A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Arts District

We Can Thank H. Ross Perot for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center

| 6 days ago

There are a lot of memories surfacing of H. Ross Perot, who passed away on Monday, but any recollection of the man and his impact on Dallas would be incomplete without acknowledging his role in the development of one of the city’s truly exceptional cultural treasures: the Meyerson Symphony Center. In 2000, we published an excerpt from Laurie Shulman’s book about the development of the Meyerson, The Meyerson Symphony Center: Building a Dream, and it contains an anecdote that perfectly captures Perot’s selfless, sharp-minded, and determined character.

In 1984, the dream of building a grand symphony hall for Dallas’ struggling orchestra was anything but a sure bet. The Arts District was mostly a collection of vacant lots. The symphony was in bad financial shape, and it was still playing at the Music Hall of Fair Park, a lovely building but one with the acoustical appeal of a barn. Still, boosters believed the orchestra–which had the distinction of being the first symphony in the country to declare bankruptcy–could become one of the best symphonic ensembles in the world if it only had a suitable home.

Symphony boosters tasked a young Robert Decherd–the Dealey family scion–with the job of taking over the operations of the symphony and overseeing the dream of building a new symphony hall. Decherd recruited Morton H. Meyerson, the new CEO of EDS and another young rising star in the local business community, to chair the committee raising funds for the new hall.

Meyerson knew that in order to get the symphony hall project going, he would need to find a huge initial donation that could galvanize philanthropic enthusiasm for the project. He turned to his old boss, Ross Perot:

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Dallas’ Confederate War Memorial Isn’t Going Anywhere (For Now)

| 2 weeks ago

Last February, the Dallas City Council voted to pull down the Confederate War Memorial, a massive obelisk in Pioneer Park Cemetery that is surrounded by statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his rebel generals. The monument has been shrouded in a black tarp ever since, as the city negotiates with a contractor who will remove the monument. But for now, the memorial will remain thanks to an emergency stay filed in the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals.

The legal challenge to the city’s efforts to rid Dallas’ landscape of its prominent totems to the Confederacy has been rumbling in the background of the public debate over the meaning, significance, and fate of the monuments. Warren Johnson, who recently lost a bid for the District 14 council seat, launched an effort to keep Dallas from removing its Confederate monuments after the statue of General Robert E. Lee in Lee Park was removed in September 2017. Johnson’s group–Return Lee Park–argues that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Antiquities Act in its removal of the statue.

Other legal efforts to block the removal of the monuments have been dismissed, but Johnson’s case is winding its way through the appeals process. Arlington attorney Warren Norred filed an emergency stay on demolishing the memorial while the appeal process plays out, and on Monday Justice Bill Whitehill issued an order that granted the motion.

So where does that leave us?

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A Dallas Bus Tour Highlights Black-owned Businesses to Feed Your Stomach and Soul

| 3 weeks ago

Inspired by the local food she found while writing Cornbread & Collard Greens: How West African Cuisine & Slavery Influenced Soul Food—published in January—Deah Berry Mitchell wanted to put together a tour that would combine local food and black history. But she needed a partner, so she reached out to Dalila Thomas, a local food writer and blogger who also produced the “Chew on This” segment for CW33.

Thomas turned her down—at first. She thought better of it.

“I’m like, ‘This is super awesome,’” Thomas says now. “‘I’d be crazy not to get involved in this. It has the potential to be something amazing. And it’s Deah.’”

Soon, The Soul of Dallas Food & Black History Bus Tour was born. The two take guests on a five-hour tour restaurants and businesses that can range from a Pan-African bookstore to a black-owned popcorn shop. In the past, they’ve touched Freedman’s Cemetery, the Juanita Craft Home, Delightful Sweets by Mary in the Grow DeSoto Market Place, and Kessler Baking Studio. The bus occasionally drops by a spot that isn’t actually black-owned but has had a positive impact on the black community, such as Bonton Farms. For the most part, the trip highlights black business owners, chefs, and history.

“We see a lot of experiences that are entertainment-based and straight-up booze and food,” says Thomas. “But there’s so much more in any city, especially Dallas, to offer.”

