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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Dallas History

SMU Saves North Texas’ Archaeological History

| 1 day ago

Remember Sunday Eiselt from our 2017 profile of her? She’s a former Marine, archaeologist, professor, and director of SMU’s Archaeological Research Collections (ARC). She’s also our best chance of saving some of North Texas’ oldest, most important history.

Last week I met up with her to tour the ARC facilities, located in Heroy Hall. It’s been a little over two years since our initial interview, and in that amount of time she’s managed an amazing transformation of the three rooms that comprise ARC. What follows is an update, including before-and-after photos. But prior to getting there, give the photo above a look. That’s Eiselt in one of the rooms surrounded by musty brown boxes, each packed to capacity with artifacts, stacked like sardines on shelving on the verge of collapse. In the span of two years a great deal has changed, and she says there are more developments on the way.

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Fashion

How Dallas Saved Fashion History

| 3 days ago

One of the most valuable fashion collections in the nation is housed inside a dusty orange building in Denton, next to the counseling office at the University of North Texas. The structure is little more than 4,500 square feet of concrete and cold air, but its cultural cachet is irreplaceable. The Texas Fashion Collection contains everything from 18th-century coats to modern-day Alexander McQueen dresses, maternity gear to streetwear, couture treasures to home-ec experiments. There are bridal gowns, lingerie, and ceremonial ensembles from indigenous cultures. Accessories include nearly 1,400 pairs of shoes, 2,500 hats, and 750 handbags. Altogether, there are almost 20,000 pieces.

The trove of designer labels includes 387 designs by Hubert Givenchy, 301 by Oscar de la Renta, 151 from the House of Dior, and an impressive 340 by Cristobal Balenciaga. It is believed to be the largest holding of the designer’s work in the world aside from Balenciaga’s own archive.

The seeds of the collection were planted by the Marcus brothers—Stanley, Edward, Lawrence, and Herbert Jr.—who began gathering 20th-century styles, some say, in the late 1930s. They named it in honor of their aunt, Carrie Marcus Neiman, upon her death in 1953. She co-founded Neiman Marcus with their father and had donated pieces from her wardrobe. The brothers made a point of keeping the collection in Dallas, though offers came to take it east. It eventually was put in the care of the Dallas Fashion Group, which bestowed what was then a few thousand garments to UNT’s fashion design program in 1972 to serve as a resource for its students. It has since become a resource for artists, authors, and curators near and far.

Vogue’s Hamish Bowles has visited. So has Akiko Fukai, curator of Japan’s famed Kyoto Costume Institute. André Leon Talley borrowed pieces when he was putting together the posthumous Oscar de la Renta exhibition, as did the Kimbell Art Museum for last year’s blockbuster “Balenciaga in Black.” The Dallas Embroidery Guild recently took a tour, and designers from Dickies stopped by to study denim styles over the decades. Last year, about 3,500 people accessed the collection for one reason or another.

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: How Latino Communities Shaped the City

| 5 days ago

Historical images of politics, social activism, and community organizing help illuminate the ways in which the Latino community strives to make Dallas a better city with each passing decade. Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History and Archives Division has photos depicting numerous aspects of Latino life in Dallas spanning generations, many of which are available to view in the library’s online catalog.

See how Latino Dallasites played roles in larger historical events. Learn more about Dallas neighborhoods such as Little Mexico, Los Altos, Eagle Ford, and others. View images of local businesses and everyday life such as weddings, students at area schools, churches and religious services, and more.  You might discover a photo of someone you know from the past, whether it’s a friend, relative, or even yourself at a younger age.

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Food & Drink

Celebrating Soul Food Means Understanding Its Complicated History

| 1 month ago

For our October issue, contributor Dalila Thomas takes us on a tour of some of Dallas’ best soul food restaurants, from Styrofoam joints to white-tablecloth establishments. There’s fried chicken and waffles, barbecue and biscuits—even vegan Salisbury steak. But in spite of the variety, it all shares a complicated history.

In the American South (and North), slave owners controlled food supplies. According to Adrian Miller, the James Beard Award-winning author of Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time, most enslaved African-Americans received weekly rations consisting of an inexpensive starch (cornmeal, rice, or sweet potatoes); a modest amount of dried, salted, or smoked meat; and a jug of molasses. It was up to the enslaved to supplement their diets by growing their own vegetables (some with seeds, like okra, brought with them from Africa), foraging for wild greens, hunting, and fishing.

After the Civil War, black church gatherings became a place for celebration, with decadent foods like fried chicken and fish, buttery cakes, and pies sweetened with refined sugar. Daily meals weren’t that different than those of slavery—heavy on vegetables, light on meat, and subsidized with starch. Sharecropping meant that many poor tenants were forced to maximize commodity crops in order to pay the rent, leaving little room for gardening for personal consumption.

In search of a better life, millions of Southern blacks headed north as part of “The Great Migration.” Cooking foods from home was a way to build community. But in many urban cities, conditions were cramped. It was often easier and cheaper to eat out than cook at home. Restaurants started meeting the need, and the term soul food was applied as a point of identity and pride in the 1960s, even though it had been coined several decades earlier with the advent of jazz.

