The 35 Biggest Moments in Modern Dallas History
We had the bright idea of not just chronicling these important moments, but getting the people who made the moments happen to write about them. This proved to be a Herculean task, but our efforts paid off. What other city magazine in America could get no fewer than seven billionaires to contribute to such an undertaking?
The Birth of Uptown
By Robert Shaw
It’s difficult to recall now, but there was a time when the area we know as Uptown faced two options for its future: become another series of gleaming skyscrapers or become nothing at all, an urban wasteland. The bank crash and subsequent fall of the real estate market took care of the former. A small cadre of nascent urban planners set to work on the latter in 1990. But it wasn’t always so easy. In fact, in the early days, the entire thing seemed perpetually on the verge of falling apart.
Uptown is what it is today because of the real estate collapse in the 1980s. It created an opportunity for the noneconomic players to be involved in Uptown. Absent that collapse, it wouldn’t have happened.
It wasn’t just about the money. It was about creating something special that didn’t exist in Dallas but did in other great cities around the world. The economic collapse allowed prices of land to drop to a point where it made sense to put in residential and retail. If not for that, Uptown would have been a high-rise office development, basically an extension of downtown.
We had a core group of people who really made it happen. There was Patricia Meadows (a civic leader), Susan Mead (a lawyer and historical preservationist), Hank Rossi (with Uptown Insurance), John Crawford (with the city of Dallas’ economic development department), Gail Thomas (the first executive director of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture), Tom Lardner (a land owner with a vision), Phil Cobb (McKinney Avenue Transit Authority), and John Gosling (a planner with RTKL). There were others, but that was the core group.
It was a magical time of envisioning what it could be. We were looking back at the great cities and reading important works like The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs (an influential book about urban planning in the 20th century) and A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (about what makes buildings, streets, and communities pleasing, comfortable, and alive).
Everyone drank the Kool-Aid. This was before the term “new urbanism” was part of the lexicon. The Uptown name didn’t exist, but we came up with it while sitting around a table. We hired no one. We had no consultants. We sat around and threw out names, and someone said “Uptown,” and that sounded good so we all started calling it that.
In the beginning, very few wanted to live in that environment. The reality was that it was a transitional neighborhood. It was a time when people had given up on cities because of crime and the crack epidemic. I remember giving a tour to a group of Germans who were considering investing in Uptown. It was around 1990. They had come to see about investing in an apartment project that we wanted to build on property fronting Woodall Rodgers Freeway, where the Uptown Village apartments are located now. The land at that time had been foreclosed upon. I was talking about how safe the area was, and we came around a corner, and there were police and a body outlined in chalk on the sidewalk. Needless to say, they didn’t invest. In the beginning, I always had this fear that we were one crime away from ending it.
Over time, the vision became more real and more attractive to the marketplace, and confidence in cities began to grow. As Uptown caught on, the noneconomic players got squeezed out, and the economic players began to dominate again, and it was all about the money.
But when the world was upside down, and no one believed in cities, a group of people got together and created a vision. I fell in love with urban development (through my Uptown experience) and became passionate about that type of development. I’ve been doing it ever since. I was an economic player. I was trying to attract the capital, but I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed in it.
Robert Shaw is a Dallas real estate developer and president of Columbus Realty Partners.
By David Jacobs
In the years leading up to 1978, if you’d asked an average citizen in a typical American city what the name “Dallas” brought to mind, he would likely have hit on the dark day in 1963. The motorcade, the sixth floor, Dealey Plaza, JFK. Then came the TV show, and soon, around the world, we were known for something much less serious.
before i started my television career at the age of 37, I had been a journalist, the author of a number of books on historical subjects, and a writer of fiction. When I approached teleplays, I came at them the same way I had always approached writing: who are the people I’m writing about? Where do they come from? What brought them from there to here? And—most important—what is it about their histories that ensure that their loves will be volatile, their hates will be toxic, and their conflicts colossal?
Answering those questions puts drama in the structure of the work. You don’t need to have characters constantly screaming at each other. Just put two or more of them in the same room, and you’ve got all the tension you need to tell the story.
The structure of Dallas, of course, is built on the foundation of Jock Ewing and Digger Barnes’ partnership in the wildcatter culture of oil in the 1930s—a partnership that turned to enmity and hatred. It didn’t ease the conflict when both fell in love with Ellie Southworth.
I knew all that history before I wrote “FADE IN” on the first Dallas script. Indeed, I had written it all in a 14- or 15-page-long summary that I thought very exciting. Mike Filerman, the Lorimar executive who had developed the show with me (and my executive producing partner in most of the shows I did later) told me we weren’t going to send the pages into the network.
