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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

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:

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Murders That Changed Fort Worth

Matt Goodman
By |
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Cullen and Priscilla Davis, in the early 1970s.

In early 1977, this magazine asked: “Is Priscilla Davis’ story true?”

The murder trial for her husband, Cullen, was set to begin that February, when he would defend himself against allegations that he shot to death his 12-year-old stepdaughter and his estranged wife’s new live-in lover inside their mansion in Fort Worth. Priscilla was shot and wounded, too, and a family friend at the scene was left paralyzed.

Cullen and Priscilla Davis were well-known socialites—he a millionaire businessman, and she his bride. As Tom Stephenson wrote for us then, “As people tried to forget the killing of a 12-year-old girl, the murder became not a whodunit, but a gleeful trespass into the private lives of Fort Worth’s rich black sheep.”

There would be numerous magazine articles, books, and one made-for-TV vehicle starring Heather Locklear. The late Gary Cartwright wrote his own Texas Monthly story in the March 1977 issue, too, and it remains a great read. But Stephenson’s feels urgent and unsettled, a portrait of a town turned lurid, yes, but also an attempt at peeling apart the many narrative threads to try and find some semblance of truth. It begins and ends with Priscilla, first on her velvet couch and then on her newspaper-covered bed, trying to both explain herself and make sense of her new life.

The case largely hinged on her testimony. That she believed Cullen was the strange man in her home, wearing the woman’s wig holding the gun with a black plastic bag wrapped around his hands. They never found the murder weapon—or the wig, or the bag—and recovered no prints or bloody clothes from the scene: “Without tangible evidence, the prosecution must depend almost solely upon eyewitness accounts—essentially, the testimony of Priscilla.”

Stephenson’s story is one of the 50 greatest we’ve published. It doesn’t proclaim to know the truth, but does lay out how the puzzle could make sense—and how it might not. It also captures Fort Worth at a time when someone like Cullen Sr., the oilman, could confidently proclaim to Amon Carter, “You take Fort Worth, and I’ll take the rest of the world.”

Cullen was famously acquitted, and in the years since, his father-in-law admitted in a Star-Telegram report that he bribed an investigator within the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office during the original trial. Priscilla sued for wrongful death in 1986, but the matter ended in a hung jury. She died in 2001. Cullen was never tried for the murder of Stan Farr, the live-in boyfriend and former TCU basketball standout.

Cullen found God in the 1980s and went to work selling hand cream in Colleyville. He’s 90 today. As for the mansion: it was turned into a Mexican restaurant and then a wedding venue. In 2021, a housing developer acquired the property and the surrounding 250 or so acres and turned it into a 30-lot development of single-family homes. Cullen returned to the house for a WFAA segment that year, reflecting on how he snipped pages from home magazines and handed them over to an architect to design in 1972. There was also an underground tunnel that stretched more than 100 yards beyond the boundary of the home, for, Cullen said, “keeping stuff that made noise away from the house.”

He told reporter William Joy that he remembers little from his years living there, and he also cares little about the people who believe he got away with murder. “I didn’t care about that either,” he said. “They want to believe that, fine. What happened was unfortunate.

“History is history. Can’t change history.”

You can read Tom Stephenson’s story from March 1977 right here.

Dallas History

At the Reborn Longhorn Ballroom, Bob Wills Is Still the King

Bill Sanderson
By Bill Sanderson |
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Jason Roberts with the Texas Playboys. They'll play the Longhorn for the first time in decades on February 3. Longhorn Ballroom

The Longhorn Ballroom began its life as Bob Wills’ Ranch House, where the eponymous king of Western swing would sometimes ride his horse, Punkin, out on the dance floor before his Texas Playboys began performing. The Longhorn, which celebrated its long-awaited resurrection last year, has not hosted an act with that famous handle in decades. That changes on Saturday night.

Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, under the direction of fiddler Jason Roberts, will make its first appearance at the cavernous venue on Feb 3. The show is in partnership with the Austin-based nonprofit Texas Dance Hall Preservation.

These are near mythic boot prints for the new Playboys to stand in, and its twin fiddles, pedal steel, and other instruments may summon the musical ghosts as the Playboys perform 99 percent of Bob Wills’ Western swing. “I want to play his music where Bob would give us a little ahhh-haaa holler if he walked in the door,” says Roberts.

Dallas History

From the Archives: Finding the Wild Things of Deep Ellum

S. Holland Murphy
By |
d magazine march 1987
Matthew Bailey and Suzanne Boisvert were both suburban teens on the Deep Ellum scene in the 1980s.

By the generations still alive to argue the case, the years 1984 to 1988 are most often cited as Deep Ellum’s heyday, a time and a place where you might find a suburban 16-year-old checking IDs at the club door and ecstasy on every corner. It was a scene captured by a young Skip Hollandsworth for this magazine’s March 1987 cover story, whose subtitle read: “Underground in Deep Ellum: a generation of kids searches for identity. Are they part of a new counterculture? Or are they rebels without a cause?”