Now, soul food is morphing once again. Farm-to-table trends mean seasonal vegetables and heritage animals are being emphasized alongside traditional techniques. And vegan and vegetarian versions are coming to the forefront. It may seem at first like an oxymoron, but vegan soul food may be the truest version of the cuisine. It is a reminder that soul food came from humble and limited ingredients, which were ingeniously repurposed not only for survival but also as a means of cultural expression. And that there wasn’t always bacon grease to fry with.

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History of Dallas Food

The Man With the 8-Foot Pepper Mill

| 1 month ago

Standing in the parking lot that is 2016 Commerce Street on a hot August morning, nothing suggests this was once the site of arguably the city’s most popular post-WWII restaurant. Just two blocks east of the renovated Statler hotel, the parking lot was occupied by a building that housed the Goodyear Tire Company (1913), Dixie Mold & Rubber Vulcanizers (1920), and Smoot’s Supplies, a Depression-era business owned by Sheriff “Smoot” Schmid. By the mid-1940s it was known as the Dallas Bible Institute, an interdenominational seminary founded by Dr. Robert J. Wells.

Today its neighbors are the Guns and Roses Boutique, the Dallas Municipal Court building, and a concrete parking garage. But 75 years ago, the spot was central to everything. The trolley, with its overhead electric lines, looped through downtown and the popular Theater District, then out to the suburbs called University Park, East Dallas, and Oak Cliff. This history is gone, but if you squint really hard, you can almost see it.

It is 1947. The second World War has ended, and GIs return to a Dallas that is expanding outward, building new neighborhoods beyond the ends of the trolley tracks that feed downtown. Love Field, with at least dozens of flights daily, brings Hollywood legends to town to perform, play, shop. It is midcentury, and the keyword is “modern.” No longer constrained by wartime rationing, housewives throw off their homemade, post-Depression clothing, draping themselves in the silk, taffeta, and chiffon dresses now available “ready made” at Neiman’s, Sanger Harris, or Titche’s. Friends congregate over dinner at trendy restaurants, followed by dancing at clubs. And the place to eat in 1947? The Town and Country, at 2016 Commerce Street.

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Arts & Entertainment

When Dallas Almost Stole Country Music from Nashville

| 2 months ago

If you have been watching Ken Burns’ Country Music on PBS, then maybe, like me, you’ve found your ears pricking up every time Dallas or someone from Dallas enters the narrative. Burns doesn’t spend too much time focusing directly on Dallas or this city’s contribution to the history of country music, but the city appears so often as an aside that it feels like the documentary filmmaker is missing a storyline.

My favorite example is when the film talks about Decca Records’ desire in the 1950s to move all of their country music recording activity to Dallas. At the time, Dallas was challenging Nashville’s place as country music’s hub–this city even had its own version of the Grand Ole Opry, the Big D Jamboree. The Dallas threat prompted Owen Bradley to expand his studio in Nashville in an effort to keep the business. It worked, of course, Bradley’s Quonset Hut Studio became pivotal in establishing the Nashville sound. So, you’re welcome, Nashville.

There are a lot of stories like this one, and they offer more evidence–as I have been arguing lately–that Dallas’ role in the development of American music is both significant and overlooked. Over at the Oak Cliff Advocate, Rachel Stone has taken the time to gather a litany of connections that trace the story of country music through this city. If you love music and care about this city’s history, the piece is well worth your time.

UPDATE: After posting, I came across this Wilonsky joint from 2015 about Jim Beck’s studio next to the Forest Theater, where Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Jim Reeves, Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins, and possible Fats Domino, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison all recorded. The article explores how Beck’s premature death in 1956 impacted Dallas’ efforts to become as a powerhouse in the country music recording industry. A taste:

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Dallas History

The Long, Troubled, and Often Bizarre History of the State Fair of Texas

| 2 months ago

Author and Dallas Times Herald columnist John Rogers once told a story that, during the 1890s, a woman went to the powerful Dallas business leader John Armstrong looking for a $5,000 loan to pay for additional labor at her business. It didn’t take long for Armstrong to surmise what the woman did. She was a madam of a brothel in downtown Dallas.

Prostitution was legal at the time, but the oldest profession was still frowned upon by the polite and ardently religious social circles of upper crust, of which Armstrong belonged. The banker and real estate developer asked the woman when she planned to pay the money back. After the State Fair, she said. Armstrong promptly signed off on the note. The State Fair, he knew, was good business for Dallas and he would likely see a return on his investment. Sure enough, after the run of the fair, the woman returned Armstrong’s money with interest.

The State Fair of Texas has long embodied many of the civic and social paradoxes that define Dallas. The State Fair is the ultimate celebration of Texas culture, tradition, food, and kitsch—the place where all the iconic stuff of Texas life, from football to cattle to music to truck sales, come together. But over the years it has also been the setting of protest, confrontation, shrewd haggling, political struggle, and social progress. As we settle into the 133rd edition of the fair, we look back at the long, strange trip of the State Fair of Texas.

