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D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: When Will We Fix the Problem of Our Architecture?

Pacific Plaza
Pacific Plaza was once a parking lot, and now it is a public gathering space. Bill Tatham

In 1980, a few years before he became the architecture critic for the Dallas Morning News, the late David Dillon asked a bold question in our pages: Why is Dallas’ architecture so bad? Near the end of the story, he quoted Henry Cobb, one of the architects of One Dallas Center.

“Dallas is now at a crossroads in its development. On the one hand, it has to avoid purely arbitrary invention, mere thingery; on the other, it has to avoid creating dozens of homogenized buildings that are simply dropped onto a site and left. The goal is to create a true urban context.”

Back then, the downtown Arts District was just a proposal. Famed architect I.M. Pei had already built City Hall and Cobb was responsible for One Dallas Center while working for Pei’s firm. Philip Johnson had Thanks-Giving Square, but much of downtown Dallas was designed by local architects. Dillon writes in his story that about 20 percent of the 900-acre “central core” was undeveloped. “The city is up for grabs architecturally.” He says, “Although there is an estimated $300 million in new construction in downtown Dallas, there are few good buildings.”

He leads with the positive, the shimmering Hyatt Regency, a “clear statement about the city,” “chic, glittery, futuristic” that calls up images of affluence, high fashion, and self-confidence.” Who was responsible for it? Seattle native Welton Becket.

This sentence from Dillon could have been written last year: “A city that gives tickets for jaywalking and sleeping on benches in front of City Hall and forces street vendors to sell food prepared and wrapped in some sanitary kitchen 10 miles away doesn’t really understand urban life, however well it may understand ordinances.”

As could this: “Like most southwestern cities, Dallas has developed an unnatural dependency on the automobile, generally at the expense of street life. Historically, downtown Dallas was a highly urbane place, with shops, hotels, and offices organized into a tight, cohesive fabric. At the moment, Dallas is mainly a series of towering glass boxes interrupted by parking lots. Visitors are constantly surprised to find sidewalks suddenly playing out in mid-stride, or else being sliced in two by a major traffic artery.”

Now let’s jump 44 years into the present. The current News architecture critic, Mark Lamster, dwelled on a similar topic just last month: “How to Make Dallas Architecture Less Boring.” He landed on the idea that the city needs its own architecture school, perhaps housed in one of our now-empty office towers that Dillon wrote about in 1980.

We still have a parking dependency problem. It still is an awful experience walking around downtown, all of which Lamster—and we at D Magazinehave explored in recent years. There have been positive strides, too, perhaps most notably the transition of downtown surface parking lots into parks and greenspace. “You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of downtown commercial buildings that acknowledge the existence of a pedestrian public,” Dillon wrote.

“Why Is Dallas Architecture So Bad?” is one of the 50 greatest stories we’ve ever published, in part because it is both time capsule and warning, one that we have heeded in some ways and ignored in many others. Nearly half a century later, and the newspaper’s architecture critic is still pulling at the same threads Dillon did in our pages.

The kicker of his story lines up with Lamster’s recent piece. I’m going to spoil it for you.

Louis Kahn, designer of the Kimbell Art Museum, once described a city as “a place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.” Perhaps in a few years, if the choices that are made now are enlightened instead of expedient, a small boy will look up at the Dallas skyline and decide that he wants to become an architect.

In 1980, Cullen Davis, the richest person to ever be tried for murder, was back in his Fort Worth mansion after two years in prison. His highly publicized trial, in which he was charged with killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter during a home invasion, had ended with a verdict of not guilty following the wizardry of famed attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, whose cross examination of Davis’ ex-wife, Priscilla, was so stirring that legal observers knew a conviction wouldn’t happen even though another 10 weeks of testimony remained.   

Two years prior brought an allegation that Davis attempted to hire a hitman to kill the judge presiding over his divorce. He was facing a wrongful death lawsuit from Priscilla, who had been wounded in the shooting, and prosecutors hadn’t tried him for the murder of his ex-wife’s new partner, Stan Farr.