“Why not?” I asked, deflated. First, Mike said, because it’s never a good idea to leave network executives too much in writing (they’d pore over it). And second, what I’d written was so colorful and rich that he thought the pilot script I was going to write might seem disappointingly tame by comparison. (It probably was.) We didn’t send the back stories in, but we knew them, and knowing them was critical to the development of the Dallas cast of characters.
For a long time, the success of Dallas was a guilty pleasure to me. I was, when I created the show in 1977, the story editor of another show (Family, on ABC), and I had never written a pilot script before. When CBS ordered five episodes to test the show on the air, the experienced producer Leonard Katzman came in to run it—as he continued to do throughout most of the show’s life. But because of the early promise of Dallas, I was able to insist that I run the other shows I created. Naturally, I was thrilled by the success of Dallas and the worldwide phenomenon it became.
Years later, filming Dallas: the Early Years in Dallas and Fort Worth at Christmastime in 1985 was the best experience I ever had making television. It was a great story. The direction, production, and cast were terrific, and the final product was an exciting, rowdy movie that—until There Will Be Blood—was the most realistic depiction of the wildcatters’ world ever put on film. But the most significant thing about Dallas: the Early Years to me was that it reconnected me to Dallas. The series lasted a long time—14 years—and underwent a lot of changes. But it always returned to its core conflicts. As we were making The Early Years, I saw the connections. The series, the stories, the iconic characters all came from here.
There has, since then, been no guilt in my Dallas pleasures.
David Jacobs is a television writer best known for creating Dallas and Knots Landing.
AllianceTexas Reshapes the West
By Ross Perot Jr.
The AllianceTexas program is halfway through its 40-year plan, and is only 40 percent developed. But its impact has already been felt: 220 companies, 31 million square feet of commercial real estate, 28,000 jobs, 7,100 single-family homes, one new highway (Texas Highway 170, which connects Alliance to DFW Airport), and on and on. Expect all those numbers to keep rising during the coming years.
This is why the rich get richer: they constantly see opportunity where others see only obstacles. Ross Perot Jr. didn’t have AllianceTexas in his mind when he began buying land north of Fort Worth in 1983. He knew only that it was cheaper to buy there than it was in Dallas at the time. Or maybe he just doesn’t have a strong sense of smell.
Part of the reason the land north of Fort Worth was so readily available was that in the past the prevailing winds from the south brought the smell of the stockyards north and made living in that area extremely unpleasant. Although by the early 1980s the stockyards had been closed for years, that general perception still remained.
In the mid-1980s, the Federal Aviation Administration was looking for reliever airports around DFW Airport. When they approached us about putting one of these airports on our property north of Fort Worth, we decided to talk to some of the local aerospace companies about their future needs and any suggestions as to what type of airport should be built. The response we received was that the area needed a full-size airport that could accommodate any size jet. It would be one designed primarily for aerospace manufacturing and air cargo uses. We shared the idea with the FAA and the city of Fort Worth, which both saw the value of creating an airport-anchored project that would have more of an economic impact on the area than a small reliever airport.
Ironically, the first deal that was done at Alliance was rail related. While the runways were under construction, we were approached by Santa Fe Railroad, now BNSF Railway, about purchasing land to build a facility to offload automobiles from trains, adjacent to its mainline on the west side of the development. This led to the realization of the importance of rail, along with the airport and Interstate 35W, in creating a multimodal inland port logistics hub.
The intermodal concept became even more refined when the Hillwood team worked with BNSF to build one of the country’s largest intermodal facilities, where containers filled with goods from Asia arrive by train via the West Coast ports. Those goods then are transferred from train to truck and transported to a nearby distribution center and eventually to other regions of the United States.
Alliance is now the prototype for the inland port logistics hubs, which became more prevalent as manufacturing moved overseas. The development is the busiest Foreign-Trade Zone in the country, admitting $7.46 billion in foreign products, which is almost twice as much as the next busiest U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone.
Ross Perot Jr. is chairman of Hillwood Development Company. He is also a founder and former president and CEO of Perot Systems, where he served as chairman until its purchase by Dell last year.
Dallas Elects Its First Black Mayor
By Ron Kirk
With the backing of both the city’s business leaders and influential members of the black community, Ron Kirk had more than enough support to make history. With 62 percent of the total vote, he became Dallas’ first black mayor. Kirk took office on June 5, 1995, and was re-elected in 1999.
I remember when i resigned as mayor, when I stepped aside to run for the Senate, I said something to the effect of, I hope one day Dallas would have a mayor that people considered better than me because I was certain Dallas would never have a mayor that loved it more than I did. And I absolutely did.
