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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

As Strangeways Closes, Fitzhugh Avenue Changes Face Once Again

Christopher Mosley
By Christopher Mosley |
Strangeways, the beloved neighborhood bar on Fitzhugh Avenue, will close in October after a dozen years in business. Nan Coulter

About 20 years ago, two business partners were counting bricks of drugs and money in an empty bar on Fitzhugh Avenue. Two officers from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission walked into the run-down shopping center and interrupted the drug deal. The counters eyeballed each other, then pulled their guns on the TABC officers. They yell in broken English: GET THE F— OUT RIGHT NOW.

The officers complied, the story goes, and never returned. In the late 90s and early 2000s, scenes like this were unfolding regularly east of Central Expressway on Fitzhugh. The street was marked by clubs and bars that frequently made news for violence and drug busts.

If the dealers knew then that the present-day street value of queso and guacamole a few blocks down at Joe Leo Fine Tex Mex was easily moving at $14.49 a serving, they might have decided to trade crime for real estate.

Today, this stretch of Fitzhugh is home to an Australian coffee shop chain with no wi-fi and flanked by a growing number of mid-rise apartments with rent paid by people who probably would never imagine such scenes playing out steps away from their espressos.

Eric Sanchez is one of the keepers of this history. One recent afternoon, the co-owner of the 12-year-old bar Strangeways is impersonating those TABC officers, Foghorn Leghorn style, plucking at invisible suspenders. He is sitting outside of his business, which he opened with his family in August 2011.

He’s discussing the past because this beloved neighborhood bar is closing, the result of the landlord choosing to sell the building to another owner. A link to the former East Dallas and its future is going away with the closing of the bar. Swankier businesses at much higher price points threaten to swoop in and take its place. All the work the Strangeways family has put in could become part of the same mythology that defines old Fitzhugh, another tale told by the next loquacious barkeeps. If they know the story.

Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: 120 Years Since the Annexation of Oak Cliff

Brandon Murray
By |
The Dallas skyline as seen from Oak Cliff taken through the trees, circa 1928. From the Frank Rogers Collection, Dallas Public Library

This year marks the 120th anniversary of Oak Cliff’s annexation by the city of Dallas, in 1903. The neighborhood’s history stands out in many ways. Perhaps the most notable event was the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas Theater on November 22, 1963, when he attempted to evade police by hiding out in a screening of the film War Is Hell after he assassinated President John F. Kennedy and killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit.

Oak Cliff was the site of the Hord’s Ridge community, founded by slave owner William H. Hord in 1845. Another notable settler, William Brown Miller, moved to what is now the eastern Oak Cliff area in 1847. Miller, born in Kentucky, built a plantation and became one of the largest slave owners in Texas. Many descendants of the Miller slaves still gather for family reunions.

After the Civil War, flourishing Freedman’s Towns developed in the areas bound by the Trinity River to the north, Fleming Street to the west, Compton Street to the south, and the Trinity Heights streetcar line to the east. One of the only remaining intact Freedman’s Towns in the country is the Tenth Street Historic District. The Freedman’s Town along the Trinity River levee between the streetcar line, the Corinth Street bridge, and Eighth Street was known as The Bottom.

In 1887, Hord’s Ridge and several hundred acres on the south bank of the Trinity were purchased by Thomas L. Marsalis and John S. Armstrong. Initially conceived as a high-end residential area, the duo renamed the area Oak Cliff. By year’s end they sold over $60,000 worth of land for the project before Marsalis took over development following a dispute with Armstrong. Some of his projects included the Park Hotel, Oak Cliff Park—which later became the Marsalis Park and Zoo—and a railroad that operated down Jefferson Boulevard and toward Lake Cliff, eventually crossing the Trinity River.

In May 1908, heavy rain caused the Trinity River to crest over 50 feet, leading to major devastation throughout Dallas including Oak Cliff. Floodwaters in Oak Cliff was an issue that continued into the future. Over 200 homes in South Dallas and Oak Cliff were destroyed by floods in 1989 and 1990.

The area known as The Bottom saw a decline in the 1930s as the Great Depression and the construction of the Trinity River levee led to many residents moving away. The Bottom and the Tenth Street area were further impacted in 1955 when hundreds of homes were torn down for the construction of Interstate 35E, which also resulted in the bifurcation of Tenth Street from the western portions of the neighborhood.

Then came a tornado on April 2, 1957, tearing through Oak Cliff along with parts of West Dallas.