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Trinity River

Is It Time to Change the Name of the Trinity River Back to the Arkikosa River?

| 2 months ago

The Trinity River carries no shortage of baggage. Look no further than the current election cycle. Sure, the hated Trinity River toll road is dead and gone, but the runoff between State Rep. Eric Johnson and council member Scott Griggs is still being framed in some circles as a showdown between deep-pocketed backers of the toll road and an anti-boondoggle crusader.

As we have written over and over, the Trinity’s history is defined by failed efforts to tame a force of nature generations of Dallasites have spent little time appreciating or understanding. Perhaps we went wrong even earlier than that. Perhaps our Trinity problems go all the way back to the name.

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Oak Cliff Eyes the Mayor’s Seat. In 1990, Some Wanted Out of Dallas.

| 2 months ago

In 1990, Oak Cliff tried to split from Dallas. After decades of City Hall mismanagement and neglect, some residents felt the Cliff would be better on its own. Writing in the Dallas Morning News amid the furor over de-annexation, journalist Bill Minutaglio compared the proposal to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In his estimation, Oak Cliff secessionists wanted to turn their neighborhood into a “Lithuania-on-the-Trinity.” Cold War humor aside, the statement contains a larger truth.

Oak Cliff has been called a lot of things. It was once “the Southwest’s greatest playground.” Later, it was the city’s “red headed step child” or “Dallas’ own Jerusalem.” Then there was that reference to a Baltic republic. What runs through those comparisons is that something was just a little different here. It was a neighborhood a bit out of step with the rest of the city. Maybe Oak Cliff just hasn’t quite been Dallas enough for Dallas. This view has, historically, permeated City Hall. For decades city leaders have been all too comfortable disregarding the black and brown residents who have long called Oak Cliff home. The hardening lines between the north and south of this city have left folks below Interstate 30 wanting reflective representation on the City Council and improved access to city services.

Later this year, they may have one of their own in the middle seat of the council’s horseshoe.

As this May’s election draws closer, some candidates in the race to succeed Mayor Mike Rawlings have deep ties to Oak Cliff. Scott Griggs has represented North Oak Cliff on the City Council since 2011. Albert Black grew up in South Dallas and built a successful business in Oak Cliff years later. Jason Villalba is an Oak Cliff native, but now lives in North Dallas. This isn’t the first time, either. Former Mayor Laura Miller called North Oak Cliff home before she moved to Preston Hollow.

Historically, Oak Cliff residents have been uncomfortable with their second-class status in the city. Change has been halting, incremental, and incomplete.

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Will Bonnie Parker Finally Get to Rest In Peace Next to Her Lover Clyde?

| 3 months ago

Like most people growing up in the last decades of the 20th century, I can’t remember the first time I heard of Bonnie and Clyde. They were always just there, like Pecos Bill, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, or Paul Bunyan. They existed in the imagination as a blend of history and fiction, part of a larger-than-life cast of folk heroes that helped explain some aspect of the American character.

My interest only deepened when I saw Arthur Penn’s seminal 1967 film and fell for songs like Serge Gainsbourg’s beautiful elegy to the lover-outlaws. Moving to Dallas made their story a little more tangible. In time, I sought out the porch of the Barrow filling station, some of the banks they held up, the storefront cafe where Bonnie once worked, and the streets of West Dallas that still looks very much like they did when it was rife with two-bit criminals and known as the “Devil’s Back Porch.”

But it wasn’t until late last year when I stumbled upon an obscure YouTube interview of Clyde Barrow’s nephew, Buddy, that I began to think about another, little-known side of the Bonnie and Clyde story. In that interview, Buddy speaks about some of the grief his family endured during the decades after Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down outside of Gibsland, La. He also speaks the families’ desire to bring some closure to the past by moving the body of Bonnie Parker to a burial plot next to Clyde. The Barrows have kept it empty and waiting for her since 1934.

Listening to Buddy, I realized that he and his family had their own story to tell.

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The Ongoing Quest to Reunite Bonnie and Clyde

| 3 months ago

Rhea Leen Linder and Buddy Barrow’s attorney called the offices of the Crown Hill Memorial Park cemetery in northwest Dallas last summer with a seemingly simple question: how could his clients dig up their dead relative? Rhea Leen’s aunt had been dead for 85 years. Her body had already been unearthed once, when it was moved to Crown Hill from a small cemetery near Fish Trap Lake in 1945. This sort of request was unusual but not unheard of. DeWayne Hughes, whose family has run Crown Hill since the mid-1960s, walked the attorney through all the signatures and permits they would need to gather. Toward the end of the conversation, Hughes asked whom they wished to disinter.