It still is one of the highest honors of my life, to have had the privilege to serve the people of Dallas as mayor. I loved every minute of it, and whether people believed in everything we did, in what we accomplished, I hope that no one ever questions my passion and my commitment to the job.
I felt I was sort of uniquely suited for the job. I had had the benefit of having spent time in Washington, on the staff of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, so I had a pretty good idea of federal politics. And then I grew up in Austin, and went to school there, and worked in the legislature while I was in law school. Then I’d had six years in City Hall as part of the City Attorney’s Office. So this was something—I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant—I probably knew as much about local politics and the art of governance as anyone else who was running for mayor. I’d spent most of my adult life in and out of law and politics.
So when I began to think about running, I at least had the advantage that I never had to worry about whether I could do the job. And I had a great passion for it. As I began to think about whether I’d ever run, I had in my mind, in having worked in Austin, Washington, Dallas, I had decided that being mayor of a big city was one of four or five jobs in government worth having. I had that framework, so then it was “can I do this?” and the experience of my having been Secretary of State, to be honest, gave me a lot of time to sit around my office and look at election results. And notwithstanding the reputation of Dallas being this sort of conservative bastion of Republicans—that was true on the county elections, but I had the added vantage point of knowing that Dallas had a fairly strong Democratic and progressive base. As things evolved after Steve Bartlett announced he wouldn’t run, I’ll be honest, I was approached by a number of people who asked me to consider running.
Now, one big caveat: I’m not a believer in “I was drafted to run.” My wife and I have always been from the school that you’ve got to jump. You’re not pushed. But I began to think: if I could pull together this coalition of the progressive voters, the African-American base, and a reasonable amount of support from the business community, then I could win.
I would love to tell you there was just one moment where I woke up and thought I could do it, but there were a number of different events that just seemed to conspire to kind of validate this formula that I thought might lead to my election.
I just had a fundamental belief that if, for example, my good friend Tom Dunning (who was sort of the announced progressive candidate at that time) ran and I ran, my fear was that we would split the progressive Democratic base and throw the election another way. You have to remember Alphonso Jackson was thinking about running, and had he stayed in the race there was a real danger that we would split the African-American vote. So Tom Dunning deciding not to run and his endorsing me was hugely important. The African-American community embracing me, and particularly the pastors’ coalition embracing me so early, really began to sort of cement the fundamentals.
I’ll be honest and tell you that a couple of weeks leading up to the election we knew we were doing well because the last six weeks of the election all of our forums turned into “why Ron Kirk’s such a bad guy.” You know, with seven people running, the common denominator was everybody kind of pointing at me. I thought, “Well, at least we must be out front.”
But there wasn’t anything that suggested that we would win without a runoff. So we were very much prepared. We knew we would run first, but all of our internal polling, everything that we had, showed me topping out at 48 percent of the vote. But we just kept working. Carol Reed came up with a brilliant strategy for me to spend a lot of time in North Dallas, where voters didn’t know me as well. It was a combination of that and the excitement and energy that we had in the rest of the city.
And the other thing—and I want to be careful not to compare it to this past presidential election—but I think people bought into our message. We had a fairly simple theme: that Dallas had spent far too many years fighting one another, and I hate saying it’s a game, but truly the blame game was over. Nobody won, and it was time for a change. I was stunned how many places I would go around the city and people would repeat that silly little commercial back to me. Maybe we caught a wave, we struck a nerve. People believed at least in our commitment to change the culture of how we did business at City Hall and stop being so divisive and to think more about how we could work together to build a greater city.
Still, the one moment during the campaign that touched me emotionally more than anything was when we were down to the last four or five weeks before the election. We were doing neighborhood rallies anywhere we could go. We were in South Dallas, and we had done this rally in this small community center. I mean, people were on fire, just absolutely excited about the prospects of this.
When the rally was over, my friend Kathy Neely took me over to this elderly woman and said, “I just need you to spend 10 minutes with her.” I went over to this corner and here’s this 90-year-old African-American woman, very frail, very tired, and she just reaches up and grabs my face with her hands. And reflexively I sort of pull back a little bit until I realized she was blind. And she just, in the most gentle way, began to caress my face, and she traced every line, every aspect of my face. And with tears streaming from her eyes, she said, “I never dreamed I’d live long enough to see a black man elected mayor of Dallas.”
I went out to the car, sat by myself, and shook. The power of what this election meant, to that generation of Dallasites, really, really hit me. From then on it was just making sure I did everything to honor her spirit and her memory. And when the voters validated that on election night, it was just the most incredible high you can imagine.
Ron Kirk, mayor of Dallas from 1995 to 2001, is the United States Trade Representative.
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