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Dallas History

A New Documentary Lets Joppa Preservationists Share Their Own History

Todd Jorgenson
By Todd Jorgenson |
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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.

Dallas History

The Dallas Historical Society Celebrates 100 Years of Collecting the City’s Artifacts

Catherine Wendlandt
By |
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Since 1938, the Dallas Historical Society has been housed at the Hall of State in Fair Park. Rob Wythe/Wythe Photography Studio

George Bannerman Dealey thought any city worth its salt needed a historical society. It was 1922, and the founder and longtime publisher of the Dallas Morning News noticed many of Dallas’ founders were beginning to die, leaving behind few public records of their lives. So, Dealey held a dinner with around 100 of the city’s most prominent residents, and the Dallas Historical Society was born. Today, it remains headquartered in the legendary Hall of State in Fair Park.

Now, more than 100 years later, the Dallas Historical Society is celebrating its centennial with a year of festivities. The team started planning last spring, executive director Karl Chiao says. Since then, the society opened a 336-square-foot interactive diorama of the Battle of the Alamo in late March 2022. For last year’s State Fair of Texas, it launched a “100 Years, 100 Stories” exhibit chronicling Texas history. Instead of the annual Dallas History Makers Luncheon, it held a gala last November. On January 19, the Society will host an open house at the Hall of State, its permanent location. On April 23, it will put on a community celebration at Klyde Warren Park. 

Like other Texas cities, Dallas has a penchant for knocking down old buildings and paving over the past, but the Dallas Historical Society is working to fight that.

“Our goal is to preserve as much history as possible,” says Chiao. But what sets his nonprofit apart from other local organizations, like Preservation Dallas and Old City Park (formerly Dallas Heritage Village), which work to protect buildings, is that the Dallas Historical Society collects artifacts. Over the past 100 years, it has accumulated a massive archive with more than 3 million items. Think the first edition of the Dallas Morning News, old family bibles, directories, and early phonebooks.

Deep Ellum

Deep Ellum Is Celebrating 150 Years in 2023

Catherine Wendlandt
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Kristi and Scot Redman

No one really knows when Deep Ellum was formally established. “There wasn’t a day that somebody stuck a flag in the ground and said, ‘I hereby say this is Deep Ellum,’” says Stephanie Hudiburg, the executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation.  

But we do know when the Texas & Pacific Railroad crossed the Houston & Texas Central Railroad: early 1873, 150 years ago. Because of the neighborhood’s proximity to the railroad and the local cotton industry, the area quickly became an industrial hub of warehouses, buildings, and factories.  

The Deep Ellum Foundation has begun celebrating those 150 years, when the neighborhood was born of the commercial boom.  

“To hit this important milestone from one of Dallas’ most important historic neighborhoods is really pretty exciting,” Hudiburg says. The organization has planned events throughout the year to mark the moment.  

Today, there are cracks in the sidewalks leading up to Deep Ellum’s shiny paper goods stores and ice cream shops. Artists poke in and out of studios, walking past neon signs, or setting up shop in a Saturday street market. Panhandlers wait outside packed parking lots. Weekends see folks standing in long lines for barbecue or concerts happening in century-old brick buildings. The neighborhood has a bustling, small-town feel, but new skyrise developments on its outskirts hint at the big city outside. 

On a number of occasions, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Old Parkland campus, not far from downtown, which has to be one of the most interesting office parks in the country. The managers of the place would probably prefer I didn’t even call it an “office park.” There’s all the art. There’s the fact that they won’t rent to law firms. There’s the fourth-largest bell in the country, which I wrote about last year.

So when James Dolan pitched us a story about the place’s previous life as a halfway house where he worked, it sounded like a fascinating piece of Dallas history that belonged in the pages of D Magazine. His story was published in our December issue, and we put it online today.

Dallas History

Psychotherapy Dates with Inmates at Old Parkland

James Dolan
By James Dolan |
old parkland
Michael Hirshon

Cinching my tie, I cleared my mind and stepped into the main reception area of the Alcoholism Treatment and Recovery Center, 3949 Maple Avenue. The room was a block of smoke. I gagged and wanted to run but couldn’t because I needed a job. 

Located in what was the old Parkland Hospital nursing school quarters at Maple and Oak Lawn, the once-grand room in August 1981 was furnished with fallen couches and chairs that might have come from front yards on bulk trash day. Men who seemed to be ghosts of who they once were milled around, smoking, smoking, smoking, reading day-old papers or beaten copies of LIFE or Look. For this I worked and went to school, indebted myself.

At the semicircular reception desk sat three older guys in worn clothing. Their baggy faces, like those of clowns without makeup in a third-rate circus, each sprouted a lit cigarette. They were answering phones and yelling at men across the room. They seemed too busy to notice me.

