Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Restaurants

The Zodiac Room

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by Paula Bosse

The tastefully swanky Zodiac Room opened at the downtown Neiman-Marcus store on April 27, 1953. (Interestingly, there was an earlier — and presumably unrelated — Zodiac Room, in the Jefferson Hotel, from at least 1950 to 1952.)

The Zodiac, a fashionable restaurant and tearoom featuring select foods, will open Monday on the sixth floor of Neiman-Marcus Company’s downtown store. Designed by Eleanor LeMaire of New York, the restaurant’s décor will suggest the roof of the world with signs of the Zodiac represented in both the main dining area and the terrace. (The Dallas Morning News, April 26, 1953)

Stanley Marcus wanted a restaurant in the store in which customers could take a break from shopping by having lunch or afternoon tea on-site, without having to leave the premises. Customers could continue to “shop” while dining as models walked around modeling fashions from the store’s inventory.

“[W]e installed a large restaurant, the Zodiac Room, to attract more people to the downtown area and as a service to those customers from out of town who were spending the day in the store.” (Stanley Marcus, in his book Minding the Store)

Below are a few ads from the Zodiac’s first week (click to see larger images).

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April 26, 1953

COME AND SEE DALLAS’ NEW AND DISTINCTIVE RESTAURANT — THE ZODIAC.

Just completed on our new sixth floor, the Zodiac Restaurant is another step in our downtown expansion program to bring to Dallas the most luxurious and elegant store in America.

The star studded atmosphere of the Zodiac will give you an out of this world feeling. The walls are a wonderful cerulean blue, the carpet’s deep enough for snowshoes and an Italian tile pool sprouts water lilies for the occasion. Informal modeling every day at luncheon.

Plan to have lunch with us this week and bring your guests. We think you’ll be enchanted with the atmosphere as well as the excellent cuisine. Luncheon 11:00 to 2:30, tea 2:30 to 5:00, dinner Thursday night 5:00 to 8:00. NEIMAN-MARCUS

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April 27, 1953

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April 28, 1953 (N-M ad, detail)

You could even get a Zodiac-inspired hair-do, the Zodiac Cut: “Sophisticated, spherical — without a hint of a part.”

zodiac-cut_nm-ad_042953April 29, 1953

Other than the fact that this elegant dining space was part of the world-famous Neiman-Marcus department store, its main draw was its food. According to Stanley Marcus, in his book Minding the Store, the Zodiac struggled for the first year or two and didn’t find its footing until he hired the now-legendary Helen Corbitt as the restaurant’s director. He wrote the following in a guest column in The Dallas Morning News in 1979:

“A landmark in the culinary history of Dallas was the arrival of Helen Corbitt, who made a monumental contribution to improvement of food and service standards in the community. The Neiman-Marcus Zodiac Room became famous under her direction.” (Stanley Marcus, DMN, April 12, 1979)

Below is an example of the fare favored by the Ladies Who Lunch (and the occasional Men Who Lunch), seen in a menu from 1956. (The most expensive item on the menu was the Roast Prime Rib of Beef, which came with a Baked Idaho Potato, a salad from the “Salad Wagon,” and a choice of coffee, milk, or “exquisite tea” — the price was $2.25, which in today’s money was a shockingly affordable $21.00.)

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A dessert menu (a bit hard to read, I’m afraid) is below:

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There was also a children’s menu, which was so charmingly designed by Neiman’s gift-wrap designer, Alma Shon, that I don’t blame a customer for having spirited away a copy of the menu as a holiday-time souvenir of what was no doubt a very special occasion (the date penciled at the top is Dec. 23, 1966). (More information about Ms. Shon is in the “Sources & Notes” section at the bottom of this post.) Below, the front and back of the children’s menu, illustrated with the signs of the zodiac:

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zodiac-room_childrens-menu_instagram_back

Inside, meal options for well-appointed kiddies and a “Zodiac game” to keep them occupied.

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A few years later, this Stanley Marcus-penned letter appeared as a 1976 N-M ad — it was a personal reply to a nine-year-old Zodiac patron who had apparently written to Neiman’s inquiring about the children’s menu, which she was distressed to see had disappeared on her last visit:

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May 17, 1976

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Lastly, a memory of the downtown Zodiac, from the Department Store Museum website:

The downtown Dallas store was in its entirety a magic store. Every step and turn off the escalators to the top floor was amazing. The Zodiac room with its floor-to-ceiling diaphanous curtains that filtered the bright Texas sky made for a dreamlike atmosphere along with the slender long-legged models in evening gowns and furs and the Andre Previn-inspired piano player. The popovers with strawberry and cinnamon butter weren’t bad either. Thank you, Dallas and Neiman-Marcus, for such a rich time in my life.

And it’s still going strong.

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Sources & Notes

Top image and other (non-children’s) menu images from eBay.

