Back Story: The Origins of I-35

In the late 1950s, rumors were rampant concerning a new interstate highway slated to cut straight through Oak Cliff. But it wasn't a rumor.

The north-south interstate cut a swath through my childhood

In the late 1950s, rumors were rampant concerning a new interstate highway slated to cut straight through Oak Cliff. But it wasn’t a rumor.

Before circa 1963, traveling by car from Oak Cliff to downtown Dallas and beyond typically required a northward trip up Beckley, Zang, Marsalis or Lancaster, all of which more or less merged with Zang. Drivers crossed the Trinity River via the Houston Street Viaduct before landing downtown. And from there they chose a pattern through or around downtown and on to other destinations.

To provide land for the new interstate, the eminent domain law required hundreds of Oak Cliff families to sell their homes to the highway department. Many of the structures were re-sold and moved to different locations by the new owners. Others were demolished.

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Former Cliffite Sandy Almand, who lived at the corner of Illinois Avenue and Toluca, says she and her husband would be awakened in the middle of the quiet night by the large trucks moving houses down Illinois and on to their new locations.

And then construction began.

The first significant section stretched from downtown to the current Clarendon-Zang exit. The next expansion continued south to Illinois, and then to the Saner entrance/exit. Cliffites living in the southern portion of the community drove north, up Polk, Hampton or Beckley, and then took Saner, Illinois or Clarendon to an interstate entrance. From there on, it was smooth sailing.

Construction went on for months, kicking up dust and keeping the area’s noise level at a high decibel. But for some Oak Cliff adventurers, this situation offered a constantly beckoning temptation.

While the interstate remained under construction, and obviously without traffic, then 13-year-old Alan Elliott considered the newly paved surface his own private bicycle route to the Dallas Zoo. Elliott regularly took advantage of the smooth, wide-open thoroughfare by peddling his way, unbothered, from his house on Vanette to the zoo and back.

There was, however, one problem.

When the highway did open, Elliott had no idea that his bicycling among the ferocious U.S. interstate traffic would be problematic. Thus, after being pulled over and reprimanded by the Dallas Police, he became convinced. His cycling-on-the-interstate days came to an end.

Another incident took place late one night when two Adamson High School students (who shall remain nameless) decided to “drive” a piece of the highway department’s heavy equipment. It was left on the construction sites at night with keys still in the ignition. Moving forward on the massive machinery for only about 10 feet, the pair speedily abandoned their hijinks when a stealthy but alert security guard appeared. Some guys spoil all the fun.

Upon completion, Oak Cliff welcomed the beautiful, new north-south traffic lanes, which made trips to downtown much easier. Today, traveling to and from downtown Dallas without the Interstate 35 option seems unimaginable. But, before the interstate, it really used to be that way.

My grandmother’s house was among those removed by the highway department. Except for two homes that still stand, her block — the 300 block of West Montana — no longer exists. On the east end of the block, the red brick house at Montana and Toluca remains, peering down on the northbound traffic. On the other end, at the corner of Montana and Brookhaven, is the Lundys’ two-story home where I played with daughters Penny and Vicki.

Gone is the home across the street, with the parakeet aviary in its backyard and Tanya’s house next to that. Gone are the sycamore trees that lined the avenue, whose root growth caused the sidewalks beneath to heave and brake. And gone is Major and Mrs. Clement’s ranch-style house next door to my grandmother.

Because of the interstate, all vestiges of these childhood days have been erased.

But whenever I drive north into old Oak Cliff, my car passes directly over the property. I enjoy that.

The construction of I-35 is an integral part of the United States Interstate Highway grid. We need it. It has worked. And it certainly helps navigate others into the “Cliffs” and to downtown.

But it would be comforting, if only for a few hours, to once again have all those homes and families and streets back in place. A walk along the sycamore trees … down the broken sidewalk … past the Clements’ ranch-style house … visiting with Tanya … listening to the chirping parakeets … playing with the Lundy girls. And no interstate noise.

