They met at Tyler Street United Methodist Church in the early 1970s, and all three have longtime ties to Oak Cliff.
Gayla Brooks Kokel can date her neighborhood heritage back to 1918, when her father was born in what was then called Eagle Ford. She was born at Methodist Hospital and graduated from Kimball High School. Alan C. Elliott also was born at Methodist Hospital and graduated from Adamson High School. Patricia Summey moved to the neighborhood in 1970 when she began teaching at Trinity Heights School, which is now Harrell Budd Elementary. The three also are members of the Dallas Area Writers Group, and meet together monthly along with other aspiring writers.
Elliott also happens to be the webmaster — or “mayor”, as he quips — of oakcliff.com, an online database of neighborhood history. That’s how the acquisitions editor of Arcadia Publishing found him, when she called him in June 2008 for suggestions on someone who could write a book about Oak Cliff.
“I thought, well, I’ve written a few books,” says Elliott, who has roughly 15 titles to his name.
He enlisted the help of Kokel and Summey, and the three of them set to work. The book would be a pictorial history of Oak Cliff, so they put out a call for photos on Elliott’s website, and contacted other people personally. The effort resulted in more than 600 photos, which the three authors then whittled down to 200.
“Some you have to show, like the one of Texas Theatre,” Elliott says, referring to the book’s cover photo, “but some have never been in print, and most Cliffites have never seen them before. The reason is, we didn’t want to duplicate what’s already out there.”
“People gave us access to things you don’t normally see in this type of book,” Kokel adds, referring to the numerous family photos submitted. “And we tried to get a real story to go with the images. If it’s a building, it’s what happened there — not just what it is and when it was built.”
Among their favorites is a 1922 Adamson High School yearbook photo with the female students participating in synchronized exercises with long shorts on — considered skimpy at the time. “If you look real close, you’ll see some boys on the telephone poles watching them — seeing those girls in their sexy clothes,” Kokel laughs.
Another is a photo of a 4-year-old Paula Craig, a current Stevens Park resident, wearing a miniature Army uniform and getting ready to sing and tap dance as part of a World War II bond fundraiser. The three also love a 1960 photo of the South Oak Cliff High School Girls Rifle Club, with three prim- and proper-looking young women posing with rifles. “Forget conceal and carry,” the caption reads.
“They were packin’ heat,” Kokel laughs.
“The times, they have a-changed,” Summey chimes in.
Of course, because the three authors have plenty of neighborhood history of their own, family photos from each one found their way into the book. A photo of Summey’s late husband, William “Bill” Summey, is on the dedication page. Kokel included a Depression-era photo of her father and mother goofing off in front of the Cliff Towers Hotel. And the collection of images concludes with a 2007 wedding photo of Elliott’s daughter. It’s one of four Oak Cliff weddings included in the book — others are from the ’20s, ’40s and ’60s.
“We were trying to get across the idea of generations in Oak Cliff,” Elliott says.
The book’s photos are arranged chronologically in six chapters. What the authors tried to do is “tell stories, not just list names,” Elliott says. “We wanted to be entertaining.” But when it came down to a selection process, if it was a decision between a good story or a good photo, the authors went with the good photo.
“It’s not an all-encompassing history book — it’s images,” Summey says.
“It’s like a walk down memory lane,” Elliott explains.
“It’s like a yearbook — on steroids,” Kokel echoes.
“Images of America: Oak Cliff” from Arcadia Publishing hits shelves in all major Dallas bookstores on April 27. It sells for $21.99. Elliott plans to post a survey on oakcliff.com, asking visitors to vote for their favorite photo or caption. The authors know, however, that their book of all kinds of Oak Cliff photos and history will only beget more Oak Cliff photos and history.
“It’s going to be the stories that come up after the book comes out, and people will ask, ‘Why didn’t you write about that?’” Summey says.
“That’ll be the follow up on the web,” Elliott says.
The authors will sign copies of “Images of America: Oak Cliff” on Saturday, May 2 at Dicho’s in the Bishop Arts District, 500 N. Bishop, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., and at the Cedar Hill Barnes and Noble, 305 W. FM 1382, from 2-4 p.m.
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