The four images of the Zodiac Room children’s menu are the reason I decided to do this post. My whimsy-threshold is pretty low, but I love the utterly charming drawings which grace the front and back covers. I saw them posted on the Instagram account @reflectionofaman (a cool account — here, for the desktop site — which features the photographs of Stanley Marcus, curated by his granddaughter, photographer Allison V. Smith); it had been shared there by Babs Bern (@mullett7665.manor). The menu’s artist — Alma Shon — was identified by her daughter Kate Heyhoe (@StarkRavingCat) in the comments. According to a 1953 Dallas Morning News profile, Shon was born in California in the early 1920s to Korean refugees who had fled Korea in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. She grew up in Los Angeles but made her way to Dallas by at least 1948; she began working for Neiman Marcus in 1948 or 1949. She was in charge of Neiman’s giftwrap design, but also designed other merchandising elements — she was with the store for several decades. More on Ms. Shon (including a photo of her from the ’50s) can be found in a post by her daughter Kate, here.

Color postcard of the Zodiac Room was found on Flickr, here. I used this same card in a previous Flashback Dallas post, “Luncheon at The Zodiac Room, Darling.”

Image of the  blue matchbox at the bottom is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, SMU Libraries; more info is here.

More on Helen Corbitt can be found in articles in Texas Monthly and in Legacies; a couple of her recipes — including her famous Poppy-Seed Dressing — can be found here.

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Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Life on Hall Street — 1947

adolphus-bar-b-q_dallas-negro-directory_1947-48_dining-roomInterior of Adolphus Isaac’s Bar-B-Q Palace… (click/tap for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Here are a few post-war ads for businesses in the 2200 and 2300 blocks of N. Hall, between Thomas and State, in the heart of “North Dallas,” a once-thriving business and entertainment district which catered to Dallas’ black community, until construction of Central Expressway sliced it in half a year or two after these ads appeared. These two blocks are completely unrecognizable today (a Google Street View looking north on Hall from Thomas can be seen here), and evidence that this area was once a lively African American neighborhood teeming with small businesses, cafes, and clubs exists almost entirely in old photos and ads like these.

Below, the LA CONGA CAFE, 2209½ Hall, S. H. Wilson, proprietor. “Where we serve you the best of foods. The home of Good Foods. Ice cold beer.” (All pictures are larger when clicked/tapped.)


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THE ADOLPHUS BAR-B-Q PALACE, 2314 Hall, Adolphus Isaac (whose name in the ad appears to be misspelled), proprietor. “Always a friendly welcome. Steaks, fried chicken, fish, bar-b-q, frog legs [!], delicacies.”

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VASSELL’S JEWELRY STORE, 2317 Hall, Robert Vassell, proprietor. “Diamonds — watches — jewelry. Repairing reasonable, engraving a specialty.” This ad shows the “watch training school” Vassell operated in which WWII GI’s learned watch-repair.

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NEGRO UNION COUNCIL, 2319 Hall. A group of black unionists shared space at 2319 Hall: the Negro Unions Council, the Musicians Protective Union Local 168 (whose former president was Theodore Scott seen in both photos below), Federated Labor (AF of L), Hotel & Restaurant Employees Intl. Local No. 825. (Ned L. Boyd, pictured below, was a pharmacist who owned Boyd’s Pharmacy a couple of doors down at 2311 Hall.)

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American Federation of Musicians officials (and their hats) standing in front of 2319 Hall.

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Below, the 1947 Dallas street directory, showing the businesses in the 2200 and 2300 blocks of N. Hall.

vassell_hall-st_1947-directory1947 Dallas directory (click to see larger image)

Below, a detail of a 1952 Mapsco page, with Hall Street in blue, Central Expressway (which hadn’t yet been built when the ads above appeared in 1947) in yellow, and the 2200 and 2300 blocks of Hall circled in red.

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1952 Mapsco

As an aside, Roseland Homes seen in the map detail above, was a low-income public housing project for black residents, which opened in June, 1942. It covered a 35-acre tract, with 650 units and was the first of many such housing projects for low-income black, white, and Hispanic families which opened that year, and it continues to this day.

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Sources & Notes

Ad from the Dallas, Texas Negro City Directory, 1947-1948, with thanks to Pat Lawrence.

Read more about Hall Street — just a few blocks south, near Ross — in the Flashback Dallas post “1710 Hall: The Rose Room/The Empire Room/The Ascot Room — 1942-1975,” here.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Sam Ventura’s Italian Village, Oak Lawn

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by Paula Bosse

In amongst photos and belongings of my mother’s aunt, I recently came across this wonderful graphic of Oak Lawn’s Italian Village (3211 Oak Lawn, at Hall). It was on the cover of one of those cardboard photo holders which contained photos of diners and club-goers captured by photographers wanting to memorialize celebrants’ special occasions — they would take your photo and you would later purchase prints, which would be tucked inside the souvenir folder. (I don’t recognize any of the people in the photo which was  inside — the photo is here.)