The photograph gallery herein shows a portion of the varied and important images of Oak Cliff’s enduring history. They can all be found in the archives of Dallas Public Library, from an image of the Texas Theater to the infamous 1908 flood and 1957 tornado. There are also several images Tenth Street neighborhood and The Bottom.

The Dallas Public Library has many other images showing Oak Cliff’s past. You can learn more by searching through the library’s online catalog. Go to “Advanced” and use the “Limit By” option to select “Digital Archive” then type in your topic.

Dallas History

A Strange Piece of Early Dallas History in the Great Trinity Forest Went Up In Flames

Matt Goodman
By |
Ben Sandifer walks up the concrete slab of the old Lock Keeper’s House in the Trinity Forest. It burned up in July. Matt Goodman

A piece of century-old Dallas history now lies in ashes in the Great Trinity Forest. The Lock Keeper’s House—or the Lock Keeper’s Quarters, as it was known in the early 1900s—caught fire in July and was consumed by flames, leaving only a concrete slab, a chimney, charred trees, and scattered ashes on a bluff above the Trinity River.

It was a surreal, obscure site that was difficult to access, a two-story Victorian-style house that pointed toward the McCommas Bluff preserve just south of the Trinity River Audubon Center. You can get there by following a concrete path from the Great Trinity Forest Gateway and Horse Trail, near Interstate 20, off Dowdy Ferry Road. You’ll still have to look out for the narrow path that leads up to the bluff, but the house would have been visible from points north. It was an eerie, unexpected structure ideal for drone footage and spooky music.

Fifty or so feet below the house, the river water rushes over the Trinity’s first lock and dam, one of the few physical reminders of a time when early Dallas planners envisioned the city as an inland port accessible to barges carrying goods to and from Galveston and Houston.

“It’s one of those things where you blame yourself. Why couldn’t I get anyone to buy it?” said Ben Sandifer, my tour guide for the day. Sandifer, an accountant whose passion lives in these woods, said it has been difficult to return to the site to see the dust of history.  


Against All Odds, KNON Celebrates 40 Years of Radio For the People

Natalie Weiner
By |
Some of the folks who make KNON what it is, 40 years in. From left, Charlie Don’t Park, Christian Lee, Blue Lisa, Dave Chaos, Gregg A. Smith, DJ EZ Eddie D, and DJ Kane. Kathy Tran

It doesn’t make any sense on paper that KNON, Dallas’ forever eclectic and totally community-supported radio station, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. 

“There’s the board that survived the tornado,” says station manager Dave Chaos, pointing at the cream-colored sound board in the main studio, alluding to the 2019 twister that demolished one of its several previous homes

“It’s survived more than that,” says Jesse Gonzalez, one of the station’s other three staffers. He’s setting up for his Friday afternoon slot as DJ Kane, where he spins the station’s trademark “Latin Energy” mix: a blend of Tejano, hip-hop, freestyle, cumbia, and more. He’s wearing a KNON baseball jersey that’s been stabbed with a little French flag pin as he sets up his controller. It’s Bastille Day, and producer Pierre Jacobson is a recent French expat. (I’m offered red, white, and blue cookies for the occasion.)

All around the studio are plaques commemorating people who have donated at least $1,000 to the station, including names familiar to long-time listeners as well as local companies like Jay Jones Realty and EZ Out Bail Bonds. These are the station’s most generous donors. In a radio world run by Audacy, Cumulus, and iHeartMedia (and to a far lesser extent, NPR), KNON gets no government or corporate support. Instead, it runs almost entirely on the enthusiasm of its volunteers who make up what has to be one of the most eclectic programming schedules in American radio. 

“We’re real people who love music, who spend a lot of time looking for music and sharing it with others,” says Chaos. “You can’t Google ‘What’s my next favorite song?’ or ‘What’s the next genre of music that I had never realized that I’m going to love?’ But there’s that person on KNON, that volunteer DJ, who is gonna share it with you.”

Gonzalez’ slot, which seamlessly combines Spanish and English-language music (and banter), is preceded by three hours of soul and blues by veteran singer Gregg A. Smith. It’s followed by Texas Renegade Radio — two hours of country music — and that’s just the Friday schedule from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nearly every musical demographic in North Texas gets airtime, so long as their DJs can meet their fundraising goals during the station’s pledge drives. 

Its motto, “The Voice Of The People,” is one adopted by many community stations. In KNON’s case, though, it feels uniquely accurate. “Nobody has the multi-format set up the way we have it,” says Gonzalez. “I think in some communities, it’s just not as welcome as it is in ours. We’re so diverse but we’re all the same out on the airwaves, just trying to take care of our people.” 