That’s a lot to process. And so when he and his third wife, Karen, walked to the front of First Baptist Church of Euless to formally accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior, it was not a surprise to everyone. The longtime legal reporter Allen Pusey in 1980 got curious about this new chapter of his life, how a man who famously once screened Deep Throat during the Colonial Invitational Golf Tournament and was known for lavish parties and late nights decided to lay down his life for God.

His story, “The Conversion of Cullen,” is one of our 50 greatest, a companion piece of sorts to Tom Stephenson’s 1977 chronicle of the murders, “Is Priscilla Davis’ Story True?” The conversion was the work of the evangelical televangelist James Robison, an imposing 37-year-old preacher who had ambitions of his own Billy Graham-style enterprise. His rhetoric from nearly half a century ago may have been novel then, but is now part of our body politic: government has overstepped and forgotten God, creating space for “the radicals, the communists, the feminists, the gays,” as he once said.

In Cullen, he saw opportunity. “God has a task for you,” he once told his wealthy parishioner. “I think you could be extremely helpful in His work.” (Here’s where Cullen is today.)

Pusey doesn’t suggest that Cullen’s conversion was false, but he lays out how it happened and what happened after it did. Robison was certainly onto something. In 1981, Texas Monthly profiled the preacher it called “God’s Angry Man.”

Johnny Cash calls him a man of destiny. W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, describes him as “a new star in the galaxy of God’s flaming, shining lights who point men to Christ.” Jerry Falwell proclaims him to be “the prophet of God for this day.” And the late H. L. Hunt called him “the most effective communicator I have ever heard.”

Almost twenty years ago James Robison set himself a course that many felt would eventually enable him to fill the gap left in the hearts, minds, and stadiums of America when Billy Graham passed from the scene. His blunt, sometimes crude forthrightness probably makes that expectation unrealistic, but this same quality has helped propel him to a position of public leadership second only to Falwell’s in what has come to be called the Evangelical New Right.

Pusey’s piece follows Cullen and establishes the foundation for this movement. It’s one of the greatest stories we’ve ever published, and you can read it here.

Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: Scenes from 1949, When the Mob Ruled Dallas

Authorities conducting police raid on a policy game gambling operation in Dallas on December 29, 1949. The illegal policy ring was operated in part by the Urban Distribution Company and gambler Benny Binion. Shown from left to right: Jim Mathis, Dallas District Attorney Will Wilson and Dallas Police Chief Carl Hansson. From the Hayes Collection, Dallas Public Library

A cool thing about working in an archive are the discoveries revealed through customer requests. While looking for a photograph of a cemetery, I stumbled across photographs related to the funeral of Mildred Noble. She was the wife of a well-known Dallas gambler from the 1940s named Herbert “The Cat” Noble, who was the intended target of the car bomb that took her life. While I was aware of Noble, this aspect of his story, that his wife was killed instead of him, is one of the many rabbit holes one can go down in the Dallas Public Library archives.

Herbert Noble did eventually die on August 7, 1951, ending a feud with then-Dallas gambling kingpin Lester “Benny” Binion that began in 1946 after Noble refused to pay an increased percentage of his gambling profits demanded by Binion for “protection.” Noble survived at least 10 attempts on his life including multiple shootings in which he was wounded several times and two car bombs in 1949. Ultimately, it was an explosive in his driveway that killed him while he was retrieving mail. His death was featured in Time magazine a week later.

What else happened that year of poor Mildred’s unfortunate demise? I found many fascinating 75-year-old images, all from 1949, which cover a wide range of events. There were other photographs related to organized crime in Dallas, such as a series that shows authorities conducting a police raid on a policy game gambling operation in December 1949. A policy game operates like a lottery, in that people bet on numbers with the intent that their selection is chosen in a drawing. The illegal policy ring was operated in part by the Urban Distribution Company and none other than Benny Binion.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Explosion that Forever Changed West, Texas

The remains of West Fertilizer Co., in 2013. Elizabeth Lavin

I lived in West, Texas—the comma always pronounced or else it gets really confusing really fast—until I was 20 and moved to Austin to go to UT. It’s a tiny town that hugs I-35, built mostly by Czech immigrants like my great-grandparents. My dad was a schoolteacher, then an administrator, spending the last part of his career as the superintendent of West ISD. My sister was salutatorian of her class. My brother was an All-State pitcher who dueled future major-leaguer Arthur Rhodes at the diamond two blocks from where we lived. I read a lot. 