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Arts & Entertainment

Programming Note: Dallas Blues History at the Texas Theatre Tonight

| 2 months ago

As I wrote in my column in the September issue, we should take this weekend’s big blues bru-ha-ha at the American Airlines Center, helmed by Eric Clapton, as something of a history lesson. There is a reason the greatest blues guitarists are descending on Dallas. This city’s musical heritage runs deep, and its role in the development of the blues—from Blind Lemon Jefferson to T Bone Walker to Freddie King to Stevie Ray and so many more—is particularly significant. But it is a history that is often overlooked and under-documented. In addition to big concerts like Clapton’s Crossroads fest, what we need are more champions of that history, more people like Alan Govenar, to help record it, interpret it, and champion it.

And just as I say that, enter stage left: Kirby Warnock, who will be screening his latest Dallas-centric music documentary, From Nowhere: The Story of the Vaughan Brothers, at the Texas Theatre tonight.

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Dallas History

How a Bus Tour Helps Illuminate Dallas’ Black History, Hidden in Plain Sight

| 2 months ago

Dallas projects itself as a swaggering, self-made city destined for greatness. It proudly proclaims to have no limits, no reason to be and no history. But there is a history hidden in plain sight.

It is hidden because Dallas plowed through the city’s first and largest African American cemetery to build the North Central Expressway in the 1940s. It is hidden because Dallas history books, like Jim Schutze’s The Accommodation, get blocked by publishers at the risk of embarrassing city leadership. Neighborhoods change at warp speed. Historic buildings stand empty and neglected, if they still stand at all.

Stories get buried and replaced with myths of a white male business elite that created a regional economic empire out of nothing. The old white leadership controlled official memory for decades through a combination of the pulpit, news media, school curricula, entertainment, architecture, and urban renewal. But today, academics and curious residents are creating a more accurate history that includes the human costs of Dallas’ development.

Now retired, Don and Jocelyn Pinkard spend their days researching scarcely discussed stories of Dallas’ past for their Hidden History DFW tour. Visitors travel the city to more than 20 historic African American sites before lunch. The Pinkards and their families go back generations in Texas. Having both been raised in Oak Cliff, they have firsthand knowledge of the city and its many transformations. And they are sharing it.

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Dallas History

Tales From the Dallas History Archives: Dallas Is a Football Town

| 2 months ago

Dallas has long been associated with a fervor for the sport of football—as has Texas as a whole—even before the arrival of the Dallas Cowboys in 1960.

The NFL will begin its 100th season on September 5.  Whether you’re a fan of football in general or you’re loyal to America’s team, you don’t have to wait until game day to immerse yourself in this sport and its historical legacy. Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division has photos from the Dallas Cowboys of yesteryear in its collection, as well as other football-related photos from various decades. Many historic photographs are available to view in the library’s online catalog. The photo above this post is from a September 1967 game between the Cowboys and Baltimore Colts. Let’s take a look at a few others.

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Arts & Entertainment

Amazon Picks Up Starck Club Doc — But It Might Not Be the Film You Remember

| 2 months ago

If you’ve been around Dallas for any length of time, you’ve heard of the Starck Club. The 1980s temple of Lone Star hedonism is the stuff of legend. Grace Jones played its opening night. Rock stars like Jimmy Page hung out at the bar when they were in town. The interiors—designed by up-and-coming French designer Philippe Starck—spared no expense: polished black terrazzo floors, shimmering gauze drapes, and a grand staircase that led to a sunken dance floor. Club managers say the crystal champagne glasses were chosen for the way they sounded when they shattered on the floor.

But what made the place legendary, and not just for Dallasites, was that in the early days the club was synonymous with a new legal drug called Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine—better known as MDMA, ecstasy, molly, or, in the early early days, Adam. The euphoria-inducing drug flowed through the Starck Club’s veins, upending Dallas society and culture and helped to turn it into the ground zero of rave culture.

If you are intrigued by this fantastic episode in Dallas folklore, you can now check out filmmaker Joseph F. Alexandre’s documentary Sex, Drugs, Design: Warriors of the Discotheque on a variety of streaming platforms. The film has been picked up byAmazon, Vimeo on Demand, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, UDU digital, and a few other platforms.

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Beer

Manhattan Beer Company Got This One Wrong

| 3 months ago

In recent days, Dallas’ Manhattan Project Beer Company has been called to task for its atomic-based nomenclature, in particular, a beer called Bikini Atoll. The brewery claims that by naming its product after an atoll in the Marshall Islands, it’s building awareness. But many people disagree, in particular, Pacific Islanders. One approach to the outpouring of public objections would be to listen and learn. After all, who better to speak authoritatively on the myriad associations conjured by a product named Bikini Atoll than Islanders in the Pacific?

The brewery, unfortunately, has doubled down and will not drop the name. Another perspective to consider is the audacious act of commodification that precedes the most recent one and the kind of multiplier effect this exerts on Pacific Islanders, in particular, Bikinians.

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