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Dallas History

David Witts Got to Terlingua 50 Years Too Early

Tim Rogers
By |
Witts helped start the Terlingua Chili Cookoff.

Texas Monthly today published a great story titled “Farewell to the Last Frontier,” about the land rush underway in tiny Terlingua. It’s hard to imagine. I’ve been to Terlingua just once, about a decade ago. If someone had told me then to buy land because soon enough the place’s popularity would inspire “Don’t Marfa My Terlingua” bumperstickers, I’d have assumed the heat had gone to his head. Lo, here we are.

In May, D Magazine published a story, “The House With the Roses,” that has a Terlingua connection. It’s about a Preston Hollow house that was recently torn down and the family that once lived in it. The paterfamilias was a man named David Witts who led a full life: flew 50 missions in the Pacific theater, busted gambling rings with the FBI, and bought 150,000 acres of land in the Big Bend area with his buddy Carroll Shelby, he of Ford v Ferrari fame. The story spends just a couple paragraphs on that land and how Witts’ ownership of it led to the Terlingua Chili Cookoff. But then, after the story published, a reader who knew Witts wrote in with some more details. As he said, this is really a Dallas story.

Opal Lee is known around the world as “the grandmother of Juneteenth,” but she thinks of herself as “just a little old lady in tennis shoes meddling in everyone’s business.”

June 15 will mark one year since she received the pen that President Joe Biden used to signed Senate Bill S. 475 into law, making Juneteenth the eleventh recognized national holiday and the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in 1986. This was an effort Lee has spent her entire life working toward. In 2016, she laced up her sneakers and made her first 1,400-mile walk to D.C. to formally ask President Barack Obama to do what would take another five years to accomplish.

During our chat in early May, she reflected on that moment, how much work it took to get there, how much work remains. But first, she said she was looking forward to catching up with an old friend, a now-valuable pastime.

“We’re meeting for lunch and a good talking,” she said. “I’m doing very nicely,” she added, “as busy as a cat on a hot tin roof.”

Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, the date Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom—two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Opal Lee’s efforts to recognize the day began many years earlier. Her appearance at the signing of the Juneteenth law was the culmination of decades of ingenuity and resilience.

Lee has always been a connector of people and someone in pursuit of outreach. She was born in Marshall, Texas in 1926. After earning her Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance, Lee worked as a counselor for the Fort Worth Independent School District until her retirement.

After leaving the district, she finally had the time to devote to her Fort Worth community. She served as a member of the North Texas branch of Habitat for Humanity and was a founding member of Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity, a nonprofit that helps residents find affordable housing.

Lee helped found the Tarrant County Black Historical & Genealogical Society, a community-based effort committed to preserving and upholding the histories of Black people in Fort Worth. Her advocacy around Juneteenth sprouted from this work.

“The one word I’d use is persistence,” Lee said. “I’m just somebody’s grandmother.”

Did you ever drive by the white house on Glendora, the one with the wooden fence and all the rose bushes? When a writer named Claire Collins told me it was going to be torn down, I encouraged her to do a little digging on the people who had lived there. Turns out, the Witts family history involves World War II, the FBI, the Terlingua Chili Cookoff, and Carroll Shelby (of Ford v Ferrari fame). Claire’s story was published in the May issue of D Magazine, and it went online today.

As you read the story, pay special attention to all the family photos that accompany it. They all came from Elane, who was the third generation of Witts to live in the house. She grew up there. And she has a storage unit absolutely jammed with photo albums and documents and furnishings that span the 75 years that the Witts family owned that house.

If I were in Elane’s shoes and I’d just packed all my dearly departed parents’ stuff into a storage unit, and if some magazine editor asked to come see it all, I think I’d tell him to pound sand. Instead, Elane drove to Carrollton and met me and our creative director, Lesley Busby, on a sunny Thursday in March. Naturally, she forgot the key and had to get the storage unit company to cut the lock on her unit. That would have put me in a foul mood. Not Elane. I learned something about patience that day as she spent three hours with us digging through boxes, poring over old pictures.

So cheers to Elane. Thank you for helping us make this story so fun to look at. And now we wait to see what will replace that white house at 6007 Glendora—without the roses.

Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: The J. Erik Jonsson Central Library Turns 40

Brandon Murray
By |
New Central Library, Fisher and Spillman Architects Incorporated, Young Street View, 1976.

Dallas has been in the national spotlight many times, but this month marks the 40th anniversary of one such shining moment that continues to impact the city: the opening of the Central Library building on the corner of Young and Ervay. 

Though the dedication occurred on April 18, 1982, the building owes its existence to a legacy that reaches back to 1901 with the opening of the original Dallas Public Library, a single building funded in part by Andrew Carnegie and numerous civic-minded Dallas residents.