But that version of West went away, or started to, anyway, on the evening of April 17, 2013. Wednesday will mark 11 years since.

The house I grew up in is gone, and so is the one across the street where I spent the first few years of my life, where we grew green beans in the backyard and where my first pet, a fluffy cat named Chewbacca, died. The park where I played basketball and football and once got into an epic fight with some other kids that seemed like the most important thing that would ever happen to me—gone. So is the apartment complex where those kids lived, and the rest home across the street where my great-grandmother, my mom’s grandma, spent her 90s. The water tank at the end of Reagan Street, all my friends’ houses, my old middle school. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.  

The only tangible remnant of my first two decades is an oak tree in what used to be my front yard, small enough that we once were able to hop over it with a running start, now looming over a property I can’t recognize. “You can’t go home again” is beyond shopworn now and was never meant to be taken literally. But sometimes it’s the only thing you can say. 

The beginning of the end happened when an ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people, injured 200 others, and resulted in the eventual destruction of more than 300 homes. Some people never rebuilt. It took others a few years to move on, even when what they had lost was replaced. I was lucky. I just lost a few memories. 

But I did gain something. In reporting and writing about the explosion and its immediate aftermath, I was able to reconnect with a lot of old friends, and I still talk to one of them, Mike Lednicky, pretty regularly, usually late at night when the kids have gone to bed. So I guess I did get my home back in a way. 

“Love and Loss in a Small Texas Town” ran in June 2013, two months after the explosion. It is one of the 50 greatest stories we’ve ever published, and you can read it here.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The ‘Bareknuckle Journalism’ of Early 1900s Dallas

Despite — or perhaps because of — the cramped and noisy newsroom in which they worked, Dispatch reporters were a close-knit and loyal group.

For nearly 40 years—through two World Wars and prohibition—Dallas’ third newspaper made its name producing journalism for working class residents. The Dallas Dispatch fought the Klan and utility price hikes. Its reporters drank booze “the way most offices consume coffee.” They spent hours in the Trinity River bottoms, staking out Bonnie and Clyde. They jumped on ambulances, sometimes beating cops to the scene. Sometimes they identified victims before the cops could.

The first office was on a stretch of Commerce Street now occupied by Interstate 35. The next was on Federal, near Akard Street, where half a dozen bordellos operated through prohibition. (Its reporters visited for, apparently, story ideas.) The Times-Herald and the Morning News were more buttoned up. The Dispatch really went for it, and in 1979, alumnus Al Harting recounted the scrappy history of its 36 years of publishing. Which, tragically, came to an end after being gutted by its parent company to help subsidize failing newspapers elsewhere in the country. (Sound familiar?)

The end came fast. There were few artifacts left from its nearly four decades; the Dallas Public Library doesn’t even have a full accounting. Its building was torn down for a parking lot, and Al scooped up a dozen or so bricks to remember it by. But we also have this story, which presents Dallas journalism at its most cut-throat, fast-moving, and, dare I say, fun.

It’s one of our 50 greatest stories, and you can read it here.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: A Brief History of Cedar Springs

TMC and S4 on Cedar Springs. Developer Mike Ablon wants to put up some tall residential towers behind these, keeping the bars exactly as they are. Elizabeth Lavin

In 1979, the writer David Bauer went down to Cedar Springs. The Old Plantation was the most popular gay bar in town, so successful that its owners had opened other concepts in Houston, El Paso, and Tampa, Florida. But it took a lot of resilience to get to that point. As Bauer wrote, “the Old Plantation’s life has been nearly snuffed more than once – by arson, by sabotage, by police harassment, by legal hassles, by cutthroat competition.”

His story, “Lords of an Underground Empire,” chronicles the rise of what became the city’s most important block for the LGBTQ+ community. The Old Plantation is today S4 and The Mining Company. Sue Ellen’s is one of the nation’s few remaining lesbian bars. The Round-Up Saloon still offers its daytime dance lessons and turns into a lively club at night. Newcomers like Roy G.’s have become stalwarts.

