist Bud Biggs.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

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Sources & Notes

This work by artist Bud Biggs appeared on the cover of the Christmas, 1959 edition of The Shamrock; this magazine is part of the Southwest Collection, Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University — the entire issue has been scanned and may be viewed as a PDF here.

My guess is that the title of the original painting is “Main Street, Christmas Night” and that it was one of the 12 paintings produced by Biggs in the mid 1950s as cover art for Dallas Magazine, a Dallas Chamber of Commerce publication. These paintings of Dallas scenes appeared as cover art for the monthly issues of 1956, in honor of the city’s centennial. The series won the “Best Covers of 1956” award from the American Association of Commerce Publications, and in 1958 all 12 of the original watercolors were purchased by Southwest Airmotive Company to be displayed in their new Love Field terminal. The 12 covers featured Biggs’ depictions of the following Dallas scenes and landmarks:

  • “Aerial View of Downtown Dallas”
  • “Ervay Street”
  • “Ground-breaking, Dallas University”
  • “Midway, State Fair of Texas”
  • “Trinity Industrial District”
  • “Central Expressway”
  • “Commerce Street”
  • “City Auditorium”
  • “Looking Up Pacific”
  • “Main Street, Christmas Night”
  • “SMU Legal Center”
  • “The Katy Round House”

More on this series of paintings can be found in the Dallas Morning News article “Art & Artists: Biggs Series Bought by Firm” by Rual Askew, Feb. 20, 1958.

Dallas native Bancroft Putnam “Bud” Biggs (1906-1985) attended Forest Ave. High School, SMU, and the St. Louis School of Fine Arts. He was primarily a commercial artist, working first for Dallas artist Guy Cahoon before opening his own advertising studio. He produced fine art as well, specializing in watercolors, and was a respected art instructor.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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