Our Back Story readers share bits of Oak Cliff history

Little pieces of neighborhood history, courtesy of you

One of the many perks of writing this column each month is the great people I meet and the great stories they share, to add to my own Oak Cliff experiences and stories from my parents. And readers who comment on the column online toss in their 2 cents worth as well. I also have my “sources.” Some of the stories you’ve shared aren’t lengthy enough for a full column but are interesting nevertheless. Here are a few:

Ray Lancaster (Sunset ’56) told me that in October 1953 an “incident” took place at Red Bryan’s Smokehouse on Jefferson (now El Ranchito). According to the Dallas Morning News, 10 police squads were called to control the 1,000-student, egg- and orange-throwing, snake line dancing brawl. Though it sounds like a scene from “Rebel Without a Cause,” participants represented arch rival schools Adamson and Sunset. Eleven students were arrested. And … one parent!

• Ever heard of the Cliff Queen movie theater? Me neither. But while having lunch with one of my school friends, Suanne Carr Blalock (Kimball ’64), I learned about it. “It’s on the internet,” she pointed out. And it is. The theater was located close to the East Jefferson and Lancaster intersection, and it closed in 1948. When I asked my dad about it, he answered, “Sure. Mama and I used to go there all the time.” I thought I knew all their old haunts. Evidently, not.

• When Embelyne Cook Bye (Adamson ‘39), told me about boys always sitting on her front porch railing during the Depression years, naturally, I assumed the guys were hanging out in hopes of a chance to visit with either Embelyne or her sister, Doris. I was wrong. The Cooks lived near the corner of Zang and Beckley, and when trucks driving north on Beckley slowed as they approached the corner, the boys flagged them down to hitch a ride across the viaduct and into Downtown, thereby saving themselves the streetcar fare (which they probably didn’t have anyway). Injecting some irony into the story: Embelyne lived at 1022 N. Beckley, next door to what would later become the address of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Michael Edwards, who commented online on my column about Oak Cliff streets, pointed out that Colorado Boulevard is not named for the state but for the Colorado River (in Texas). As he pointed out correctly, Colorado Boulevard intersects the other Texas “river” streets in northeast Oak Cliff, except for (which he also pointed out) Guadalupe and Rio Grande avenues — which are close to the corner of Cockrell Hill Road and West Kiest.

• After my story about the all the unusual items in the 1950-era Oak Cliff Woman’s Club Christmas pilgrimages, Vicki Mebane Porter, a college friend who was raised in Snyder, Texas, commented that her mother and aunts used to decorate tumbleweeds for her West Texas home’s Christmas décor. To a North Texas city girl like me, that was a new one.

• Before the Wynnewood Theater was demolished in 2000, according to 1969-70 Wynnewood Village manager Bill Melton, the owners wanted to turn the place into a multi-screen theater. However, the mandatory “adjoining” parking space count fell short by 13 spaces. At the time, the Montgomery Ward store (directly across the street) was open late only on Monday and Thursday evenings, leaving all those spaces available on the other five nights. And the Ward lot was hardly ever full anyway. But the argument wasn’t enough to sway the Dallas City Hall decision makers. “Needless to say, everyone was shocked,” Melton states. “With all of the parking places in Wynnewood, the decision did not make sense.” The owners did divide the theater into two screening areas, putting a partition down the middle of the theater. But according to Melton, “The idea was never successful as seating seemed cramped, and you could hear the show in the adjacent side of the theater. Thus, slowly but surely, the Wynnewood Theater slipped into oblivion. All because of 13 parking places!” With the arts resurgence in Oak Cliff, the iconic Wynnewood Theater would have been the perfect venue.

Keep those cards and letters comin’, folks!

Oh, sorry. I forgot. It’s 2012. Email me.

Read more of Gayla’s monthly Oak Cliff history columns here.


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  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Janus! Glad you both liked the story and that you discovered something new about your mom and aunt. Sort of like the story about my mom and dad and the Cliff Queen theater. We think we’ve heard it all. Seems we didn’t, after all.  

  • Janus Buss

    Love your story on my mom Embelyne Bye. After all these years of stories through our family, that’s the first time I had heard that one. Janus Bye Buss

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Sandy. Glad you like the “reads.”

  • With each of your columns I learn something new about my hometown of Oak Cliff. Keep up the good work!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Well, I do enjoy “enlightening” everyone…including me! I’ve learned much more than I already knew. Great tales about great times and great folks. I’m blessed to be able to capture some of this info for others to enjoy. And for me to enjoy, as well. 

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    You’re most welcome, Benny! It’s fun for me, too. And, all the input from my friends and “sources” make everything even more fun. It has also helped me meet so many great folks and reconnect with others, like you!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    I know that his grandparents used to live on part of the property where the Texas Theater is now located. With a little research, it might be possible to see if either they (or later Spanky’s parents) lived where you noted. His sister lived, and was very active, in Cedar Hill–until her somewhat recent death. Thanks for the story.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Ha! I, too, remember the sticky floors. Too many sugary drinks spilled and probably few commercial carpet/floorcleaners easily available back in those days. Guess only the cleaning services had ’em. So…the theaters weren’t that diligent about keeping the floors clean. But, we all survived!! Thanks for the memories.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Yes! I do remember the cry rooms at most of the theaters. When I was at the Texas recently, I noted to someone else there that the cry room used to be in the far corner…now gone, of course. So much has changed in our world, some good, some not so good. Cry rooms are certainly one of those “old- school” items. Thanks for the reader support.

  • Frances Philllips

    Gayla, thanks once again for the memories.  I especially enjoyed Bill Melton’s comments concerning the Wynnewood Theater.  Do you remember the “Cry Room” at the back of the theater for families with babies?  Haven’t thought about that in a long time!

    Frances Philllips

  • I totally enjoyed reading something about the Cliff
    Queen.  My fondest memory of some of the Oak Cliff theaters is from the ones that had
    lower ticket prices like the Rosewin and the Stevens.  In these theaters when
    you walked down the aisle your shoe soles would stick to the floor.

  • Wayne Goolsby

    My Dad had a paper route in the late 30’s in the Sunset area. He was out collecting money from his customers and knocked on the door at one home and Spanky McFarland opened the door. That is Spanky from the “Little Rascals”. Spanky has a history with Oak Cliff.

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    As always Gayla, the Oak Cliff portion of your colums are outstanding. My memory always takes a spin back to the times in each of the comments. In most cases it jogs my memory of something forgotten. Thanks for keeping all of us in touch with memorable times in our lives.

  • Mary Newton Maxwell, JFK ’65

    Consistently entertaining…and this time….very enlightening