But it all goes back to the 1970s and the vision of Frank Caven and Charley Hott, who fought through the violence and homophobia and police brutality to provide spaces for Dallas’ gay community.

In 2021, Caven Enterprises sold its holdings to developer Mike Ablon, who wants to build mixed-use towers behind the old buildings. He says those buildings won’t come down, and he’s keeping the tenants, because of the history of the block and its sense of place. He says he recognizes how important it is to Dallas, even as the city changes around it.

His project is on hold until interest rates come down, per the Dallas Voice, but it’s telling that Caven wanted to find a developer who would promise to keep that history intact while working around it. That intent starts in the 1970s, and it comes through today in Bauer’s story. It’s one of the 50 best we’ve ever published, and you can read it here.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Tragic End of Architect George Dahl’s Life

George Dahl oversaw the design and construction of 26 Art Deco buildings at Fair Park, including the Hall of State. Josh Blaylock

George Dahl was one of the architects who built Dallas. He certainly was the drive behind Fair Park, leading the planning and construction of 26 Art Deco-style buildings ahead of the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition. He divided the park into four sub-districts, centered upon the 700-foot-long Esplanade that led to the ornate Hall of State.

The Neiman Marcus building downtown, the First National Bank building, the Statler Hilton, the old Dallas Morning News ‘Rock of Truth’ building, the News’ new digs in the old library, WFAA’s low-slung modern structure next door—all Dahl.

Which is part of why this magazine commissioned the writer David Bauer to follow the messy family saga that capped off the end of his life. His daughter, Gloria, and her husband, Ted, asked a court for guardianship of the 83-year-old architect in 1978. The Akins didn’t believe him to be competent to manage his finances and other business, and were concerned that his decision to marry the younger Joan Renfro was fueled by her manipulation. Dahl argued that his family was coming after the trust belonging to his late wife, of which he was the sole trustee.

The Akins wanted a court to remove Dahl as the trustee, which ultimately failed. A lower court affirmed the decision. Ten years ago, when we featured this piece as part of our 40 greatest stories package, my former colleague Jason Heid dialed the Dallas lawyer and judge Ted Akin, Dahl’s son-in-law.

He called the decision “one of the most tragic miscarriages of justice,” one that “changed precedent that dated back to 1750 in England.” The ruling resulted in the dissolution of the trust, and Dahl took control of its millions of dollars. Akin argued that the judges were hemmed to a Supreme Court ruling that made it “easier for plaintiff’s lawyers bringing similar suits in the future than in the true merits of the case.”

Here’s how Jason summed up the end of Dahl’s life, in the years after Bauer’s story was published:

Dallas History

John ‘Lucky’ Luckadoo Is a Master of the Air

Mark Dent
Maj. John "Lucky" Luckadoo, WWII pilot, 100th Bomb Group, holds his hand on his chest as the the US Air Force Color Guard from Joint Base Charleston presents the Colors on Friday. May 26, 2023 during the Flags for the Fallen opening ceremony at the National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force. Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News / USA TODAY NETWORK

John “Lucky” Luckadoo may be the most popular man in Dallas. In January, he met Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg at the Hollywood premiere for Masters of the Air, an Apple TV+ miniseries depicting World War II’s 100th Bomb Group. On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, actor Austin Butler named-dropped Luckadoo. “I’m sorry — what’s his name?” Colbert responded. “Yeah. Amazing,” Butler said. 

Luckadoo is one of the last living members of the 100th Bomb Group. Some 80 years ago, he flew 25 combat missions in Nazi-occupied Europe in a B-17 Flying Fortress, acting as pilot and co-pilot in near-impossible circumstances. The 100th Bomb Group earned the nickname the Bloody Hundredth from its severe casualty rate. Around 77 percent of its original members were wounded, killed, or captured. The total number of casualties of the group’s parent division, the Eighth Air Force, was 26,000 — a casualty rate of about 67 percent. 

“What the 100th lacks in luck, it makes up for in courage,” 100th Bomb Group leader Lt. Col. John Bennett once remarked.  