The Carnegie Library building served as the hub of a growing library system that saw branches built in various parts of Dallas in the decades that followed. After 53 years of service, the deteriorated and overcrowded Carnegie Library, which was located at Commerce and Harwood, was torn down. A six-story Central Library building designed by architect George Dahl was built in its place.

However, by the 1970s, the Commerce Library was overloaded and under-equipped for the emerging technology of the time. A bond election in 1972 included the preliminary design funds. The City Council soon approved a 114,000-square-foot site at Young and Ervay across from Dallas City Hall to be the location for the future library. Fisher and Spillman Architects Inc. were selected and worked on a design to complement City Hall’s brutalist architecture style.

When I heard about an app that makes it possible to drive around as a familiar voice recounts the history of the very road I’m driving on, I thought, “I could go on driving forever.” Not literally forever, but the first time that I used HearHere, I found myself taking the long way home. I was on 67 learning about Duncanville’s transformation from a settlement community to a transportation hub to a suburb. I saw my exit approaching, but the lesson wasn’t over. History went on for miles and miles ahead of me.

I now know about Crawford’s Tornado Graveyard, a place forgotten and lost for about 100 years. And I know about Raymond Hamilton, a sidekick to Bonnie and Clyde who robbed the First State Bank of Cedar Hill in 1932, only minutes away from my home.

Since the app’s launch in 2020, HearHere’s stories have grown and expanded throughout the United States. It now has a database of more than 8,800 lessons about culture, history, nature, music, sports, and more.

My first impression using it around Dallas? I learned by the mile, and I didn’t even have to leave my car. The storytelling voices are familiar, and then they’re not. Kevin Costner and John Lithgow do not recount all the stories, but the other voice actors won’t let you down. Use HearHere when you’re driving alone, unless the people traveling with you are in for a few history lessons and don’t mind riding around in a classroom.

Dallas History

In Honor of Women’s History Month, Meet Our City’s Audacious Forces of Nature

Christine Allison
By |
Mandy Price, the CEO of Kanarys, who graced the cover of our September issue, ‘The 78 Women Who Make Dallas Great.’

We’ve been publishing D Magazine since 1974. Over the years, we’ve had women on many of our covers. Models, for the most part. Airbrushed. One wearing nothing but whipped cream in a visual reference to a vintage Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass album cover. (Clever!) Lots of blondes. LeAnn Rimes. Jessica Simpson. We did feature the Honorable Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on our July 1995 cover, but her face was photoshopped onto a model in a red-white-and-blue bikini. She’s a media pro and laughed it off. (Still.)

As a business unit, these covers were about newsstand sales and merchandising. But they also suggest that we’ve not always taken the women in our city seriously. We’ve improved over the past few years, but, just like Dallas, we have a ways to go. I credit our entire editorial staff for seeing beyond the stale paradigm of Dallas as owned and operated by a nameable male few and instead filling our pages and website and events with a full range of complicated, brilliant, surprising, and remarkable individuals from every part of the city, men and women.

What makes our previous casting of women even more wrongheaded—beyond the outright objectification—is that, on a local basis, it was a false projection. There is nothing and no one more powerful than a Texas woman. I know. Years ago, when we moved our four daughters down from New York, I worried I would have to blow-dry their hair and take them shopping all the time. I wondered who their role models would be. But what I discovered were my own role models with every new acquaintance. My friends are bold, hilarious, audacious forces of nature. Whether they were driving carpool or block-walking for candidates or running Fortune 500 companies, these women showed me what it is to be strong and resilient. Raising our daughters in Texas was the greatest gift my husband and I could have given them.

Last September, we presented 78 local giants, legends, and emerging leaders, who are but a sampling of the hundreds of thousands of women who have made Dallas the city that it is today. We held off publication until our new website went live, so that it would benefit from its new design capabilities.

To honor Women’s History Month, which began today, we’re proud to finally put the feature online. You can read it here.

Had we the pages, we could have filled volumes with the names and achievements of the women who create and fund our cultural institutions; innovate in technology; fight for social justice; create new businesses; break athletic barriers; establish our aesthetic standards; teach and advocate for our children; rescue and harbor those in need; lead our churches, temples, and synagogues; toil in the civic arena; revolutionize healthcare and research; and stir the soul and conscience of a city all too often concerned only with appearances and wealth.

I hope you enjoy meeting them.

Of course, this story didn’t just happen. The final product was made possible by the efforts of members of every division in our company, the majority of whom are female. I adore our team (our guys are the best, truly). But it is the women who inspire me every day. This issue is dedicated to them.

Dallas History

Saying Goodbye to D Magazine with a Reflection on the Life of an Obscure Botanist

Peter Simek
By |
Coombs Creek, which ran through Julien Reverchon's homestead, in winter.