The Italian Village complex (which contained all its various tangential enterprises over he years) was an Oak Lawn fixture for over 45 years — it was apparently still around during my lifetime, but I have no memory of ever seeing it. But by the time I would have been aware of it, things had begun to get a little weird and its profile had definitely dipped. (More on that later.)

Italian Village began its life in 1934 when Sam Ventura (1907-1997) bought a popular drive-in restaurant in Oak Lawn from a man named Levi F. “Speck” Harper. In Ventura’s obituary in The Dallas Morning News, his wife said: “He bought it from a man named Speck Harper who told him, ‘Give me $250 and my hat, and you’ll never see me again.’ Sam had to go and borrow the money.” (DMN, June 1, 1997) ($250 in today’s money would be about $4,700.)

speck-harper_july-1934July, 1934

Not only did $250 start Ventura on a very successful career as a restaurateur, it also assured him ownership of what would quickly become a primo piece of real estate. (Ventura dabbled in real estate and, in 1937, along with fellow restaurant man Sam Lobello, he purchased land at Preston Road and Northwest Highway which would one day become Preston Center.) (It might be worth noting here that Sam Ventura was not affiliated with the very popular Sammy’s restaurants, run by Dallas’ Messina family.)

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Matchbook, via eBay

Italian Village — a restaurant which operated for many years as a private club in order to sell liquor — was originally co-owned by brothers-in-law Sam Ventura and Nick DeGeorge (DeGeorge was later married to Ventura’s sister Lucille). By the time the ad below appeared in 1939, the place had been newly remodeled and was on its ninth (!) expansion. There were lots of new “rooms”: the Can-Can Room, the Plaid Room, the Hunter’s Room, the Gazelle Room, and the Marionette Room, the latter of which featured entertainment in the form of a marionette show with puppets made in likenesses of the owners. (All images are larger when clicked.)

1939_italian-village_feb-1939Feb., 1939

In June, 1940, Italy entered the War in Europe as a member of the Axis forces. As a result, Ventura and DeGeorge immediately asserted their patriotism and their American-ness (both were born in the United States to Italian immigrants) by changing the name of their restaurant: arrivederci, Italian Village, hello, Oak Lawn Village. The owners placed an ad in Dallas newspapers explaining their decision (see ad below) — this made news across the country, garnering both positive national publicity as well as fervent local support.

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June, 1940

Not only did the restaurant’s name change in 1940, so did its ownership. Nick DeGeorge and his wife (the sister of Sam Ventura) embarked on a very lengthy, very bitter divorce (newspapers reported that Nick and Lucille were each on their fourth marriages). The result of this marital split spilled over and also caused a business split: Ventura became the sole owner of Italian Oak Lawn Village, and DeGeorge left to start his own (very successful) restaurant career (DeGeorge’s, Town & Country, etc.). Sam announced that he was “sole owner” in a September, 1940 ad. (I hope Nick at least got custody of his mini-me marionette….)

1940_oak-lawn-village-ad_sept-1950Sept., 1940

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Oak Lawn Village matchbook cover, via Flickr

In June, 1941 yet another remodeling/expansion was announced, with architectural design by longtime friend of Ventura and DeGeorge, Charles Dilbeck, and murals by Russ Ellis. In addition to the Gazelle Room (“for comfort”) and the Hunter’s Room (“for private parties”), there was now the San Juan Capistrano Room (“follow the swallows”), the 42nd & Broadway Room (“for luxury”), the South American Room (“for romance”), the Dude Ranch Room (“where the west begins”), the Rain Room (“for private parties”), the Banquet Room (“seating capacity 150 guests”), and an outdoor Italian Garden Terrace (“beneath the stars”).

1941_oak-lawn-village_dmn_june-41June, 1941

That $20,000 remodel (which would have been equivalent to about $350,000 in today’s money) went up in smoke — literally — in April, 1944, when the restaurant was “virtually destroyed” by fire. Ventura said he would rebuild when war-time government regulations would permit him to do so. At the end of the year he announced that he would build a new restaurant, of shell stone and marble construction, lit in front by decorative tower lights. The new place was built and in full swing — and back with its original name — in the summer of 1945.

1945_italian-village_aug-1945Aug., 1945

An ad for Dallas’ S. H. Lynch & Co.’s Seeburg Scientific Sound Distribution system appeared in the Aug. 10, 1946 issue of Billboard magazine, showing photos of Sam Ventura, the exterior of the new building, and an interior shot showing a Seeburg jukebox. (See full ad here.)

1946_italian-village_billboard_081046_ad-det-1Sam D. Ventura, 1946 (ad detail, Billboard magazine)

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1946_italian-village_billboard_081046_ad-det-3Italian Village exterior and interior, 1946 (ad detail, Billboard magazine)

In January, 1951 another remodeling (to the tune of $75,000!) introduced the 300-seat Flamingo Room, which meant the entire Italian Village now had a seating capacity of more than 700 (Ventura had said that the original post-Speck’s restaurant seated only 40 or 50 people). The “modernistic styling” was the work of architect J. N. McCammon.