Luckadoo, like his peers, had courage. But he also had luck (his biography is titled Damn Lucky). He turns 102 on March 16, can still drive, and lives independently at Presbyterian Village North in North Dallas, where he’s been watching most of the episodes of Masters of the Air with the community. The show’s finale is set for March 15, the same day Apple TV+ premieres a Hanks-narrated documentary about the Bloody Hundredth, featuring Luckadoo.     

I met up with Luckadoo in early March to talk about the grim realities of serving in World War II, his life in Dallas, and how it felt to have his story told by Hollywood. (Our conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

Dallas History

For One Night Only, the Kessler Theater Turns Into the Starck Club

Danny Gallagher
The scene at the Starck Club during its peak. Photo courtesy of The Dallas Morning News

New York City had Studio 54, London had the Hippodrome, and Dallas had The Starck Club.

The West End venue, named for its Parisian designer Philippe Starck, defined the nightlife scene in Dallas throughout the 80s and reveled in the excesses of the decadent decade, powered by a new and curious drug called ecstasy. DJ Mark Ridlen says there’s more to The Starck Club than meets history’s narrow eye, a cultural touchstone that meant far more than the unchecked libido of the clubgoers.

“All they talk about is the drug busts, ‘Who shot J.R.?,’ and the 80s but you’ve never seen a club with such an eclectic lineup over the years whether it was a band, fashion shows, plays, performance art,” Ridlen says. “You name it. They had it.”

The Kessler is bringing back The Starck Club for its 40th anniversary reunion by transforming into the venue for five hours on Sunday May 12 into a new version of the influential Dallas nightclub. Kessler Artistic Director Jeff Liles said the event sold quickly: it took less than a week to sell out. It is not dissimilar to the venue’s tribute to the long-gone Video Bar, a room that was influential in the avant-garde scene of the 1980s.

“We love paying homage to the venues that made Dallas culture what it was,” Liles says. “It was happening right at the same time as the emergence of the Deep Ellum scene.”

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Hockaday School’s Long History in Dallas

Ela Hockaday, the founder of her namesake school.

The Hockaday School has been a fixture of Dallas for the last 110 years, ever since a group of wealthy parents brought Miss Ela Hockaday to the city and charged her with starting a college preparatory school for their daughters.

In 1978, the writer Prudence Mackintosh, fresh off teaching at the school, explored its history and place in (what was then) modern Dallas. Miss Hockaday knew how to curry favor in the city: she built a board consisting of the city’s “most powerful civic leaders,” folks like Herbert Marcus, father of Stanley, and the businessman and philanthropist R.W. Higginbotham. In later years, the board would be filled with a mayor (J. Erik Jonsson) and a co-founder of Texas Instruments (Eugene McDermott).

“Most of them had daughters,” Mackintosh wrote.

The school’s first classes took place in a small home on Haskell Avenue on September 25, 1913, with just 10 students. (Hockaday opened just four days after its namesake got to town.) It eventually moved to a campus on the Caruth farm near Greenville and Belmont before finding its longtime home off Forest Lane, in a building designed to resemble the work of architect Mies van der Rohe.

Tuition in 1978 ran $1,075 for pre-kindergarten ($5,300 adjusted for inflation) and $3,205 for a high school senior (which would be $15,800 in 2024). Current tuition is now $32,095 for pre-K and $38,082 for grades 5 and up. Its $160 million endowment is, per Private School Review, the highest in the state. The endowment has grown from $3.5 million when Mackintosh wrote her story.

Things have changed at Hockaday. The boarding program will end in 2025, and students no longer have to wear white dresses to graduation. Mackintosh’s story is also about exploring how the school’s long history had lingered on its campus, which is surely relevant today.

“Why Hockaday Girls Are Different” is one of our 50 greatest stories, and you can read it here.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: Heartbroken at the Stoneleigh

The lions and the Stoneleigh. Photography by Leah Clausen

The Stoneleigh Terrace Hotel in 1977 sat across from a pharmacy that had been turned into a bar and grill, the Stoneleigh P, a few years prior. The P seemed to be where the action was, populated by “a real cross-section of humanity,” as “an earnest-looking fellow at the bar” described to a Dallas Morning News reporter around that time. Timothy Leary gave an interview at the P to a young Mike Shropshire. Retired Cowboys legend Duane Thompson sipped coffee with Randy Galloway.