“Bonnie Parker,” the lawyer said.

The phone went quiet.

Bonnie Parker—half of the infamous outlaw duo Bonnie and Clyde—is without a doubt the most famous resident of Crown Hill. Her gravestone is a shrine for pilgrims who, more than eight decades later, are still entranced by the story of the two young lovers from West Dallas whose crime spree became a tabloid sensation during the Great Depression and eventually transformed Bonnie and Clyde into American folk heroes. Today the pair is regarded as something like a 20th-century Romeo and Juliet, and their story has inspired films, popular songs, and books. On any given day, you will find fresh flowers, mementos, and letters left at Bonnie Parker’s grave—as well as at the grave of Clyde Barrow, who is buried at Western Heights Cemetery, on Fort Worth Avenue, in West Dallas.

And it was that fact—that Bonnie lies in northwest Dallas while Clyde rests near the West Dallas neighborhood where the couple met—that prompted Rhea Leen, Bonnie’s 85-year-old niece, and Buddy, Clyde’s 71-year-old nephew, to contact Crown Hill. They want to reunite the lovers by moving Bonnie’s body and burying it next to Clyde’s.

It was, after all, Bonnie’s dying wish to lie next to her lover forever. But Bonnie’s mother wouldn’t hear of it. “He had her in life,” Emma said at the time. “He can’t have her in death.”

Emma’s reaction is understandable. Bonnie and Clyde’s gang allegedly killed nine police officers and several civilians during the couple’s brief life of crime. The murders devastated their families. In subsequent decades, each member of the family had to endure some measure of the shame, ignominy, and indignation that came with being a Barrow or a Parker. They were attacked, harassed, and imprisoned. They fled their homes. They hid from neighbors, police, and the media. They tried to forget all about Bonnie and Clyde.

So why do the families now want to dig up Bonnie? The spectacle would only thrust them back into the spotlight. Rhea Leen and Buddy can explain. Many of the details in this story—about their motivations and their familial legacy—have never before been published.

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Lost Dallas Author Uncovers Treasure Trove of Vintage 1970s and 1980s Dallas Photos

| 3 months ago

You may remember the name Mark Doty from back when we did our Lost Dallas issue. Doty is the Chief Planner of the City of Dallas Historic Preservation Section and the author of the book Lost Dallas, which was a major resource in our research into the city’s forgotten past. This week, over on the website of the City of Dallas Historic Preservation Program, Doty’s colleague Jennifer Anderson shares a batch of slides Doty recently discovered in the city’s archives.

The images are from the 1970s and early 1980s, and they capture downtown Dallas in a pivotal moment of transition. There are pictures of city hall, Reunion Tower, and the Coamerica Bank Tower under construction. There are also images of lost buildings, like the Baker Hotel, Honest Joe’s Pawn Shop in Deep Ellum, and a shotgun house in Little Mexico.

Anderson adds some context to each of the shots. Check them all out here.

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Tales From the Dallas History Archive: From EBJ to Juanita Craft, These Women Shaped Dallas

| 3 months ago

Ed. note: Tales From the Dallas History Archives is an ongoing series in which we employ a Dallas Public library archivist to dig through public collections for forgotten photographs. The photos come from the Dallas History and Archives Division. To learn about how you can do your own digging, see the note at the bottom of this post.

Women have shaped Dallas’ history since its beginnings, and by understanding their influences on the city, we can better understand its past while envisioning its future. You can feel the impact of Dallas’ trailblazing women inside these photos. Let’s dive in.

This photograph titled Anita Martinez boarding plane with other members of a Dallas Chamber of Commerce delegation is one of many images related to Anita Martinez (1925-), who was the first female Mexican-American to be elected to the Dallas City Council in 1969.

Anita Martinez boarding a plane with other members of a Dallas Chamber of Commerce delegation, no date, Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce Collection.

She has continued to serve the people of Dallas in subsequent decades through various roles. The Anita Martinez Collection contains photographs, speeches, newspaper clipping files, and correspondence related to her career and pursuits in politics and community activism.