Now that would be nice.


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  • Jane Walling Little

    That article was great, Gayla! I can remember going to church at Oak Cliff Methodist on the new freeway.

    Does anyone remember the old Halbert’s Riding Stable? Originally it was off of Jefferson (I think) on a non-extant road called Blue Cut. To get there you had to turn left and go up a winding dirt road with big gulleys on each side. Mesquite trees lined the roads. At the top of the hill was a very old clapboard two-story house, and a barn. There was a big fenced field, but you could ride past it and down to a creek. (Later they moved to a lot next to Hampton Road Drive-in, and met their demise out on I35 close to Glenn Heights. I have such vivid memories of riding there ($1.00 for an hour). We rode Ginger, and Roy who would gallop, except for my sister who rode Old Blue into the field where they sat for an hour…I am very curious about that house, and who would have owned such a big place WAY back in the day. This would have been in the mid 1950’s. Gayla, maybe your parents would remember this house and it’s history. Keep up the good work. Jane Walling Little.

  • Charles Theobalt

    Gosh what memories! I lived on the corner of Brookhaven and Montana. I knew Penny and Vicky. My sister Lovetta was a teenager and I was the brat! Man, being a graduate of Adamson, 1966, I remember all these things, thanks so much!

  • Gayla, thank you so much for resurrecting Oak Cliff memories so vividly. Both I and my brother, Jack Wilkes, graduated from Kimball and fondly recall the ‘good ol’ days’!

  • Chris Nix

    Our family owned and operated business, NIX PLUMBING CO. was located on Beckley Av. at Illinois Av., just east of the new I-35 highway construction. The state contracted with my Dad’s company to disconnect many of the houses to be moved from the city services. As a kid I got to “help” with some of the relocation/demolition aspects of our city’s expansion. I often think of this when traveling through Oak Cliff on I-35.

  • Amy (Cloninger) Cunningham

    Thank you, Gayla, for bringing me back once again to my childhood. Our house – and those of our neighbors – on Pelman St were also taken by the interstate. It always makes me sad that I can’t take my children to see the neighborhood where I spent my younger years. It’s nice to know there are shared memories of that life. I suppose there are many people who find their old neighborhoods changed beyond recognition – but ours is just gone. I often wonder how different my life would have been if my family, my relatives, my friends – had not been forced into change. We moved further apart in distance, went to different schools, had different friends and different experiences than we would have. We grew up in suburbia instead of a neighborhood where grandparents and neighborhood stores could be reached on foot or bicycle. Maybe it was better in some ways – but maybe not. Maybe we would have moved anyway, but there remains something sad about not being given a choice.

  • Margaret Dandridge Herring

    Gayla, My sister, Judy Dandridge Hatch sent me your blog. I enjoyed reading about the memories from the Adamson grads. I, my self went to SOC and graduated in 57′. I also remember driving on North Central Express Way when it first opened and made the remark back then “It’s too small” and sure enough it took them another 30+ years to fix it. I did attend all the graduation festivies at Adamson for the January class of 57″. Also along with Evelyn and Ellen Henderson who were in the Lepordetts. Ellen and I both entered Kilgore College the next Fall and were in the Rangerettes together for the next two years. We have lots of good memories. Good going, Keep up the good work.
    Margret D. Herring

  • Dan Thornhill

    Great job Gayla!!! I always look forward to reading your articles – love them.
    Kimball Class of ’65

  • Larry Click

    Gayla:
    Once again a wonderful trip down memory lane. All us old “packer boys” and “slippers” working the Morning News on Wednesday nites and Saturday nites at the Morning News, (putting the preprinted food ads and sunday comics, magazines, etc into the regular news sections as they came off the press), remember the brand new Trinity River to Clarendon section as prime drag racing territory when we got off at 2:00 am.

    Larry Click

  • John Ruiz

    Gayla, I was around twelve or thirteen years old when the I35 construction began, and the terrain around Clarendon and I35 provided my buddies and I a great place to hang out and play all those games boys play at that age. We were playing X-Games way before we knew what to call it.