Across the street was a different scene. Stoic, a little strange, sometimes sad. Two stone lions stared out at the 2900 block of Maple Avenue from beside the steps leading to the hotel. KSKY, the “station in the sky,” had broadcast from the penthouse for more than four decades, packing in 25-piece orchestras to record in the 1940s and hosting interviews with Bear Bryant and Lyndon Johnson in the 1950s.

And down on the ground level of the hotel was the Lions Den, the smoky hotel bar where “the really cute people” started filing out around 7 p.m. and left the lovelorn divorcees to their scotch and sodas. The writer A.C. Greene spent weeks drinking alongside these men, then turned it into one of the greatest stories we’ve ever published: “Heartbreak Hotel.”

This is a story about the past, one of those great moment-in-time pieces that captures a different stretch of Maple than the one we have today (not to mention the version that’s coming). Greene was good at that sort of thing; he was a columnist at both the Dallas Times Herald and the Dallas Morning News, and was unofficially known as “the dean of Texas letters” upon his death in 2002.

And so his snapshot is intimate and full of little details: “The Lions Den is, therefore, the bar at the Stoneleigh; dark interior with funny little red lights that twinkle dimly near the ceiling, so that you are tempted to sit and look at them for hours, speculating whether they are hooked up to some electrical relay that makes them blink, or if they were improperly installed and merely blink from a poor contact.”

The Stoneleigh, which was built in 1923, was purchased by the hotel chain Le Méridien in 2013. Marriott bought Le Meridien in 2016. And so the Lions Den is long gone. The hotel bar still is strangely connected to the lobby, but the space is flooded with light and the little nooks and hiding spots and the regulars have disappeared. It feels like a hotel bar, not like the Lions Den.

Change is coming to this block of Maple. The Stoneleigh P, which burned down in the early 1980s and was rebuilt, will move to the nondescript highway known as Lemmon Avenue after its landlord refused to renew its lease. It will replace a restaurant called Eggcellent. Maple Terrace, a historic location itself, will soon be a collection of expensive boutique office and residential space. Uchi is doing good business down the block, and Nick and Sam’s is seemingly always humming.

Cities change. Maple already looks radically different than it did when Greene was chatting up divorcées, and the departure of the Stoneleigh P will buff away even more history. But those two stone lions out front remain, watching the buildings and people come and go, go and come.

“Heartbreak Hotel” is one of our 50 greatest stories, and you can read it right here.

Most mentions of the Starck Club are slick with a sweaty layer of nostalgia. How Grace Jones opened the place. How you entered through shiny black doors into a countercultural touchstone that blew the minds of New Order and whose curios even attracted a Young Republicans fundraiser attended by George W. Bush and Maureen Reagan. Weekday fundraisers with Ross Perot Sr., weekends with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” And ecstasy. Lots and lots of ecstasy.

This week’s edition of our 50 greatest stories is “Ecstasy & Agony at the Starck Club,” the writer Richard West’s chronicling of the club’s collapse. Starck opened in 1984 under a Woodall Rodgers overpass, near the West End, and quickly became the epicenter of ecstasy, (also known then as MDMA, and now as molly). It shuttered four years after the Drug Enforcement Agency made MDMA illegal, in July 1985.

West chronicles the end of the club through the story of 23-year-old Rodney Glenn Kitchens, a kid from Waxahachie who moved with his family to Dallas and was reborn as Dino in the Starck Club. He and his co-conspirators flooded the space with MDMA, well past the point in which it was legal to sell.

The story, from October 1989, is not a nostalgia bomb. It’s a portrait of decline, how the party ends even if people aren’t ready to leave the unisex bathrooms. There isn’t a single mention of the club’s namesake, the exacting French architect Philipe Starck, nor any navel-gazing at how the club changed lives as it changed the city 20 years after the assassination of JFK.

Here’s a taste: