Barbara Rollins serves up shakes and sandwiches. Photo from July 1981 issue of D Magazine.

Openings/Closings

Highland Park Soda Fountain Is Closing

The vintage icon will close after 106 years.

No, it is not a bad dream from which you will wake. The Dallas Morning News reports the imminent closure of Knox-Henderson’s beloved Highland Park Soda Fountain to make way for a projected mixed-use high-rise development, with restaurants on the street level. The redevelopment that will also take in the Weir’s Furniture store has the usual hallmarks: trendy spots, underground parking.

The soda fountain, now owned by Sonny Williams and Gretchen Minyard Williams, has anchored the corner for 106 years. It has continually operated since 1912. Until 2006, it was also a pharmacy as well as a place for a pineapple phosphate or a scoop of lime sherbet. All you had to do was belly up to the long, 19-seat counter.

“It’s been an institution,” says Minyard Williams. “We’ve had wonderful families.” Those include fifth generation customers and families coming in with four generations in toe. When the Williamses bought the place in 2006, they added items like homemade pinto beans. But, she says, “It’s the kind of food that never goes out of style.” Jerry Jones has a house account.

The doors will close on Sept. 9.

It’s something we’ve seen and are seeing, this closing of vintage icons in neighborhoods where real estate needs, development, and the pressures of a growing city coincide. We saw it recently in Oak Cliff, at the corner of Beckley and Davis, with the closure and demolition of the El Corazon Tex-Mex restaurant.

Meanwhile, the appetite for nostalgia is real. A modern consumership seems to crave places where one might sit at the bar with a tall malt or a float topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry and step back in time.

For a while, Remedy on Lowest Greenville, with chef Danyele McPherson, served phosphates and the best cup of tomato soup and bologna sandwich in the city. It was the nostalgia of something like the grilled PB&J of a Highland Park Soda Fountain, but for a newer audience.

At Shug’s Soda Fountain in Seattle, there’s a local, organic peach sundae and a ‘smores one topped with toasted marshmallow. I see this, too, at the Ice Cream Bar in San Francisco, where the lunch counter’s grilled cheese comes with crème fraiche on house-baked brioche with a house-fashioned pickle. Soda jerks in retro bowties and paper soda-jerk hats also sport tattoos and pilates abs.

While we cherish bringing back that retro nostalgia—the pharmacy that also sells phosphates—the originals are closing. There are few spots to which three generations can say they’ve gone together for years.

In 1985, D writer Babs Suzanne Harrison wrote “A Walking Tour of Knox/Henderson,” saying the neighborhood “has been described as some of the hottest real estate in the city.” But, she points out, “unlike other successful development projects in Dallas, the laid-back sophistication of Knox-Henderson does not rely on towering glass structures and multi-lane thoroughfares.” Instead, she writes, “most of the buildings consist of a single level, all are directly on the two-lane street, and there are actually pedestrians using the paved sidewalks, somewhat of a rarity in Dallas these days.” The walking tour, of course, includes Weir’s Furniture and what was then called the Highland Park Pharmacy.

Minyard Williams states that the Williamses have been invited back, to be part of the new, projected development, which she says is two years away. But the Highland Park Soda Fountain’s story tells of a turning of the tide, too—veteran employees retiring, rent rising. The future is unclear. “We have no answers yet,” she says.

And so, I recommend promises-to-self to get a grilled cheese and a malt. No extras. Dill pickle chips. I don’t know what will come next. But I’m not sure it will be any better.

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