This is my last post.

After 12 years with D Magazine, I am leaving the publication for a new opportunity (more on that in a second). Over the years, when I imagined leaving D, I thought the last thing I would write would be a sweeping review that summed up everything I had learned during my years here—thoughts and reflections on the state of the city, where it is today and how much it has changed and stayed the same.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written a few versions of that post. None of them felt right.

What I really want to write about in this last post is Julien Reverchon, the 19th-century French botanist who has a street and a park named after him. During the early days of the pandemic lockdown, as we all huddled in our homes experimenting with new hobbies, I began to research Reverchon’s life and work. I had recently moved into a house a stone’s throw from where Reverchon’s farm once stood, near the corner of Davis Street and Plymouth Road in Oak Cliff.

A creek runs along the back edge of my property. As I took my quarantine walks each morning, I imagined that Reverchon must have wandered up and down it, perhaps even stopping under the 150-year-old burr oak in my backyard to stare at the babbling creek and wonder how his life’s journey had landed him in Dallas.

To commemorate its 150th anniversary, Paul Quinn College, the oldest historically Black university in the state, wanted to do something on a similarly momentous scale. The school has endured generations of anti-Black public policies, particularly during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, and, more recently, its leadership has watched as state and local policy makers seek to limit how that history is taught and recognized.

Looking back at these years, Paul Quinn President Dr. Michael Sorrell wanted to find a way to highlight this story, to remind people that it wasn’t that long ago that Black Americans were not welcome in downtown Dallas.

Sorrell found a perfect canvas: the school’s basketball court in its new gym.

Dallas History

Tracing What Came Before and After Roe v. Wade

Kathy Wise
By |
She met her longtime partner, Connie Gonzles, in 1971, shortly after her second suicide a tempt. The two cleaned and painted apartments in South Dallas

No matter your stance on abortion, you likely don’t know this about Roe v. Wade: in the spring of 1969, Jane Roe, aka Norma McCorvey, was a 21-year-old lesbian who worked at the White Carriage, a gay bar in Dallas. That’s where she met a married World War II vet, twice her age, with whom she played pool and collected bets, despite the fact that he was short one finger. They’d get drunk and stoned together and occasionally have unprotected sex. By September, McCorvey found herself pregnant for the third time.

Her mother was already caring for her first daughter; Dallas attorney Henry McCluskey had helped her get the second adopted by a kind anesthesiologist and his wife in Richardson. The third child, by a third man, was also unwanted by McCorvey. This time she decided an abortion was her best option, so she again sought the counsel of McCluskey to see if there was any way she could obtain one. He advised her it was still against the law. But he had an idea.

McCluskey, a 24-year-old gay man who practiced in a state where his consensual sexual activity could land him in jail for up to 15 years, had recently filed a suit to overturn Texas’ sodomy law with the help of Linda Coffee, another young gay attorney in town. Coffee had been looking for an opportunity to challenge a different portion of the Texas Penal Code—the one that criminalized abortion—but she didn’t have a plaintiff. When McCluskey told Coffee he had a pregnant client who wanted an abortion, all that changed.

The rest of the landmark case’s history, which is revealed in Joshua Prager’s exhaustively researched new book, The Family Roe: An American Story, is equally dramatic. Prager, a long-standing journalist who has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Vanity Fair, first became curious when, in 2010, he read an article that noted that Roe v. Wade was decided too late for McCorvey to have an abortion. Prager wondered, What happened to the baby?

His journey started in Dallas with Connie Gonzales, McCorvey’s long-term significant other. Gonzales told Prager that many of the stories McCorvey had told the press over the years (about being raped, about a daughter being kidnapped, about becoming antiabortion) simply weren’t true. What was true: she was a woman whose pseudonym had eclipsed her complex life. The groundbreaking attorneys who represented her would face tragic loss. Her three daughters would eventually meet and try to find a way forward. And the nation-dividing case she set in motion would continue to ignite even after her death.

It’s a stunning read. The excerpt from our January issue is online today.

Dallas History

The Untold Dallas Origins of Roe v. Wade

Joshua Prager
By Joshua Prager |

Linda Nellene Coffee was born in Houston on Christmas Day in 1942. After a younger sister was born, the family of four moved to Dallas. There, every Sunday, they prayed at the large Southern Baptist church on Gaston Avenue, where Linda’s grandfather was a deacon.

The church was a hearth, home to more than prayer. It was where little Linda went for Sunday school and softball and choir, an alto in a dress.

Coffee liked the organ; in time, Bach would give her goosebumps. But after watching the band at Stonewall Jackson Elementary march into the school auditorium, she chose at age 9 to play the clarinet.

