Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Night Scenes

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

elm-st-ornamental-street-light_elm-akard_queen-theatre_ca-1914

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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!)


elm-street_illuminated_dmn_100111
DMN, Oct. 1, 1911

elm-street_illuminated_night_rppc_ebay_sm

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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

xmas_bud-biggs_shamrock-mag_1959_texas-tech
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.

xmas_bud-biggs_shamrock-mag_1959_texas-tech_sig-det

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Nighttime Bird’s-Eye Views of Dallas

skyline_legacies_spring-2012All lit up… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

In my opinion, Dallas has always been most impressive at night. The view above is from the east. Among other familiar landmarks, we see skyline icons the Mercantile Building, the Sheraton Hotel, the Southland Life Building (at the time the city’s tallest building), and the rocket-topped Republic Bank Building (previously the city’s tallest building). I think that’s Live Oak St. on the left running in and out of downtown and Bryan on the right.

And, below, a view toward the east, with Jackson Street on the right, and dramatically-lit appearances by the Adolphus Hotel, the Magnolia Building, the Baker Hotel, and the Mercantile.

skyline_legacies_spring-2012_postcard

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Sources & Info

These postcard images were featured on the front and back covers of the Spring, 2012 issue of Legacies magazine (viewable on UNT’s Portal to Texas History site, here).

A similar photo (colorwise) to the second image above (but taken from a rotated angle) can be found in the Flashback Dallas post “Dallas Skyline At Night — ca. 1965” — this photo shows the skyline just a few short years later after the new Republic Tower II had appeared on the horizon and claimed the title as the city’s tallest building — the Southland Life Building’s reign was only about five years long..

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Palace — 1969

palace-theatre_1969_color_portalMovies and Dilly Bars, Elm Street, 1969… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

The only thing more exciting than seeing a cool nighttime photo of Dallas’ Theater Row with neon blazing, is discovering that there was once a Dairy Queen downtown!

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UPDATE: That DQ was there for a VERY short time. It shows up in none of the directories. In fact, its address — 1621 Elm — shows as “vacant” in the 1969, 1970, and 1971 city directories (it was occupied in 1968 by a newsstand — the Elm Street News — until it was raided that year for selling nudie mags). The address disappears altogether after the 1971 directory (it and the Palace Theatre were demolished in 1971). The only evidence I can find of the downtown Dairy Queen’s brief existence on Elm was in a handful of want-ads placed in October, 1969 (about the same time this photo was taken). My guess is that DQ bugged out when they learned the building was going to be torn down. It may have been there only a couple of months. Downtown DQ, we hardly knew ye.

dairy-queen_elm-street_100269Oct. 2, 1969

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Sources & Notes

“Exterior of Palace Theatre at Night” is from the Lovita Irby Collection via the Spotlight on North Texas project, UNT Media Library, and may be viewed on UNT’s Portal to Texas History site here.

The movie on the marquee is “A Nice Girl Like Me,” starring Barbara Ferris, which opened at the Palace on Sept. 19, 1969.

The Palace Theatre was located on the north side of Elm Street, just west of Ervay, at 1625 Elm — by 1969, “Theater Row” consisted of only a handful of theaters. The Palace (and the building housing the Dairy Queen) was demolished in 1971; most of the north side of that block is now occupied by Thanksgiving Tower.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Stemmons Tower, Downtown Skyline — 1963

stemmons-tower_night_squire-haskins_041963_UTAPhoto by Squire Haskins, 1963 (UTA Libraries, Special Collections)

by Paula Bosse

Another fantastic photo from premier Dallas photographer, Squire Haskins: the new Stemmons Tower (East), with the Dallas skyline serving as a dramatic nighttime backdrop. (See this photo really big at the UTA website, here.)

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Sources & Notes

“Stemmons Tower with downtown Dallas, Texas in the background; photo taken at night,” by Squire Haskins, taken on April 19, 1963; from the Squire Haskins, Inc. Photography Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Special Collections (more info on this photo can be found here).

The first of several “towers,” construction of Trammel Crow’s Stemmons Tower East began in the summer of 1961 and was open and leasing by December, 1962. This office complex was part of the grand vision of the Trinity Industrial District and the “Stemmons corridor” (click ad below to see a much larger image).

stemmons-tower_jan-1963Jan., 1963

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

State Fair Coliseum / Centennial Administration Building / Women’s Museum / Women’s Building

tx-centennial_armstrong-linoleum-ad_1936_detAdministration Building interior, 1936… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Thursday night I attended a very entertaining Dallas Historical Society presentation at the Hall of State in Fair Park: “An Evening With Jim Parsons: Lost Fair Park,” in which the author of Fair Park Deco and DFW Deco talked about many of the buildings constructed for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936 which are no longer with us.

One of Jim’s asides was that there are very, very few color photos of the Centennial buildings and murals taken in 1936. If you’ve seen a Centennial view in color, it’s probably a colorized postcard. Kodachrome film was introduced in 1935 and was, sadly, not in wide use by visitors to Fair Park in 1936 (or by the Centennial organization).

When he said that, though, I remembered an ad I had come across that I thought was pretty cool, simply because it shows the interior of one of the Centennial buildings when it was brand new (…well, it was sort of new — more on that below). The ad is for Armstrong Linoleum and it features a color photo showing one of their custom linoleum floors installed in the Centennial Administration Building, an interior I’d never seen. And it’s in color! (Check out the furniture and the recessed lighting!) Here’s the full ad, which appeared in national magazines in 1936 (click for larger image).

ad- tx-centennial_armstrong-linoleum_19361936 ad

And — hallelujah — I found another photo of the interior — also from the helpful Armstrong people (I don’t know if they had the concession to outfit all the Centennial buildings, but, if so, I’d love to see all of their designs). Unfortunately this one is not in color, but it shows a fantastic Texas-centric custom design, laid down in fabulous linoleum.

tx-centennial_armstrong-linoleum_admin-bldg_texas-floor

Imagine that floor in Cadet Blue, White, Orange, and Dark Gray. This is from a trade publication called Armstrong’s Floors and Walls for Homes and Public Buildings, published around 1950 (and fully scanned here). A cropped version of the photo of the top is also included here (that floor, by the way, is in White, Dark Gray, and Cadet Blue), with handy swatches (which, reproduced below, lose some accuracy in color).

tx-centennial_armstrong-linoleum_admin-bldg_colors

The Centennial Administration Building — which housed the hundreds of office workers and executives behind the running of the Texas Centennial Exposition — was actually the very first Centennial building completed (at the end of December, 1935). Most of the Centennial buildings were newly built in 1936, but the Administration Building was actually an old building given a new stucco façade and completely remodeled — it even acquired a second floor inside the huge structure. This building was originally known as the State Fair Coliseum, built in 1910, designed by architect C. D. Hill (who designed many buildings in Dallas, including the still-standing Municipal Building downtown (built in 1914) and the Melrose Hotel (1924).

state-fair-coliseum_dmn_062009_drawingDallas Morning News, June 20, 1909

state-fair-coliseum_dmn_050710_constructionDMN, May 7, 1910

It was BIG. It had a seating capacity of 7,500.

state-fair-coliseum_flickr_coltera

state-fair-coliseum_dmn_030413DMN, March 4, 1913

This was the first building you’d see as you entered Fair Park, as it was right inside the front entrance on Parry Avenue (after you entered, the building would be on your left).

Coliseum Building, State Fair Dallas, TX

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It was the city’s first official municipal auditorium, and it hosted everything from livestock shows, conventions, large civic gatherings, and the occasional opera.

Fast-forward a few decades: in 2000 the building became the home of the Women’s Museum. The museum closed in 2011 and is now called the Women’s Building and is used for special events.

A photo of the building from 2014:

womens-museum_fair-park_2014_carol-highsmith_library-of-congressphoto: Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress

See a Wikimedia photo of this building in 2016 here — click it again (and again) to see it really big, and linger on the mural by Carlo Ciampaglia and the sculpture by Raoul Josset. See interior photos of the space in 2009 during its time as the Women’s Museum here and here. I’m not sure if the exposed brick and steel are from the original 1910 building, but I certainly hope so! And, lastly, exterior photos from 2009 showing the side of the building here, and here

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Sources & Notes

This building can be seen on this aerial Google view, here. It is currently the Women’s Building, and it is available for special events — more about this building from the Friends of Fair Park, here.

Black-and-white postcard showing the interior of the Coliseum is from Flickr.

Black-and-white photo “Coliseum and Art Building” is from Report for the Year 1914-1915 of the Park Board of the City of Dallas, With a Sketch of the Park System (Dallas: Park Board, 1915), which can be accessed as part of the Dallas Municipal Archives via the Portal to Texas History, here.

And since this whole post was spurred by Jim Parsons’ talk the other night, here’s a link to the book he and David Bush wrote: Fair Park Deco: Art & Architecture of the Texas Centennial Exposition.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Nighttime on Commerce Street — 1957

commerce-street_walgreens_adolphus_1957_ebayThe Adolphus block, at Commerce & Akard… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I love this photo showing Commerce Street, looking west from Akard — especially the green light on the walls of the Adolphus. And that heart-stoppingly beautiful deco “Walgreen” font and neon. Downtown Dallas in the ’40s and ’50s is a place I wish I had known, back when drug stores had soda fountains and hotels had “supper clubs.”

This photo was probably taken in March, 1957, when Ben Arden and His Orchestra “featuring Sylvia and her violin” were appearing at the Century Room in the Adolphus Hotel. Downtown Dallas looked pretty good in 1957.

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Sources & Notes

Postcard photo — “Night view of Commerce Street in downtown Dallas, Texas” — by Leonard Raef; it is currently up for bids on eBay, here. (Thanks to Teresa Musgrove Gibson for posting this today in the Retro Dallas Facebook group!)

I don’t know if I’ve linked to this huge photo of the Adolphus on the Dallas City Hall website, but take a look at it here (then click again to make it really big). I have to say, I think I prefer that Commerce-and-Akard corner with the bright lights of the Walgreens to the more sedate, stripped-down look of the same corner today — it’s still a beautiful  building, of course, but, man, that neon was just fantastic.

UPDATE: Some people who remember downtown at this time have thought this might show Main Street. As far as I know, Main has never been a one-way street (as seen in the photo above), but there was a Walgreen store at the northwest corner of Main and Akard, one block away. Seems counter-productive to have two drugs stores so close together, but there you are.

The color photo shows the northwest corner of Commerce and Akard, taken from the front of the Baker Hotel. The same corner can be seen at the right of this black-and-white photo from 1962:

Downtown Dallas Texas

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Weber’s Root Beer Stands: “Good Service with a Smile”

webers-root-beer_traces-of-texasFeeling parched?  (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I’ve heard of these legendary root beer stands from family members, but, sadly, I missed their heyday, which seems to stretch from the 1920s to the 1950s. The photo above was taken around 1940 in Dallas at an unknown location. (The 1940 Dallas directory lists only two stands that year: at Greenville and Richmond — currently a 7-Eleven — and at 1119 N. Zang.)

Here’s another photo, this one from 1930, taken at night, with a jam-packed lot filled with thirsty teenagers, rumble seats, and future jalopies.

webers_root-beer_traces-of-texas

In the photo above, a sign for Eady’s Famous Hamburgers can be seen in the background. This would seem to indicate that this photo was taken at one of the two locations where both Eady’s and Weber’s were neighbors: in Oak Cliff in the 1100 block of Zang, or near the Lower Greenville intersection of Greenville and Richmond. So it’s possible the two photos were taken at the same Weber’s Root Beer stand.

“It’s So Different”

ad-webers-root-beer_1930-dallas-technical-high-school-yrbk_frank-rogers

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Sources & Notes

Top photo appeared on the fantastic Facebook page Traces of Texas. It was submitted by reader Shelly Tucker showing her aunt (second from left) working as a Weber’s carhop around 1940.

The second photo is from Traces of Texas’ Twitter feed; the source is unknown.

Ad is from the 1930 yearbook of the Dallas Technical High School (later named Crozier Tech); the photo is by the always-busy Dallas photographer, Frank Rogers.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

“Sometimes I Run”: Dallas Noir — 1973

5-sometimes-I-run_stanley-maupin_hoseStanley Maupin at work…

by Paula Bosse

Several years ago, Robert Wilonsky wrote a Dallas Observer article about the short documentary “Sometimes I Run” — I watched it immediately afterward, and it’s stuck with me ever since. The 22-minute film, shot in 1973 by SMU film student Blaine Dunlap (who also made the fun 1970 Sunset High School film I wrote about earlier this year) shows Dallas Public Works Dept. street flusher Stanley Maupin at his job sweeping the downtown sidewalks late at night, accompanied by a soundtrack of jazz music and Maupin’s philosophical musings. It’s cool, gritty, seedy, nostalgic, and somehow life-affirming, all at the same time. Also, Dallas always looks best at night — the wet streets add a definite noir-ness to the overnight municipal goings-on which were happening when most Dallasites were home in bed. (See the bottom of this post for various sites on which you can watch the film in its entirety.)

It took the opening moments of this film to remind me that, yes, I DO remember (if vaguely) seeing that revolving beam of light shot from the “rocket” on top of the Republic Bank Building. You can see it at about :35. Also included in the film are Franklin’s, the Greyhound Bus station, the Capri movie theater, a late-night-diner, the Mayfair department store, the Municipal Building, Sanger-Harris, and much more. And while Maupin’s philosophical pronouncements might be a bit heavy-handed at times, I have to admit that I could listen to him talk for hours, if only to hear his accent, a Dallas-area trapping of the past that one doesn’t come across nearly often enough these days.

Here are a few screen captures.

2-franklins_sometimes-when-i-run

3-greyhound_stometimes-when-i-run

6-keep-dallas-clean_sometimes-when-i-run

7-diner_sometimes-when-i-run

8-diner-2_sometimes-when-i-run

9-mayfair_sometimes-when-i-run

10-city-hall_sometimes-when-i-run

11-repub-bank-bldg

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Sources & Notes

The 44-year-old award-winning student film, “Sometimes I Run,” directed by Blaine Dunlap, can be seen in its entirety in several places online: on Vimeo (good sound and video), on YouTube (via South Carolina Arts Commission), and at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (from the collection of the Dallas Municipal Archives). Sound by Ron Judkins, music by Ken Watson.

More on filmmaker Blaine Dunlap can be found in “Spotlight on Dallas Filmmakers: Blaine Dunlap” by Laura Treat, here.

I have tried to find some history on Stanley Maupin, but I didn’t come up with much. He lived in Irving as a boy, but as a teenager, he attended North Dallas High School and, later, McMurry College in Abilene.

maupin-stanley_NDHS_1953
North Dallas High School yearbook, 1953

maupin-stanley_mcmurry-college_1956_freshman_portalMcMurry College yearbook, 1956

Born in 1935, he appears to have died in 1985, perhaps in a shocking way (which I have been unable to verify) — see comments from his grandchildren in the YouTube video here.

Some background on the film can be found in an article by Don Clinchy, here.

Read a 1986 interview with Blaine Dunlap (by Bo Emerson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 24, 1986) here.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Over-the-Top University Park Christmas Display Featuring Big Tex and a Six Flags Spee-lunker

xmas-wayne-smith_university-park_2015_big-tex_speelunkerBig Tex on the roof, a “Spee” to the right (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

You may have heard about Wayne Smith’s annual spectacular Christmas display in the 3600 block of Southwestern in University Park — the one with a cast of thousands, including a previous head of Big Tex, what seems like hundreds of illuminated Santas, Dracula, Moe Howard, and a former denizen of Six Flags Over Texas’ “Cave”/Spee-lunker ride. Before I get back to the “Spees” (the name the creatures have been given by their surprisingly enthusiastic fan-following), here’s a wider shot of a photo I took during last year’s holiday season. (Click it!)

xmas_wayne-smith_university-park_2015_full

(And this gives you only an inkling of what’s actually there. I LOVED it! I waited until after Christmas — in fact, after New Year’s — to wander around — I can only imagine how backed up with looky-loos the street gets closer to Christmas.)

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Back to the Spees. The Cave water ride debuted in 1964 and was an immediate hit. When it opened, there were 28 of these creatures who, according to the original marketing, “came from innerspace.”

They are 30 inches high and they play harps, do the Twist, play cards, hammer cave crystals into rock candy and engage in a shell game — turtle racing.

This ride was always one of my favorites (probably because it provided a brief, cool respite from the glaring sun and the blasting heat that plagued my annual summer visits to Six Flags).

The Spee-lunkers left Six Flags a long time ago, so it’s nice to see that one of them is still entertaining local crowds, right next to another beloved DFW icon, Big Tex … along with a phalanx of festive Santas!

spee-lunker-cave_postcar

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Lest you think the publicity mill wasn’t working all angles of this new attraction, we see below that one of the Spees got a visit from, of all people, TV-darling Donna Douglas who played Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

cave_hood-county-news-tablet_060464

cave_hood-county-news-tablet_060464-text
photo and article, Hood County News Tablet, June 4, 1964

cave_fwst_082264
August, 1964

cave_grand-prairie-daily-news_052577
Grand Prairie Daily News, May 25, 1977

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Sources & Notes

Photo of Wayne Smith’s Christmas display taken by me on January 2, 2016. The house is in the 3600 block of Southwestern, between Baltimore and Thackery. Since the display is probably visible from space, there’s no way you can miss it.

Postcards found on eBay and Google.

Every year TV crews descend on Smith’s house to do a story. Watch one from this year — from CW33 News — here.

For those who might like more info on the Spee-lunker attraction/ride (which, by the way, is classified as a “dark ride” in amusement park lingo) at Six Flags Over Texas, here’s a bunch of links:

  • Weird video and music (and history!) by a superfan, here
  • Article by the same guy who put the above video together, here
  • Spee-lunker vignettes described here
  • Google images aplenty, here

More on the new ride can be found in the Dallas Morning News archives in the article “$300,000 Hole: Six Flags To Open Cave Ride” (DMN, May 24, 1964) — accompanying the article is an amusing photo captioned “Gail Powers yelps in mock fear as lobster seizes her hand.”

A shout-out to Wendy Cook who, when I posted the top picture to the Flashback Dallas Instagram feed in January, pointed out to me that the Spee-lunker was even in there. She recognized him right away, but with so much visual overload, I hadn’t even noticed him! Thanks, Wendy!

See stuff bigger — when in doubt, click it!

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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