Dallas History

A New Exhibit Documents the History of Dallas’ Chinese American Restaurateurs

Nataly Keomoungkhoun
By |
A collection of photos from Chan's Chinese Cottage. Nataly Keomoungkhoun

In 1974, Shu-Chang “Buck” Kao opened Royal China in the Preston Royal shopping center. Buck was a retired Taiwanese diplomat from Hunan and a veteran of World War II. A chef from Taiwan joined him in the kitchen to help serve Mandarin, Sichuan, and Shanghainese dishes in Dallas, and Buck quickly became beloved by the community.

Today, Royal China is known for its hand-pulled noodles and xiao long bao. It’s also the longest-running family-owned Chinese restaurant in Dallas, after being passed on to Buck’s son and daughter-in-law, George and April Kao.  

The history of Royal China and several other Chinese restaurants in Dallas are being showcased in a new exhibit by the Dallas Asian American Historical Society, a nonprofit that launched in 2022 to record and preserve the history of these communities in North Texas. The show is being hosted by Preservation Dallas and will be on display inside the Wilson House through mid-September.

Stephanie Drenka and Denise Johnson, the co-founders of the Dallas Asian American Historical Society, made it their mission to pursue the project after coming across a matchbook on eBay from a restaurant called the China Clipper Café. They’ve since hunted down more matchbooks, menus, and historic photos from long-gone eateries like August Moon, Ming Garden, and Lim Yee Restaurant.

“Upon closer examination, you see addresses that are in the heart of Dallas,” says Christina Hahn, the exhibit’s creative director. “That got them thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, have we been here for that much longer?’”

Local News

Inside the Effort to Archive the History of the Tenth Street Historic District

By Amal Ahmed |
From left, Ángel Faz, Vicki Meek, Johnathan Norton, and Christian Vazquez. The four are part of an effort to archive the history of the Tenth Street Historic District. Jonathan Zizzo, courtesy Nasher Sculpture Center

In the late 1920s, Oak Cliff’s T-Bone Walker recorded “Trinity River Blues,” which featured a jaunty piano melody underpinning lyrics about the flooding in Black Dallas neighborhoods like The Bottom and Tenth Street. “That dirty Trinity River sure has done me wrong,” Walker croons. “It came in my window and doors. Now all my things are gone.”

Ahead of Juneteenth this year, local musician Stanley Glenn performed some of Walker’s most famous songs to a small audience gathered at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library downtown. The holiday marks the day that 250,000 enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Tenth Street, the neighborhood where Walker grew up, was founded by freed Black people after emancipation. The freedman’s town is still standing, but these days it’s not the Trinity River’s capricious flooding that threatens to wipe the neighborhood off the map. Current residents worry that gentrification and development, if left unchecked or unchallenged, will erase the historical significance and memories of the once thriving Black community that was damaged by the construction of Interstate 35 in 1959. 

Saturday’s Juneteenth events showcased some of the ongoing efforts to preserve Tenth Street’s history while supporting its residents in creating public archives. On the library’s seventh floor, residents of Tenth Street contributed photos and personal effects to create an archive that documents the neighborhood in its heyday: modest churches nestled among Craftsman-style houses; photos of weddings, family reunions, and civil rights protests. Lou Nell Sims, whose father used to run a tailor shop in Tenth Street, contributed personal artifacts from the store. “It tells the story of people and families who worked hard to survive here,” she says.

Dallas History

Juanita Craft’s Little White House Is Now a Museum

Catherine Wendlandt
By |
When restoring the Juanita Craft house after the 2018 flood, Spriggins says they relied heavily on the building’s historical structural report, which recounted the home’s physical past. “That document became the guide for how we needed to approach the rehabilitation of the house.” Isometric Studio

Hundreds of people packed into buses at Fair Park on May 20, but Patricia Perez had other plans. They were all heading to Juanita Craft’s house at 2618 Warren Avenue, to celebrate the reopening of a museum that took more than six years of work. Perez, who turns 70 in September, skipped the bus ride. She had her ride share driver drop her off at her aunt’s old house in South Dallas. She then walked the familiar three-block route to the freshly painted white craftsman on Warren, a trot she’d made hundreds of times before.

Perez met the civil rights activist on Saturday, October 2, 1965. Her mother had sent her and her little brother from New York City to live with family in Dallas. When she picked the kids up from Love Field, their aunt said, “I have someone I want you to meet.” An hour and a half later, 12-year-old Perez was knocking on the back door of Craft’s home. The woman who met them was unforgettable.