“Excuse me,” I said, clearing my already irritated throat. “I have an interview with Earl Osborn?” 

One man said, “Who can I tell Mr. Osborn is here?” 

Weirdly formal for this setting, no?

“Jim Dolan,” I said. “I’m here to interview for the counseling position?” 

The guy grabbed a filthy avocado-green receiver and into it bellowed, “Earl, yer guy is here!” He set the receiver in its cradle and asked if I’d like a cup of coffee. When I declined, he turned back to the other two as if I’d never existed.

Clyde Barrow’s family once owned a service station in West Dallas, at 1221 Singleton Blvd., in a neighborhood called the Devil’s Back Porch. That structure stood until April, when it was hastily bulldozed before the city’s Landmark Commission could intervene.

Given the long lead times of a monthly magazine, I didn’t know how or whether D Magazine could address the matter. (Although Bethany Erickson wrote about it for our website.) But then an artist who has written for us, Laray Polk, alerted me to the fact that another artist in town, Michelle Mackey, had spent years studying and painting and thinking about the Barrow service station. Which is how I came to find myself in Michelle’s studio back in May, looking at some of her work and talking about how she might do something in the pages of the magazine.

The result is a story titled “These Walls Could Talk,” illustrated, in part, with Michelle’s paintings of the Barrow service station. It published in our November issue and went online today.

We waited till this month to publish the story because Michelle has an exhibition of new paintings inspired by Enchanted Rock titled “Beyond Measure” at the Holly Johnson Gallery, in the Design District. It will be up through February 11, but the opening is this Saturday, November 19, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Go here for more details. A taste from the press release:

Dallas History

Tales from the Dallas History Archives: When Royalty Came to North Texas

Brandon Murray
By |
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Prince Rainier III, of the tiny principality of Monaco (left), is greeted by Neiman Marcus Co. president Stanley Marcus (center) after flying into Dallas to open Neiman Marcus' Fete des Fleurs in 1971. From the Clint Grant Collection, Dallas Public Library

On September 8, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96. Her reign of 70 years and 214 days was the longest of any British monarch. As the world honored her passing, and the beginning of the reign of her son, King Charles III, I searched through the archives of the Dallas Public Library and discovered that Texas, and Dallas for that matter, was no stranger to the House of Windsor and other royal lines. 

Members of royalty who have visited Dallas in decades past include King Charles III, when he held the title of Prince of Wales, and other members of the British royal family and Prince Rainier of Monaco.  

The attached gallery of images depicts royalty who came to Dallas, as seen through the photograph collections of the Dallas History & Archives Division. The royal titles of those depicted in these photographs correspond to the titles held when the photograph was taken.

Dallas Public Library has many other images related to life in Dallas in years 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. 

Last week, as we put online a fun historical piece about the Longhorn Ballroom that ran in the September issue of D Magazine, I told you about a meeting of the State Board of Review to assess the nomination of the Longhorn for the National Register of Historic Places. Well, friends, I have news to report. There are details, and I am lazy, so I will quote directly from Greg Smith, the federal programs coordinator of the History Programs Division for the Texas Historical Commission. Smith said in an email:

“The State Board of Review is an advisory board that reviews National Register nominations in Texas and provides comment to the State Historic Preservation Officer (in Texas, the SHPO is the THC Executive Director, Mark Wolfe). Federal regulations (36 CFR 60) require that each state have a review board as part of the National Register process.

“The board unanimously approved all eight nominations on its agenda on Saturday, and members were very complimentary on the Longhorn Ballroom nomination. The next step is for THC staff to review the board’s comments and edit the nomination to ensure that it meets the technical standards necessary for listing. We will submit the nomination to the NPS within 90 days of the SBR meeting and expect the NPS to approve it within 45 days of receipt.”

The bold text is my doing. Because it deserves emphasis. I considered also changing the color of the text to blue or red but decided it didn’t need that much emphasis. Now I’m second-guessing that decision.

In any case, Edwin Cabaniss goes before the Dallas City Council on September 28 with his plans to redo the Longhorn; he’s asking for about $4 million in economic incentives. Stay tuned.