That outside-looking-in take was, at the time, a sore point for some on the inside. “With all the creative types in the scene—writers, poets, and songwriters—it seemed like D Magazine could have gotten somebody that was more in touch,“ says David Adriance 36 years later. He appeared in the story as a skateboard punk known on the streets as David Dude. “All these kids, even the wealthy ones, were considered black sheep and kind of lost themselves, and we all found unity with creativity.” 

Those creative connections would serve as David Dude’s ramp into many adventures. He rubbed elbows with rock stars around the world while working as the merch manager for Dallas’ Reverend Horton Heat. Once, while visiting his Starck Club-investor girlfriend in Paris, he met a pair of French artists who negotiated the sale of his orthopedic cast—which had been drawn on by graffiti-art legend Keith Haring. The proceeds funded a summer of European surfing. 

At the time of the article, though, David Dude was living at the Theatre Gallery, a warehouse-turned-illegal event space that many young bohemians called home over the years. The Theatre Gallery’s founder, Russell David Hobbs, was more or less Deep Ellum’s master of ceremonies, presiding over a three-ring circus of visual, theatrical, and musical artists who were given free rein inside the space. “At that moment, it was really about real, convicted artists, painting and spilling their guts out onstage through theater and live music,” Hobbs says, “and the street scene was an exploration into art and reality and social experience. We were all trying to break on through to the other side.”

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Media

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: When Old East Dallas Was Home to Native Americans

Matt Goodman
By |
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Peak and Bryan Streets, which, in the 1970s, was known as "The Corner."

In the early 1970s, Dallas was one of about six cities in the country that established field offices for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. Native Americans often relocated to these cities in search of jobs. Bob Beames, the former director of the bureau, told the Dallas Morning News in 1973: “Except for eastern Oklahoma, few places offer Indians work where they live. Job opportunities are simply better off the reservation than on it—in the cities rather than in the country.”

News editorial writer Jim Hawkins reported that most of the Native Americans who came to Dallas voluntarily were in their early 20s, “already married as often as not.” There is only one reference in his editorial to what was called “The Corner,” a “favorite rendezvous” for these newcomers located at Peak and Bryan streets. In part, because they were dropped off in parts of town that didn’t have easy access to jobs, transit, or housing without much support. The Corner was where they gathered.

That’s where writer Doug Holley spent some time in 1975 for “The Cement Prairie,” our second of the 50 greatest stories we’ve ever published. We’re highlighting one per week throughout our 50th anniversary this year.

The center of Holley’s story is Tom & Jerry’s Lounge, maybe three blocks north of Peak, at 4536 Bryan St. This section of Bryan is now part of the Uplift Peak Preparatory charter school complex, and where T&J’s once stood, you’ll now find a parking lot. Peak and Bryan is home to longtime restaurants Vietnam and Bangkok City, which opened in the 1990s, as well as new apartments. Its history as a gathering place for Native Americans has vanished.

In the 1970s, “The Corner” was adjacent to a block filled with bars, a few of which were once highlighted by this magazine in another feature from 1975 titled “The Meanest Bars in Dallas.” Two years after Holley’s story, the News reported that a man wounded a few patrons with a .25-caliber automatic gun inside Tom & Jerry’s on a Tuesday night. The fight had apparently spilled over from Pinky’s Lounge, one block away.

Holley himself narrowly avoids violence at one point of the story. But that isn’t his focus. Offensive language aside—and the similarly offensive framing and stereotyping, for sure—the story is largely told through the Native Americans who decided to make a life in what an employee at the American Indian Center described as “the cold-blooded city.” The story illustrates how difficult it was to find work, housing, and other basic necessities, despite the promise of such coming from officials like Beams.

In fact, the News editorial that quotes the former director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a cold view from above, all numbers—there were 6,000 Native Americans in Dallas in 1973, according to the Census at that time—and admonishments. Holley’s story is an intimate look at what it took to make a home in a strange place. It also introduces readers to the services that gradually sprouted up around the city, including the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas, now known as Texas Native Health. In 2022, the organization announced plans to triple its space near the Medical Center to 15 exam rooms.

“The Cement Prairie” captures Old East Dallas at a very different time, and it’s one of the 50 greatest stories we’ve published.

You can read it here.

Dallas History

New Exhibits Place the History of Deep Ellum at the Center of Its 150th Anniversary Celebration

By James Russell |
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A map shows the old businesses that populated Central Track and Deep Ellum before the highway came. Matt Goodman

The exhibit Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman’s Cemetery opened in 2000 at the African American Museum in Fair Park, chronicling the history of the thriving Black community just north of present-day downtown. Curators Phillip Collins and Alan Govenar expected it to be up for only a year.