“Mrs. Craft was a large woman in physical stature,” Perez remembers. “But whenever she opened her mouth, you realized if she had been four feet tall, she would have still been a large human being. And at 12 I knew that.”

The influence Juanita Craft had on Dallas, and across the country, was just as large. “I don’t think the city recognizes her impact and legacy continues today,” says HERitage founder Froswa’ Booker-Drew, who served on the museum steering committee and pushed the State Fair of Texas to donate thousands of dollars to the museum efforts. “The impact that Ms. Craft had is beyond South Dallas. It’s national.”

Over a period of 50 years, the longtime South Dallas resident registered thousands of people to vote, organized citywide cleanup campaigns, and served two terms on the Dallas City Council. She worked to integrate the State Fair, the Dallas Independent School District, and colleges like University of North Texas. As a leader in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she founded more than 180 local NAACP chapters and hosted a long roster of activists, politicians, dignitaries, and celebrities, like Thurgood Marshall, in her humble, 1,300-square-foot home.

“You’d be surprised the kind of people coming in and out of that house, everybody from presidents to senators to ambassadors,” says Peter Johnson, a Civil Rights activist and longtime friend of Craft. “I mean, it is a museum whether you want it to be or not.”

Craft donated her house to the city of Dallas after her death in 1985. It took nearly 40 years for her house to be officially opened as a museum and a monument to the local civil rights movement. Unlike other Dallas museums, the Juanita Craft house doesn’t tower over freeways or take up whole city blocks.

It sits, as it always has, quietly in the middle of the Wheatley Place neighborhood, ready to host anyone from a Supreme Court justice to a teenaged neighbor.

The offer to me was straightforward: talk with Roe v. Wade attorney Linda Coffee about her case archive, which will be up for auction in Los Angeles on Friday. (Bidding for the collection, which includes nearly 150 documents, letters, and artifacts, starts at $50,000.)

The prospect was strangely emotional. Until I read Joshua Prager’s 2021 book, The Family Roe, I did not understand the extent to which the lawsuit’s many players were tied to Dallas. Nor did I understand how many of them were, like me, gay. All I knew was that the case had impacted my life as a woman in America — and as a lawyer and as a woman who was able to finally marry her longtime partner in 2013 — in innumerable ways.

The resulting interview? Downright entertaining.

When I talked with Coffee and her partner, Rebecca Hartt, on the phone yesterday, the two continually finished each other’s sentences and talked over one another, as long-term couples are wont to do. It was heart-warming. And also a little bit shame-inducing, as they clearly view it as the obligation of the “younger generation” (they couldn’t see my white hair over the phone) to take up the now fragmented 50-state battle over privacy and equal protection rights.

But before we got to chatting, because it was such a pretty day both in Dallas and at their home in Mineola, they suggested that I go out for a picnic, or at least for some barbecue. The conversation that followed has been edited for length and clarity.

Local News

A Family’s East Texas Ancestry Was Brought to Life in the AT&T Discovery District

By Garrett Tarango |
In “The Mount Experience,” producer Rodney Hawkins documented the restoration of the 200-year-old Old Mount Gillion cemetery in East Texas, which was near the edge of his family’s property. The AT&T Discovery District presented an exhibit showing photos of the project and of Hawkins’ family story. Kwesi Yanful

For the last five weeks, the lobby of AT&T headquarters has transported visitors to the Piney Woods of Nacogdoches through an exhibit called the Mount Experience. Visitors were introduced to the Old Mount Gillion Cemetery, an approximately 200-year-old site that nature’s overgrowth concealed long ago, obscuring the history of those who were buried there.

Rodney Hawkins, a former CBS News producer and founder of Tiny Hawk Productions, began asking his relatives questions about their ancestry after a family trip during the summer of 2020.

“We are a very fortunate family, we still own over 150 acres in East Texas, and that is very rare in the Black community,” Hawkins says. “I was curious as to how we were able to hold on to that amount of land.”

His relatives didn’t have answers, but they directed him to Old Mount Gillion, which sits deep in the backwoods bordering the family property.

Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: Travel Back In Time to 1923

Brandon Murray
By |
It’s opening day for the Majestic Theater nearly 100 years ago, in 1923. From the Interstate Theater Collection, Dallas Public Library

One month into 2023, I find myself pondering the past. What moments will shape history over the next 12 months, and how has the world changed in the past 100 years? Warner Bros. Studios was founded in 1923, the same year the first issue of Time magazine was published. That year, Calvin Coolidge took office as the 30th President of the United States and the International Criminal Police Commission (Interpol) was established with headquarters in Vienna.