Dallas History

Sermon on the Hilltop: First Baptist Confronted By the Sins of Its Past

Matt Goodman
By |
Revs. Michael Waters and Robert Jeffress
Rev. Michael Waters, left, holds a Ku Klux Klan hood and a MAGA hat during a panel discussion with Dr. Robert Jeffress, the lead pastor at First Baptist. Bret Redman

Monday evening at SMU’s Dallas Hall, Dr. Michael Waters, a reverend who earned his doctorate from the university, elicited gasps from an audience of about 150 as he produced two props while speaking on a panel about the city’s history of racism. In one hand he held a Klansman’s hood; in the other a red MAGA baseball cap. The hood, he said, was an authentic artifact from the second rise of the KKK, in 1915, after the Methodist preacher William Joseph Simmons marched to the top of Georgia’s Stone Mountain to set a cross aflame. Simmons, Waters said, “put down a Bible, an American flag, a sword, and said he heard the very angels of heaven rejoicing as the Klan was born again.”

“I would suggest that this is the reincarnation of this symbol from a generation ago,” Waters said, referring to the red hat. “There are churches, both near and far, who advocate and express a vision of Christianity that is not the vision of the Christ that I serve, who came to liberate the oppressed.”

Waters, the senior pastor at Abundant Life A.M.E. Church, shared a stage with Dr. Robert Jeffress, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Dallas downtown; Rev. Virzola Law, the senior minister at Northway Christian Church in Preston Hollow; and Rev. Richie Butler, the senior pastor of the St. Luke Community United Methodist Church and the evening’s moderator. The occasion was one of the 40-plus events scheduled to discuss The Accommodation, retired journalist Jim Schutze’s 1986 book that explored how Dallas’ power structures—from political to business to ecumenical—worked to suppress the stories of racist violence that existed here during the civil rights movement.

The pre-panel buzz was that Jeffress—who has spent much of his life at First Baptist, first attending and then leading—wanted to address what the book detailed about his church in the 1950s and 1960s. A three-page chapter in The Accommodation focuses on W.A. Criswell, the former First Baptist pastor and, for many years, a fierce and vocal supporter of segregation. Under Criswell’s leadership, First Baptist became the largest Baptist congregation in the country, and Criswell was among the Southern Baptist Convention’s most respected voices. He was “speaking directly and specifically against court-ordered desegregation,” Schutze wrote.

The Morney-Berry Farm, located about 20 miles south of Dallas, is quiet now. That wasn’t always the case. Its patriarch, James Morney, bought the land in 1876. He and his descendants worked it hard for four generations. Though they operated just a few steps ahead of survival, the Morneys were duty-bound as a family to hold on to the land. They turned the inhospitable, craggy acreage into a thriving spread of pecan and cedar trees, harvesting hay and corn crops.

Driving up the long dirt road to the farm, you no longer see miles of hay fields or pecan tree orchards. But you will see cows and horses and some replicas of one-room quarters that housed the formerly enslaved people who first worked the land. There is a main house. The original smokehouse. Two pavilions.

It was James’ great-great granddaughter, Murdine Berry, who wanted to document the family’s history in this way. But the land came first. When some local land grabbers tried to claim parcels of the farm, Murdine fought back with litigation that went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. It took 10 years. In 1990, the court ruled in her favor, ensuring the land would stay in the family.

As of June 24, a different Texas Supreme Court ruling could wipe the farm out of existence.

Dallas History

I Got Lost, Then I Found Loryland

Will Maddox
By |
Lory Masters
Trevor Paulhus

The best part of writing this profile of Lory Masters was the road trips. Sometimes she drove, sometimes I drove, but after only speaking to her a couple of times, it was like we were old friends cruising Dallas and reminiscing about the good old days.

During one of our first visits, she drove me around Loryland, the neighborhood in Northwest Dallas that was informally named for her. We visited her friends, saw beautifully remodeled homes, and visited the quaint pool clubs that dot the neighborhoods and provide respite for local families trying to beat the heat.

Later, I would drive us both up Interstate 35 to the University of North Texas to visit a special collection at the university library, most of which is made up of her personal belongings. It documents the history of the LGBTQ community in Dallas.

While it was amazing to look through old photos and see her motorcycle club jacket, the chat during the drive was what made the trip special. She told me stories about entertaining political leaders in her home and raising millions of dollars for causes too numerous to mention in the story, how she battled bigots and once feared that her way of life could get her arrested at any moment. But she also spoke of her daughter and granddaughter, who she described with just as much pride as when speaking about Judge Sarah T. Hughes or Barney Frank.

This, I learned, was what made Lory so special. When you were with her, you were family. No one else mattered when you were on a drive with her. She made you the center of the world no matter who you were, and it was impossible not to feel like you had been friends for decades. On our road trips, I shared the feeling. As I interviewed those who knew her, friends and family told me they all felt the same way.

Somehow it made sense that she would be at the center of so much North Texas history, from a fiery speech at the Texas Republican Convention and starting on the defensive line for Dallas’ women’s professional football team to starting her own realty business and founding a lesbian motorcycle club.

I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I did reporting it. It’s a wild ride, and the story from the July issue of D is online today.