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Sports & Leisure

A New HBO Doc Raises the Specter of Racism in Roller Rinks

| 3 months ago
Photograph by Steven Visneau

If you haven’t yet watched the HBO documentary United Skates, you should. But be prepared: it’s no Roll Bounce. I mean, it’s got all the good feels that come from combining James Brown, modified skate wheels attached to Chuck Taylors, and choreographed nutcracker splits on a hardwood floor. But things get dark.

Going to Ohio Skate as a kid in a white suburb of Toledo, I was oblivious to the history of racism that has pervaded roller rinks pretty much since they were first introduced to the American public in Rhode Island, shortly after the end of the Civil War, in 1866. Nor was I aware that, despite their history of nearly a century of overt segregation, they had become a cultural touchstone for African-American communities across the country, complete with coded inclusive language (“Adult Night”) to counteract the coded exclusive language (“No Saggy Pants” as well as the more obscure “No Small Wheels”).

What brought on the waterworks was the surprisingly emotional impact that the wave of recent closures is having on the people who have relied on them for generations for safe and low-cost exercise, entertainment, after school recreation, and socializing. Not to mention the loss of a one-of-a-kind art form.

The documentary blames the trend less on changing millennial interests and more on the rising value of land that these low revenue, high square footage businesses sit on (not unlike boxing gyms). It made me curious about the state of affairs in Dallas, so I took a look back at Alice Laussade’s feature from a couple of years ago about the best roller rinks in town. I was heartened to find that of the eight she included, only one–Mid-Cities Skateland–has closed. And that another one that we didn’t include, Southern Skates Roller Rink, which happens to be owned by the city, still offers an Adult Skate on Thursday nights.

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How a Dallas Businessman Assembled the World’s First Professional Bridge Team

| 4 months ago

Before they changed the game of bridge, before they captured the United States’ first world championship in more than 15 years, before the million-dollar computer and celebrity hangers-on and discipline imparted by a former Air Force colonel named Moose, the Dallas Aces needed to fire their boss.

Ira Corn was a unique presence, a 300-pound multimillionaire with a proclivity for throwing his financial weight around. “He was large, so he had to live large,” says his daughter, Laura. There were conventional luxuries: fine art, rich food, cigars the size of Lincoln Logs, a penthouse apartment in Manhattan. But he reserved his most grandiose spending for his passions. He loved American history, so he purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence for $404,000, the highest price ever paid for a printed document at the time. He loved to read, so he subscribed to dozens of periodicals and finished a new book each night.

Most of all, in 1968, he loved bridge. So he decided to bankroll a professional team—even though one had never existed before. He had designs on toppling Italy’s famous Blue Team, the game’s great juggernaut, winners of 12 of the last 13 world championships. Not only that, he intended to defeat them himself.

“He thought if he got five good players, he could play with them and win anything,” says Mike Lawrence, one of the team’s original members. “That was the furthest from the truth imaginable.”

Which is what led Bobby Wolff, the team’s first recruit and Ira’s handpicked partner, to pull his benefactor aside on a Tuesday in late August. They were in Minneapolis for one of the most important events of the year, the Spingold national bridge championship. Five days in, their team was treading water, eking out victories over opponents they should have dismembered. It had been that way ever since the Aces were formed that February, a collection of world-class talent lugging along an amateur. Finally, after one close call too many, “the time had come for truth,” Wolff says now.

Wolff broke the news in a hotel hallway, as Ira puffed a typically giant cigar: The Aces will never become what you want them to be—what they can be—if you keep playing. Ira said nothing. Wolff half-expected Ira to dissolve the team, and perhaps that wouldn’t be the worst thing. Ira had the best of intentions but he was dragging his creation down. And then, as Wolff began to plot out his next endeavors, Ira spoke.

“Well, you better win,” he grumbled. They lost the next day.

One year later, they routed the field. By then the Dallas Aces were in the throes of one of the most audacious experiments the game had seen, an unprecedented and mostly unduplicated attempt to build a better bridge team. When they dissolved after 15 years, the Aces had collected four world titles and numerous domestic championships. Two of their stars formed one of the most decorated partnerships in history. Along the way, they prototyped strategies that are now ubiquitous in modern sports culture.

The story of the world’s first full-time professional bridge team is one of Dallas succeeding where the rest of America failed. It all owes itself to a large man who chased an appropriately huge dream.

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