1951_italian-village_flamingo-room_jan-1951Jan., 1951

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Front and back of 1955 menu, via eBay

Further changes came to 3211 Oak Lawn in the fall of 1954 with the arrival of the Village Club, which featured live entertainment (including a rotating piano) and shared a kitchen with Italian Village. It was also a “private locker club” with personal liquor lockers available to members to keep their bottles in at a time when it was not legal for restaurants in Dallas to sell liquor-by-the-drink — “set-ups” were sold and the demon alcohol was poured from the member’s stash (or, more likely, from the communal stash).

In 1961 there was yet another remodel, which enlarged the club — now called Club Village — and shrank the restaurant. The swanky new club was designed by Charles Dilbeck and had a sort of Olde English theme (and, for some reason, featured a waterfall, a glass cage behind the bar containing live monkeys, and two live flamingos named Lancelot and Guenevere).

1965_club-village_oct-1965Oct., 1965

Around this time the (apparently short-lived) Francisca Restaurant appeared.

francisca-restaurant_menu_1961_ebayvia eBay

club-village_francisca_new-years-eve_dec-1961New Year’s Eve, Dec., 1961

1961 also marked the club’s debut on national television, appearing in scenes of the hit show Route 66, which were filmed in November. Below is a screen-capture from the episode “A Long Piece of Mischief,” with the waterfall in the background. (The entire episode, shot around the Mesquite Rodeo, can be watched on YouTube here — the two Club Village scenes begin at the 26:42 and 38:15 marks.)

1961_club-village_route-66Route 66 (screen capture) — Nov., 1961

In late 1966, Dallas filmmaker Larry Buchanan shot his cult classic Mars Needs Women in various locations all over town. I’m pretty sure one of the very first scenes was shot inside the club, after yet another remodel. (Incidentally, see what the lively neon-ified corner of Oak Lawn and Lemmon, a couple of blocks away, looked like in Buchanan’s film, here.)

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Mars Needs Women (screen capture) — 1966

In August, 1964 a new club opened: Gringos (sometimes spelled Gringo’s). This public club, featuring mostly rock bands, was the brainchild of Sam Ventura, Jr. (who said in an interview that he had rather brazenly sprung the whole thing as a big surprise on his father, who had been out of town on a lengthy vacation — luckily, the club was a hit and Sam, Sr. was pleased). Club Village continued as a private club, but from newspaper accounts it seems that the new discotheque displaced the Italian Village and/or Francisca restaurant completely. So now on one side you had the long-running “sophisticated” private club, and on the other side, the “new concept in continuous entertainment,” with its Mexican-themed decor and Watusi-dancing waitresses (“Las Mata-Dollies…”), which catered to a younger set. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram described Gringos thusly:

Newest “port of call” for Dallas revelers on the bistro beat is the just-opened and lavishly-done Gringos Club on Oak Lawn Ave. near the Melrose Hotel and in the location formerly occupied by the Italian Village Restaurant and Village Club. Open to the public, this night time Camelot with Mexican decor features, among other flings, Jesse (brother of Trini) Lopez and his handful of musical consorts on the bandstand and a covey of revealing young handmaidens called “Las Matta-Dollies” [sic], sort of Spanish-type Playboy Bunnies who are worthy of your scrutiny. (Chris Hobson, FWST, Aug. 27, 1964)

1964_gringos_aug-1964Aug., 1964

In May, 1967, Sam Ventura, Jr. (“Sammy,” who had taken over the family business when Sam, Sr. retired in 1966) declared that Gringos was dead: “There will be absolutely no rock-and-roll in this room anymore. It’s dead. Our whole concept [now] is for sophistication, for adult entertainment” (DMN, May 24, 1967). So adios, Gringos, hello an even bigger Club Village. (In 1968 a club described as a “new” Gringos  opened a block away, at 3118 Oak Lawn — it’s unclear whether this was affiliated in any way with the Ventura family.)

In June, 1968, the never-ending improvements, remodelings, and reconfigurings of 3211 Oak Lawn continued with Sammy’s announcement of a new (public) restaurant, the Wood ‘N Rail. This steakhouse featured a revolving “ice bar” (the old revolving piano bar, repurposed), which contained a display of raw meat — from this, customers would choose whichever cut of beef called to them, and before the meat was escorted into the kitchen, the patron would sear his or her initials into it with a “red-hot branding iron.” The restaurant’s slogan was “Personalized Beef.” The unstoppable Club Village continued as a private club and restaurant in the adjoining complex.

1968_wood-n-rail_oct-1968Oct., 1968

1971 began with a fire. The (once) unstoppable Club Village was destroyed. The adjacent Wood ‘N Rail emerged unscathed. So, yes, more remodeling! By 1972, 3211 Oak Lawn boasted three (three!) restaurants at one address: the continuing Wood ‘N Rail (steakhouse), Fisherman’s Cove (seafood), and — hey! — the return of Italian Village. As the ads said: “3 RESTAURANTS UNDER ONE ROOF!”

1972_fishermans-cove_march-1972March, 1972

1972_three-restaurants_may-1972May, 1972

Also big news in 1971: it finally became legal to order liquor and mixed drinks in bars and restaurants — the whole “private club-membership” thing in order to get around liquor laws was mostly a thing of the past (unless you lived in a dry area of the city…).

Then, in 1974, things really changed. After a “profound religious conversion,” Sammy Ventura stopped all sales of alcohol and told the TABC he didn’t need or want that ol’ liquor license. This made news around the country.

1974_kings-village_panama-city-FL-news-herald_081274UPI wire story, Panama City [FL] News Herald, Aug, 1974

Unsurprisingly, business plummeted. Two of the three restaurants closed. Italian Village continued to limp along, even weathering the introduction of the King’s Village, “Dallas’ first Christian dinner theater.”

1976_kings-village_june-1976June, 1976

This change in direction of the the 40-plus-year-old family business caused a huge rift between Sammy and his father. Sam, Sr. put his foot down, and The King’s Village (“the nation’s first non-liquor, Christian nightclub”) closed in June, 1977.

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AP wire story, Pampa Daily News, June 21, 1977

Oak Lawn’s decades-old Italian Village was no more (although Sammy appears to have opened his own Italian Village restaurant in Richardson’s Spanish Village for a while). The last mention I found of Italian Village was in Feb., 1979:

After 45 years, the Italian Village restaurant has changed to another venture, the Crazy Crab. Sam Ventura opened the Italian Village in 1934 and the last event before the changeover was a surprise birthday party honoring Sam. (DMN, Feb. 23, 1979)

It’s a shame Italian Village’s last incarnation was a mere shadow of its former go-go glory, but it’s almost unbelievable that a restaurant in Dallas was in business for 45 years. Sam Ventura’s $250 gamble in 1934 paid off very, very well.

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Sources & Notes

Top image is the front cover of a cardstock photo-holder (with linked photo by the Gilbert Studios, 4121 Gaston); collection of Paula Bosse.

All clippings and images are larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Adolphus Hotel’s “Coffee Room” — 1919


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Jonesing for some java? Belly on up… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

You know who was really, really happy about Prohibition? The coffee, tea, and soft drink industries. In fact, they were absolutely giddy.

Have you ever wondered what happened to the nation’s thousands and thousands of bars when it became illegal in the United States to sell alcoholic beverages? What about all the hotel bars? Apparently many hotels renovated their old bars into something new and novel called a “coffee shop” or a “coffee room.”

The photo above shows what the vested interests of The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal deemed the “coffee room” of the elegant Adolphus Hotel.

coffee-room_adolphus_tea-and-coffee-trade-journal_march-1919Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, March, 1919

Yes, there were coffee urns, but it was actually the Adolphus Lunch Room. Though beverages are not mentioned in the menu seen below, it’s interesting to read what dishes were available to the Adolphus visitor in 1919 (of course the really well-heeled guests were not noshing in a lowly —  though quite attractive — “lunch room”). The most expensive item on the menu is the Adolphus Special Sunday Chicken Dinner for 90¢ (which the Inflation Calculator tells us is the equivalent of about $13.00 today). (Click to see a larger image.)

adolphus_lunch-room_menu_dec-1919
Dec., 1919

And, yes, I believe that is a spittoon at the register.

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I wonder if that “coffee room” later became the Adolphus barbershop (seen below)? Or maybe the barbershop became the coffee room?

adolphus-barber-shop_childers_adolphus-archives

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Sources & Notes

Photo from the article “The Renaissance of Tea and Coffee” from The Tea & Coffee Trade Journal (March, 1919). See other photos and read how Prohibition was spurring on this alcohol-free “renaissance” in the article, here.

Photo of the Adolphus barbershop appeared in the book Historic Dallas Hotels by Sam Childers, credited to the Adolphus Archives.

Many, many historical photos of spittoons can be found in this entertaining collection of the once-ubiquitous cuspidor. …Because when else will I be able to link to something like this?

As a sidenote, the Adolphus Hotel was, of course, built by and named for Adolphus Busch, the co-founder of Anheuser-Busch. Mercifully, the beer magnate died pre-Pro — before Prohibition.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Magnolia Cafe, N. Lamar & Munger — 1947

magolia-cafe_1947_ebayStep in for a cool glass of Metzger’s Milk… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I love stumbling across photos of random small businesses. This photo from 1947 shows an interesting modification of a rooming house in the area immediately north of downtown at 1914 N. Lamar, at the corner of what is now N. Lamar and Munger (the curb shows “Caruth St.,” the street’s original name). Unsurprisingly, this former residential area — which became an industrial warehouse district — looks pretty different today (see the current Google Street View here). A succession of cafes operated here over the years (while people lived in rented rooms upstairs) since at least 1927.

I love the entrance to the rooming house with the concrete steps to the right of the cafe, the street light, the streetcar tracks, The Metzger’s Milk sign, the Stier’s Laundry truck, the parked cars, and the street names (probably in tile?) on the curbs.

Three years after this photo was taken, the building was up for sale:

magnolia-cafe_nov-1950_bldg-for-sale1950

Its future? A parking lot.

A longtime owner of this combo building was Mrs. Ella Mae Stuart, who was living there with her husband as early as 1913 (possibly 1909). After her husband’s death in 1915, she ran a boarding house upstairs and rented out the cafe below. She seems to have been a much-married woman who was very creative with her age as given to census takers: every 10 years she continued to grow younger and younger, ending up in 1930 with her age listed as 50. She died three years later at the actual age of 68, leaving behind a husband 26 years her junior. Her great stamina might be the result of her regular consumption of a wonder tonic called Konjola (a patent medicine popular during Prohibition, made from roots, herbs, and a lot of alcohol). (Click to read Mrs. Stuart’s testimonial.)

e-m-stuart_konjola-ad_1930
1930

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Sources & Notes

Photo from eBay; taken by Rogers Studio (the business owned by noted Dallas photographer Frank Rogers and his son Norman Rogers), with the date “May 8, 1947” stamped on the back. Also on the back of the photo: “Magnolia Cafe, Lamar and Munger; seating capacity: 32.”

See the building on the 1921 Sanborn map here, which shows 1914 N. Lamar at the corner of Caruth Street. It appears the house might have become renovated to include a cafe on the ground floor in 1926 or 1927 when one of Mrs. Stuart’s boarding-house roomers opened up Frank’s Lunch Room.

Images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

From El Chico and the Cuellar Family: Feliz Navidad!

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by Paula Bosse

…y Prospero Año Nuevo!

xmas_el-chico_cook-collection_degolyer_SMU_2

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Sources & Notes

Images from a matchbook cover in the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more on the item can be found on the SMU site here.

A couple of super-folksy El Chico commercials can be watched here.

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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.

 

Roth’s, Fort Worth Avenue

roths_cook-collection_smuSign me up, Mr. Roth… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

When I see a building like this, I always hope I can find a photo of it somewhere, but all I’ve been able to come up with is this energetic rendering from a 1940s matchbook cover. Roth’s (which was advertised variously as Roth’s Cafe, Roth’s Restaurant, and Roth’s Drive-In) was in Oak Cliff, on Fort Worth Avenue. It opened in about 1940 or ’41 and operated a surprisingly long time — until about 1967. When Roth’s opened, its address was 2701 Fort Worth Avenue, but around 1952 or ’53 the address became 2601. (I think the numbering might have changed rather than the business moving to a new location a block down the street.)

During World War II, Mustang Village — a large housing development originally built for wartime workers (and, later, for returning veterans) — sprang up across Fort Worth Avenue from the restaurant. It was intended to be temporary housing only, but because Dallas suffered such a severe post-war housing shortage, Mustang Village (as well as its sister Oak Cliff “villages” La Reunion and Texan Courts) ended up being occupied into the ’50s. Suddenly there were a lot more people in that part of town, living, working, and, presumably, visiting restaurants.

As the 1960s dawned, Mustang Village was just a memory, and Roth’s new across-the-street neighbor was the enormous, brand new, headline-grabbing Bronco Bowl, which opened to much fanfare in September, 1961. I don’t know whether such close proximity to that huge self-contained entertainment complex hurt or helped Roth’s business, but it certainly must have increased traffic along Fort Worth Avenue.

Roth’s continued operations until it closed in 1967, perhaps not so coincidentally the same year that Oak Cliff’s beloved Sivils closed. Ernest Roth, like J. D. Sivils, most likely threw in the towel when a series of “wet” vs. “dry” votes in Oak Cliff continued to go against frustrated restaurant owners who insisted that their inability to sell beer and wine not only damaged their own businesses but also adversely affected the Oak Cliff economy. The last straw for Sivils and Roth may have been the unsuccessful petition drive in 1966/1967 to force a “beer election” — read about it here in a Morning News article from Aug. 17, 1966).

As far as that super-cool building seen at the top — I don’t know how long it remained standing, but when Roth’s closed, a mobile home dealer set up shop at 2601 Fort Worth Avenue, and mobile homes need a lot of parking space….

The building on the matchbook cover above is, unfortunately, long gone (as is the much-missed Bronco Bowl); the area today is occupied by asphalt, bland strip malls, and soulless corporate “architecture” (see what 2701 Fort Worth Avenue looks like today, here).

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The man behind Roth’s was Ernest W. Roth, a Hungarian immigrant who had worked for many years as maître-d’ at the Adolphus Hotel’s tony Century Room. He decided to go out on his own, and around 1940 he and his business partner Joseph Weintraub (who was also his brother-in-law) opened the Oak Cliff restaurant which boasted two dining rooms (with a seating capacity of 350, suitable for parties and banquets), fine steaks, and a live band and dancing on the weekends. Ernest’s wife Martha and their son Milton were also part of the family business. When the restaurant opened, there wasn’t much more out there on the “Fort Worth cut-off,” but the place must have been doing something right, because Roth’s lasted for at least 27 years — an eternity in the restaurant business. It seems to have remained a popular Oak Cliff dining destination until it closed around 1967.

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The real story, though, is the Roth family, especially Ernest’s mother, Johanna Roth, and even more especially, his older sister, Bertha Weintraub.

Johanna Rose Roth was born in 1863 in Budapest, where her father served as a member of the King’s Guard for Emperor Franz Josef. She and her husband and young children came to the United States about 1906 and, by 1913, eventually made their way to San Antonio. In the ’40s and ’50s she traveled by airplane back and forth between San Antonio and Dallas, visiting her five children and their families — she was known to the airlines as one of their most frequent customers (and one of their oldest). She died in Dallas in 1956 at the age of 92.

Johanna’s daughter Bertha Roth Weintraub had a very interesting life. She, too was born in Hungary — in 1890. After her husband Joe’s death in the mid ’40s, a regular at her brother’s restaurant, Abe Weinstein — big-time entertainment promoter and burlesque club empresario — offered Bertha a job as cashier at the Colony Club, his “classy” burlesque nightclub located across from the Adolphus. She accepted and, amazingly, worked there for 28 years, retiring only when the club closed in 1972 — when she was 82 years old! It sounds like she led a full life, which took her from Budapest to New York to San Francisco to San Antonio to Austin and to Dallas; she bluffed her way into a job as a dress designer, ran a boarding house in a house once owned by former Texas governor James Hogg, hobnobbed with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Liberace, was a friend of Candy Barr, and, as a child, was consoled by the queen of Hungary. She died in Dallas in 1997, a week and a half before her 107th birthday. (The story Larry Powell wrote about her in The Dallas Morning News — “Aunt Bertha’s Book Filled With 97 Years of Memories” (DMN, Nov. 17, 1987) — is very entertaining and well worth tracking down in the News archives.)

weintraub-bertha-roth_texas-jewish-post_021590
Bertha Roth Weintraub

I feel certain that the extended Roth family found themselves entertained by quite a few unexpected stories around holiday dinner tables!

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Sources & Notes

Matchbook cover (top image) is from the George W. Cook Dallas/Texas Image Collection, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University; more info is here.

Photo of Bertha Weintraub is from The Texas Jewish Post (Feb. 15, 1990), via the Portal to Texas History, here.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Stage Door Restaurant: Elm Street’s “Home of Lox and Bagels” — 1965-1968

stage-door_youtube_1966A Reuben sandwich sings to me, like a siren to a sailor… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

Why does Dallas have so few delis? Here’s one that seemed to be pretty popular in the 1960s: the Stage Door Restaurant and Delicatessen (and bakery), located at 1707 Elm, between the Palace Theater and the Dallas Athletic Club. It opened in June, 1965 and lasted until the end of 1968 (when it was replaced by a restaurant called King Beef). I doubt there was any connection with the famous Stage Deli in New York, but manager Milton Stackel certainly had kosher cred of his own, having worked for twenty years at Grossinger’s, the legendary Jewish resort in the Catskill Mountains. I’m not sure how he found himself operating an eatery in downtown Dallas, Texas, but I’m glad he was here.

To any Milton Stackel-like entrepreneurs out there reading this:

DALLAS NEEDS DELIS!!


Authentic Jewish delicatessens!

Please!

The apparently quite popular eatery was located at/near the old five-point Elm-Ervay-Live Oak intersection (seen here a dozen years earlier — the Stage Door would later be between Lee Optical and Haverty’s). There were two dining areas, one of which was The Playbill Dining Room which served an “international-type cuisine in a Gay Nineties atmosphere.” There was also a thriving take-out deli and the nearby bakery. And now? Come on, Dallas restaurateurs! Get to work!

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stage-door-bakery_dmn_060465
June, 1965

stage-door-restaurant_texas-jewish-post_122365_portal
Texas Jewish Post, Dec. 23, 1965

This ad shows the bakery entrance next door.

stage-door-bakery_dmn_112465
Nov., 1965

stage-door_dmn_112564

stage-door-restaurant_texas-jewish-post_122365_portal-det
Texas Jewish Post ad detail, Dec. 23, 1965

stage-door_1707-elm_1952-mapsco
1952 Mapsco

stage-door_1966-directory
1966 Dallas directory

1700-block-elm_1966-directory
Elm Street, 1966 Dallas directory

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Sources & Notes

Top image is a screengrab from a YouTube video, here, containing footage shot downtown by Lawrence W. Haas on Memorial Day, 1966.

Read more about the opening of the new business (and see a photo of the interior) in the Dallas Morning News article “Stage Door Restaurant Makes Debut in Dallas” (DMN, June 3, 1965).