Two decades later, it’s still on display. It serves as the inspiration for two new exhibits in adjoining exhibition halls, Central Track: Crossroads of Deep Ellum and Seeing a World Blind Lemon Never Saw, which opened last week and commemorates the 150th anniversary of the historic neighborhood. Both, again, are organized by Collins, a curatorial advisor and former museum staffer, and Govenar, founder of Dallas-based Documentary Arts and a longtime chronicler of Deep Ellum.

“They’re an outgrowth of that exhibition,” Govenar said, exploring the same themes of trauma, racism, violence, resiliency, and geography as the original show. He also curated three accompanying pieces: When You Go Down in Deep Ellum and Unlikely Blues: Louis Paeth and Blind Lemon Jefferson at the new Deep Ellum Community Center; and Invisible Deep Ellum, an installation under the I-345 overpass that memorializes the Black-owned businesses that were destroyed when the highway was built.  

The freeway replaced what was known as Central Track, the main corridor of the roughly seven block neighborhood between Elm Street and Swiss Avenue. Govenar described it as full of life as well as diversity. It’s a place where Jewish, Italian, Greek, and other European immigrants joined freed slaves who “came together if not by choice then necessity.” For a city whose power structure often claimed membership in the Ku Klux Klan, it was a safe space away (for a while) from strife.

The show highlights the reprehensible depiction of Black life in the 1920s by the Dallas Morning News, juxtaposing racist news clips with posters for minstrel shows from the same era. They’re all offensive, Govenar said, and that’s the point. But the subject matter is also the result of the limited depictions of Black life in the area.

Even as his book Deep Ellum: The Other Side of Dallas, co-written with longtime journalist Jay F. Brakefield, has just been published in its third edition by local publishing house Deep Vellum, no additional photographs have emerged from collectors or archives.

“It’s astounding,” he said.

Dallas History

Reporter Darwin Payne Opens Up His Old Notebooks to Tell a New Story About JFK’s Assassination

Bill Sanderson
By Bill Sanderson |
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The Sixth Floor Museum, where Darwin Payne will speak about his new book, Behind the Scenes. iStock

Few could have captured President John F. Kennedy’s death and the immediate aftermath like veteran reporter and historian Darwin Payne in his new book, Behind the Scenes, Covering the J.F.K. Assassination. He returns to the murderous weekend that ended with the deaths of President Kennedy, Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit, and accused killer Lee Harvey Oswald.

Payne will speak at 1 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza, in the former Texas School Book Depository where the first bullets rang out 60 years ago.

The large museum space freeze-frames Nov. 22, 1963 with the same view, from the sixth-floor southeast corner, that the sniper had. Payne and a handful of other reporters and photographers inspected it soon after the shooting. Earlier that day, after sprinting four blocks from the Dallas Times Herald, the 26-year-old newsman had begun interviewing eyewitnesses at street level.

Behind the Scenes — part memoir, part reporter’s stream of consciousness, part history of presidential visits to Dallas and an overview of presidential assassinations — is loaded with back stories and details to which few were privy. Its immediacy comes from Payne’s notebooks and an unfinished manuscript he discovered in a closet during the pandemic lockdown. The reader feels the urgency of the moment and is reminded of the tragedy’s moving parts that alternately fascinated and horrified. 

The account brackets three days that riveted the world as the police, print and radio reporters, and ascendant broadcast television sorted out the signal calamity of the century in real time, piece by piece.

Religion

Downtown’s Cathedral Guadalupe, a Critical Piece of Little Mexico, Is Now a National Shrine 

Catherine Wendlandt
By |
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Dedicated in 1902, the Cathedral Guadalupe downtown has served Catholic Dallasites for more than a century. Courtesy of National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe

On December 12, tens of thousands of people will gather at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Catholic church made of red brick and limestone at the corner of Ross Avenue and Pearl Street. Buses will drop off worshippers on pilgrimages from all over the country. Children will don indigenous Mexican costumes. Matachines, traditional Hispanic dancers known for their colorful costumes and large headdresses, will perform, “doing exactly what they have done for centuries,” says rector Jesús Belmontes. Folks will leave roses as the sound of drums send them on their way. And the cathedral’s 140 bells will ring out in concert. 

December 12 is the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the church and of Mexico. The day’s masses are always magical, Belmontes says. The event regularly draws crowds of up to 30,000 people. But this year will be special. In late September, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops officially designated the cathedral as a national shrine. This year’s feast day will serve as a special celebration for the news. 

Established 121 years ago, Cathedral Guadalupe “is the very heart of the Diocese of Dallas,” says Bishop Edward Burns. It is his official bishop’s seat, or his position’s home church in the diocese. The church has also attracted worshipers from across Dallas and the U.S., as well as Latin American immigrants, inside its doors as congregants for decades. Its services are still delivered in English and in Spanish. That, along with a special image behind the altar of the Lady of Guadalupe—who is also called the Virgin of Guadalupe—and the church’s long history in downtown Dallas, were the impetus for the recognition of a national shrine, Belmontes says. 