  • mickey porter

    Congrats, Gayla! Another “back in time” interesting article. Well done!

  • Janice Kilgore

    Gayla, I hope you will soon cover the construction of Hwy 67. I used to play in that area before and during the construction when I lived in Club Oaks.

  • Gayla, I remember riding the trolley across the Trinity into Dallas. I had yet to start first grade (no kindergarden then), and it seemed to me the trolley floated (in its vibrating way) across the river since the tracks could not be seen.

    Thank you for bringing back a flood of memories.

    My best,
    Parris

  • Frances George Phillips

    Gayla, again you brought back memories that have lain dormant for decades! I lived at the corner of Guthrie and Toluca, just one block from the completed I35. I can remember how relieved my family was that our home would be spared from eminent domain acquisition. However, the new interstate did take the field between the end of Guthrie St. and Brookhaven St., as well as part, if not all, of Brookhaven Steet itself. The landscape of my childhood vanished with the completion of the new interstate.

    Frances George Phillips

  • Paula Minshew Doll

    GAYLA: What great information! I love reading about our old times in Oak Cliff. What great memormies!! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely be checking the ADVOCATE for more articles. I plan to print some of them and send to my mom. She is 88 years old and lives just south of Ft Worth. She graduated from Adamson and worked at Oak Cliff Bank and Trust until she retired at age 62. Thank you again for sending me this article.

  • Lon Oakley Jr.

    Gayla slays us with another iconic article. The memories just keep on coming. I too know who those Adamson students were who took the joy ride on that piece of highway equipment but their secret is safe with me. Adamson class of ’65 has their 45th this year and I plan on taking copies of your articles to share with everyone. Gayla, thanks so much for bringing back some great times to us all. KEEP UP THE STERLING JOB!!!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    You, my friends and readers, have the best stories ever! There’s just not enough paper to write down all of them. Love it. Thanks for your wonderful comments, too. And, let me know if you have ideas for columns. Photos appreciated.

    G

  • Terry Prichard

    Gayla, as always another wonderful article bout the “good old days and places” in Oak Cliff. Makes me remember one night in the summer of 1961, riding around in Morris Sutton’s dad’s car (don’t ask, yes we were all underage) with Keith Milyo when we were pulled over exiting off of I35 at the Clarendon-Zang’s exit and each of us being delivered to our homes by a couple of Dallas Police Officers…oh well, another story for another day.

    Thanks for the memories and keep writing.

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    Nice article Gayla, I remember when I-35 was under construction and when you came out of Oak Cliff on Zangs, the only place to get on I-35 was at the Clarendon Street ramp. I personally thought it was a great addition to the whole area. Little did I know that virtually three quarters of my life would be growing up and living within one to two miles of I-35.

  • vicki cardarella

    Gayla,

    You are quite the journalist and story teller! What I really enjoy is a great piece of interesting reading without all the political negativity that exists today.

    Nice work, Gayla.

    Vicki

  • Linda Shipp Moon

    Who would think an article about an interstate would be interesting? Well, Gayla, you did it again! Just remembering the streets of O’Cliff brings back memories. And Vicki Lundy was one of the sweetest girls I ever knew! You were lucky to have your Grandmother’s house near enough so y’all could play! Can’t wait till the next article!!! Linda Shipp Moon, Kimball Class of ’65

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    The two photos above are, first, the 1974 dedication of the Interstate 20 overpasses at their intersection with I-35 East. Phyllis Diller and husband Ward Donovan, aka “Fang,” were present to receive keys to the City of Dallas and to do the ribbon cutting. Never one to disappoint the crowd, Diller didn’t merely ‘cut’ the ribbon; she chewed it apart, omplete with gnawing sounds that were heard, live, on WRR radio. Officiating is Cliffite and Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce President Bill Melton. The second photo is my grandmother’s house at 318 West Montana Avenue, gone but not forgotten.