Click pictures and clippings to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Mrs. Hartgraves’ Cafe, and Bonnie & Clyde Earning Paychecks on Swiss Avenue

swiss-circle-front_070516The Swiss Circle building, 2016 (click for larger image) / Photo: Paula Bosse

by Paula Bosse

Bonne and Clyde were famous for being from West Dallas, but each actually spent a good amount of time in East Dallas. Working. Earning an honest living. Bonnie worked as a waitress, and Clyde worked in a mirror and glass company. Both worked in establishments on Swiss Avenue, though probably at different times. They hadn’t met yet, but it’s interesting to know they worked at businesses only a few blocks apart: Hartgraves Cafe was at 3308 Swiss, and United Mirror and Glass was at 2614 Swiss. Both buildings are still standing.

The Hartgraves Cafe (the name of which is always misspelled in historical accounts as Hargrave’s Cafe — even by Bonnie and Clyde enthusiasts) was in a curved building at the corner of Swiss and College (it is now at the corner of Swiss and Hall). 50-something-year-old Mrs. Alcie Hartgraves (her first name usually appeared in directories as “Elsie,” sometimes as “Alice”) opened the restaurant a few months after her husband, Ben, had died in 1923. It lasted until late 1930 or early 1931. (All clippings and photos are larger when clicked.)

1928-directory_hartgraves1928 Dallas directory

1929-directorySwiss Avenue between College Avenue and Floride, 1928 directory

According to Bonnie and Clyde histories, Bonnie worked there as a teenaged waitress with an absent husband, from 1928 to early 1929. According to one woman who worked at the Yates Laundry, just across from the cafe’s back door, Bonnie was a very nice person. Here, in a 1972 oral history, Rose Myers — who worked at the Yates Laundry for 25 years — remembers Bonnie from those days at Mrs. Hartgraves’ cafe:

hartgraves-yates_reminiscences
From the book Reminiscences

The laundry is long gone, but here’s what the back side of the building Bonnie worked in looks like today.

swiss-circle_back_070516Photo: Paula Bosse

And here’s a Coca-Cola ghost sign, painted on the end of the building that faces Hall.

swiss-circle_coke-ghost-sign_070516Photo: Paula Bosse

The Bonnie Parker connection is about the only reason people know about this odd little building in Old East Dallas. From looking through Dallas street directories, it appears that this building was built in 1915 or 1916 as a retail strip which, until Mrs. Hartgraves left, usually contained three or four businesses. The question is: why was it shaped like that? Many people think it was a streetcar stop, the cars using the circle as a place to turn around, but old maps showing streetcar routes from this period don’t show cars going down this part of Swiss. Below, a detail from a 1919 map, with Swiss and College streets in red. Streetcar tracks on Swiss turn left at Texas and then right on Live Oak, completely bypassing the circle area. (Another handy map of old streetcar routes laid over a present-day Google map can be found here.)

swiss-circle_1919-map
1919 map detail, via UNT

There’s a great view of the area in the 1921 Sanborn map here (with a different angle here). It may just be that the building was built to take advantage of/conform to the odd jog that Swiss Avenue takes in front of it. Here’s an aerial view from the recent past.

swiss-circle_bing-birdseye
Bing Maps

Our own teensy and unspectacular Royal Crescent! (You know what they say — “Everything’s bigger in Bath….”)

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But what about Clyde? Clyde worked at a mirror and glass company four-tenths of a mile west. Here’s an ad from 1928 (the same year Bonnie was working at Hartgraves).

united-mirror-glass_1928-diectory-ad_texashideout
via Bonnie & Clyde’s Hideout

Charles “Chili” Blatney worked with Clyde at United Glass and Mirror. In the Dallas Morning News article “He Helps Dallas to See Itself” by David Hawkins (DMN, March 17, 1970), Hawkins wrote: “Blatney remembers him as the friend he was: The little guy who always wore a hat and who would jerk it off and beat the floor with it in merriment when a good joke was told. […] ‘I guess I was surprised to see him turn real bad,’ [said Blatney].”

The building still stands, almost unrecognizable.

So, yeah, East Dallas was the stomping grounds of Bonnie and Clyde, back when they were living paycheck-to-paycheck and before they had begun their short-lived life of crime.

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Sources & Notes

Photos of the Swiss Circle building taken by me when I stumbled across it yesterday. I knew what it was when I saw it, but I didn’t really know much about it, other than the Bonnie connection. The building is currently vacant, currently for lease, and currently a weird shade of green. It’s a great space and a cool building. The back side is FANTASTIC!

The surname of the property owner (or property manager) is rather unbelievably … Dunaway.

The passage quoting Rose Myers, who worked at the Yates Laundry, is from the book Reminiscences: A Glimpse of Old East Dallas.

A discussion of this building can be found on the Phorum discussion board, here.

Other Flashback Dallas  posts on Bonnie and Clyde can be found here.

Click everything. See bigger images!

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

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