There are 71 Catholic national shrines across the country, and only two others in Texas, neither of which are dedicated to Virgin of Guadalupe. Because of this new designation, Belmontes and Burns expect even more crowds to the cathedral, which is now officially called National Shrine Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

The title is “a big honor for our congregation and for our community to know that this church is known as a shrine in the entire country,” says Belmontes.

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Dallas History

A Cache of Abandoned Photos Opens a Window to Texas History

Aubrey Matson
By |
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When Corsicana residents failed to claim photos half a century ago, City Office Supply kept them for safekeeping. The 2,500 images, which were only recently discovered, form the basis of a new exhibit at the Corsicana Artist & Writer Residency.

Four years ago, workers were clearing debris from an old office building in Corsicana, preparing for a renovation, when they discovered a time capsule: 400 envelopes of film and photographs, all taken more than 50 years ago. Of course, the workers weren’t looking for a time capsule, and they almost dumped the entire cache of about 2,500 photographs into the trash. 

The building’s contents were once the property of the now-defunct City Office Supply, which sent off customers’ film to a processing lab. When those customers failed to retrieve their photo orders, City Office Supply dutifully stored them for safekeeping. The company did this from 1948 to 1966, amassing four cabinets of abandoned images. 

The two decades of photos—which form the upcoming exhibition “DUST,” hosted by the Corsicana Artist & Writer Residency—show the candid, everyday life of the town of Corsicana and Navarro County. There are images of parades, high school dances, and road trips. 

Dallas History

100 Years of Tudors and the M Streets

Catherine Wendlandt
By |
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Known for its many Tudor-style houses, Greenland Hills is turning 100 this year.

The story of Greenland Hills begins with a tale of two brothers and one helluva business scheme. In 1923, Fletcher and Frank McNeny bought 98 acres of the old Bennett dairy farm. It was on the outskirts of Dallas, near the end of the trolley line at Mockingbird. It was empty space, but it wouldn’t be for long. 

The neighborhood is now in the center of Dallas—bordered east to west by Central Expressway and Greenville Avenue and north to south by McCommas Boulevard and Vanderbilt Avenue. “We were almost a suburban development in its day, and now we’re completely in the middle,” says Stuart Mut, an architectural historian who has lived in the neighborhood for 46 years. 

Greenland Hills is commonly referred to as the M Streets, nicknamed for the number of streets that begin with “M.” Famous for its pricey Tudor Revival cottages, the neighborhood is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year with a home tour earlier this month and a neighborhood block party planned for November 4. Taking place at Glencoe Park, the festival will include live music and cake, of course. “The vision was to think about what it was like to go have a picnic in the park 100 years ago,” Greenland Hills Neighborhood Association president Laura Pratt says.  

One hundred years ago, the McNeny brothers were doing something that hadn’t really been done in Dallas before. Unlike other developments, which built large homes first and then in-filled smaller properties, Greenland Hills “platted, subdivided, and laid out the infrastructure all at once,” Pratt says. As they built homes, they ran sewer, water, and gas mains. They incorporated with the city and later added 176 acres. They paved streets and sidewalks. And they brought in mass transit—the trolley, bus routes, and the Sherman/Dennison Interurban streetcar line

Dallas History

The Stoneleigh Is Turning 100, Just With a Different Name

Reagan Mathews
By Reagan Mathews |
Stoneleigh Hotel
Many of the original decorations, from wallpaper to 16th-century Italian mirrors, are still on display. Courtesy The Stoneleigh

This month, The Stoneleigh—pardon, it’s actually now Le Méridien Dallas—will become the second hotel in Dallas to reach its 100th anniversary, following The Adolphus, which opened in 1912. And, just like any old man on his birthday, The Stoneleigh has decades’ worth of yarns to spin. “If only the walls could talk,” says Victoria Clow, president of Preservation Dallas. “I’d love to hear the stories they could tell.”

The neon red Stoneleigh Hotel sign almost never graced the Dallas skyline. Architect F.J. Woerner was so stubborn with his specifications that contractors wouldn’t bid on the design. Yet, according to Woerner’s daughter, Louise Sellers, he didn’t take care to preserve the original blueprints. “Somebody called me when Corrigan bought this, and he said, ‘Do you have the plans?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, but those were done on linen,’ ” Sellers says. “You know the waxed paper, beautiful linen material. Mamma boiled the wax off and made me clothes out of the plans. It was the most beautiful linen you ever saw.”  

Restaurants & Bars

As Strangeways Closes, Fitzhugh Avenue Changes Face Once Again

Christopher Mosley
By Christopher Mosley |
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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.

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