The second-grader’s first choice had been drums. “Something real physical and fun,” says Coffee. Dad had said no. But he said yes to softball; he coached the team. And so, his firstborn played shortstop and then catcher, crouching in mask and Jerry Coleman glove, writing her address in black marker on the back of its pocket: 5711 Anita.

Home on her lawny lane in suburban Dallas, Mary Coffee was too nervous and displeased to watch her daughter play; a girl ought not to squat. The housewife had long envisaged a daughter more like her—neat and conservative and feminine. Mary prettied her house and was at the beauty parlor every week. But her daughter hated housework almost as much as the bonnets her mom had once made her wear. The girl was not girly.

Dallas History

The Woman Who Saved Our Magazine

Tim Rogers
By |
jerrie marcus smith
Jerrie Marcus Smith

Blame Jerrie Marcus Smith. If D Magazine has published anything lately that has ruffled your feathers, if, in this very issue, we didn’t name your favorite restaurant as one of the best of the year, it’s Jerrie’s fault. She not only named the magazine, but she also kept it from going under.

The late Wick Allison, as publisher, and Jim Atkinson, as editor, founded the magazine in 1974. But before they got the presses rolling, they needed a name. Dallas Magazine was already taken. They found themselves one morning at Jerrie’s house, as she’d already committed her support to the endeavor, pondering alternate possibilities. Knowing Jim and having worked for Wick, I’ll say this was the only meeting the two ever had, at least in the ’70s, that was less than 80 proof.

“It was at my house because they didn’t have houses to go to,” Jerrie says. She’s 85 now and was their elder then. “They were college kids practically, just out of the University of Texas. Women’s Wear Daily had just put out a magazine called W. The boys weren’t reading that, but I was. I thought, Well, you know, why not D?”

The name grew to become one of the most recognized brands in North Texas. That almost didn’t happen. D came out of the gate with some audacious journalism—critical dining coverage, a first for the city; an exposé on the mayor, for which he sued—and advertisers weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Longevity was not, to understate, a given. Fortunately, Jerrie had done something that proved auspicious. She’d taken Wick and Jim to meet her father, Stanley Marcus, who’d agreed to send a note to his customers, along with their Neiman’s bills, encouraging them to subscribe to the new city magazine of Dallas. The cash infusion from those first subscribers kept the ink flowing until the magazine found its footing.

Until recently, I held the notion that Mr. Stanley deserved the credit for making Neiman Marcus what it is. He certainly gets a share. But I was delighted to read a new book by Jerrie and learn that it’s really her great-aunt Carrie Marcus Neiman whose vision led to the icon we know today. I was even more delighted when Jerrie said we could excerpt her book, which is online today. She’s still helping the magazine; we’re now even deeper in her debt.

One more thing: as we went to press in late October, I learned that an exhibition of some of the wonderful photographs from Jerrie’s book will be held at SMU’s DeGolyer Library. “An Eye for Elegance: Carrie Marcus Neiman” opens December 2 and runs through January. Read about it here, then go check it out.

Dallas History

Long Live the Science Place at Fair Park

Alex Macon
By |
The lobby at the Science Place at Fair Park is quiet, as it has been for years. But the solar system art on the floor remains.

Aven Stewart and Bailey Turfitt remember a lot from their youthful trips to the Science Place at Fair Park. The solar system art on the floor. Movies at the IMAX theater. The Electric Theater, with its Tesla coils and Faraday cages and lightning displays. Stewart even attended the Science Place School, a private school for kids in kindergarten and first grade.

The buildings that housed the Science Place—along with the Dallas Museum of Natural History and the Dallas Children’s Museum, all three of which merged in 2006—have sat unused for years. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science near Victory Park now carries the torch for science programming in Dallas.

But there was something special about the Science Place. Stewart credits the old museum for pushing him toward a career in software engineering. Turfitt says it helped nurture her interest in biology, which she studied at the University of North Texas. The two twentysomethings have spent much of the last two years working on a new project that is more than nostalgia. They have started the Science Place Foundation, a nonprofit that is assembling a vast archive of Science Place artifacts, recordings, and ephemera. Their goal is to honor the museum’s original mission, to “inspire innovation,” Stewart says.

“I wouldn’t say bring it back from the dead, because we don’t have any intention of creating a science museum,” he says. “But we want to create a museum for the Science Place. The goal is to help people remember it, and get people to remember what the message was. Then pass the message on by helping other children’s science museums and educational institutions deliver that message.”

The foundation is working with groups including the Dallas Municipal Archives, the Dallas Historical Society, and the Texas State Historical Association to help catalogue and preserve its growing collection. It includes videos, photos, old postcards, architectural plans, and pressed pennies