What was Dallas like in 1923? 

Take a look at Dallas 100 years ago with this gallery of images from the photograph collections of the Dallas History & Archives Division. There are some heartwarming images, such as a lovely group photograph of women gathered together on the porch of the Salvation Army Young Women’s Boarding House on Corsicana Street near the Cedars. There is a nighttime exterior photo of “Big Time Vaudeville” at the Majestic Theater in its first year of operation, and the Dallas Times Herald held an employee picnic for the now long-gone newspaper.

However, there are sobering images too. Most notably, a photograph of the first parade of Klanswomen, also known as the Order of American Women, held in Texas as they marched down Elm street in Dallas.

Visit the gallery to see our city a full century ago, courtesy the archives of the Dallas Public Library.

Dallas History

A New Documentary Lets Joppa Preservationists Share Their Own History

Todd Jorgenson
By Todd Jorgenson |
Cue & Coda Films

As outsiders chronicled the rich cultural legacy and historic preservation efforts in the Joppa neighborhood of southern Dallas, the residents who live in the community felt like they needed to tell their own story.

So community advocates commissioned documentary filmmaker Curshion Jones for a project celebrating last year’s 150th anniversary of one of the few preserved freedman’s towns in North Texas. Created in conjunction with the South Central Civic League, 150 Years of Resiliency: A Joppa Documentary will have its first public screening this weekend as part of the Denton Black Film Festival.

“There’s been a lot of news coverage. They wanted to tell it from their point of view,” Jones said. “There was no history in terms of tangible things other than just hearing the stories.”

Joppa — which is pronounced and was originally spelled Joppee — was one of more than 30 freedman’s communities formed in North Texas in the decade following the abolition of slavery. Situated between Interstate 45 and the Great Trinity Forest, with railroad tracks on one side and the Trinity River on the other, the neighborhood is known for its “shotgun houses” that date back generations. The land was annexed by the city of Dallas in 1955. Today, there are about 300 homes and a population of less than 1,000.

The Longhorn Ballroom should finally be amplified this spring. Preservation advocates have feared for years that the legendary venue would be torn down. A plan to renovate the property in 2017 ended in bankruptcy and lawsuits.

Then in walked Edwin Cabaniss. He is the person who will bring the music back, the same guy responsible for the sound coming out of the PAs at the Kessler Theater in Oak Cliff and The Heights Theater in Houston. He bought the Longhorn in 2021, about four years after it had been purchased by a different owner who made some improvements but ran out of money and had to declare bankruptcy. The Longhorn was operating for about 18 months, mostly attracting one-off events.

Cabaniss now has $4 million in city subsidies behind him, which will help bring much-needed infrastructure improvements to the area surrounding the ballroom.  

Built for Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in 1950, the Longhorn is certainly the most historic venue left in Dallas, if not the entire state of Texas. It has played host to too many acts to list, but we can try: Ray Charles, Al Green, Selena, Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Charley Pride, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, the Sex Pistols, Otis Redding. It was once run by Jack Ruby. But the legacy Cabaniss is following is largely that of operator Dewey Groom, who refused to call the Longhorn a honky-tonk, preferring instead to brand it the “nation’s most unique ballroom.” In addition to the country mainstays, Groom welcomed blues and soul acts in the 1960s and helped book the famous Sex Pistols show in 1978.

Cabaniss says the first shows will be announced “soon.” Spring is two months away.

He has released a YouTube video showing construction, appropriately set to Johnny Cash’s “Sixteen Tons,” which shows sparks flying from metalwork, new wood framing, and a 6,000-pound, 60-foot steel beam coming in through the side of the building. The Longhorn will be booked by Cabaniss’ independent agency, Kessler Presents. At 23,000 square feet and 2,000 capacity, the ballroom dwarfs Cabaniss’ other ventures, the Kessler (350 capacity) and the Heights Theater (500).

He sees the Longhorn as an extension for the bands that regularly play those venues before outgrowing them.

“We take great pride that many artists build their fan bases at the Kessler Theater and then graduate to bigger rooms,” Cabaniss wrote in a statement. He was out of town this week and unavailable for an interview. “With the addition of the Longhorn Ballroom, we can continue to grow with them.”

The city of Dallas, meanwhile, sees preserving and improving the space as a spark.