Iconic Oak Cliff

A ‘tour’ of our neighborhood’s landmarks

Sonny the Steer atop the Charco Broiler. Photo by Randy Carlisle

All communities have landmarks, icons. London has Big Ben, Greece has the Parthenon, Rome has the Coliseum. And New York? The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and … Broadway!

Although Oak Cliff isn’t as prominent worldwide — depending on whose point of view one has — it does have its icons. For instance …

If there’s a specific place around that outsiders might recognize, it would probably be the Texas Theatre — the granddaddy of Oak Cliff icons. For old-time Cliffites, it was a place for ’30s and ’40s dating, and later a prime all-day-Saturday kiddie destination with serials, B movies and the always popular feature films. Aside from Howard Hughes being one of the original owners, the theater is most frequently noted as the place were Lee Harvey Oswald was captured after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The building does have a history.

Probably the oldest standing icon in Oak Cliff is the Houston Street Viaduct, opened in 1912 and touted (probably erroneously) as the longest reinforced concrete structure in the world. Although its original, ornate lighting has been replaced, the old bridge still retains a bit of its earlier romance. And its top-notch view of the downtown skyline never gets old — especially spectacular at late evening, when the setting sun reflects off the Hyatt Regency, and at nighttime, with the illuminated Omni Hotel and the ever-recognizable Reunion Tower “ball.” A trip into town via the viaduct remains a short but impressive trek — definitely a well-established Cliffite tradition.

Off the Oak Cliff end of the viaduct sits the vintage Cliff Towers building, a former “apartment hotel” that opened in 1929 and the original home of KLIF radio. The 14-story structure of southern European architecture is now a condominium complex with a perfect view of Lake Cliff Park and an even better view of Dallas’ southwestern skyline. After closing in the 1950s, it served as a nursing home facility before remaining vacant for a number of years — until the new owners began renovations. The edifice is, most certainly, Oak Cliff’s first official “skyscraper.”

Definitely “old-school” are Oak Cliff’s actual old high schools: W. H. Adamson High School and Sunset High School. Located 2-and-a-half miles apart at opposite ends of Jefferson Boulevard, the three-story brick structures with their steep outside front-entry steps could double as buildings from many of Hollywood’s period movies. And Adamson certainly fills the icon criteria format now with its city, state and national landmark designations (listed with the National Register of Historic Places) — a big battle for the alumni association and one that saved the old building from the wrecking ball.

The former Schell Grill eatery (where my dating parents used to share a 15-cent burger and a 10-cent Coke), at 1207 N. Zang Boulevard, has, in the past, probably served quality ice cream to more Cliffites than any other place around. As home base for Polar Bear Ice Cream from 1946 to 1985, the “ice castle” architecture is recognizable to almost anyone who lived in Oak Cliff from the ’30s on. I’m not sure how successful it would be to re-open the place as an ice cream parlor, but I know I’d be in line. And so would a slew of others. Never a fan of its Hawaiian delight flavor or plain vanilla, but oh, for a triple-dip lemon custard cone! And (in the ’50s) at 5 cents a dip. Yes!

Lone Star Donuts on North Beckley, Top Ten Records on Jefferson, Austin’s and Red Bryan’s barbecue restaurants, Kiest Park, and the well-recognized neon-lit Wynnewood sign have all been mentioned in previous columns, as has the bygone Wee St. Andrew’s mini golf course. But they all should be included on the “vintage” Oak Cliff icon list. Drop in the old Rocket Skating Palace on North Cockrell Hill Road, Lake Cliff Park, Wynnewood Lake (in the heart of the Wynnewood North sub-division), the Ravens Pharmacy “raven” signs, and the ever-popular Sonny the Steer atop the Charco Broiler on Jefferson, well, you’ve just gotta love the list.

I can just see sterling silver charms representing all these places attached to one of those then-popular 1960s charm bracelets. A hit, for sure.

Enjoying the Oak Cliff icon tour? Stay tuned. Next month it’ll continue, and who knows? Your personal favorite just might show up.


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  • Glenda Bull-Polk

    Wasn’t there a min golf course on Jefferson, possibly around Westmoreland? I may be confused.

    Thanks
    Glenda

  • Bunnyroom

    I almost forgot about the orange juice place!!! My hubby has mentioned this several times over the years. When we first got married, we would go by the orange juice place and buy a gallon of it because it was so good and for young married and no extra money to spend…we could afford this great juice. I remember that when they were making the juice that they included the pealing into the juice. I could not believe that it tasted so good with the pealing included! It was like dessert…it was so good and so cold!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Great family story, Charlie! I can identify about the “make(ing) a trip of it.” Back in those days, that’s what folks did. And it was such fun. My sister-in-law also remembers the watermelon place you mentioned, as I do, too…although I don’t think my family ever stopped. Thanks for posting!

  • Cgoff

    When I was about 5 my Dad had a  Post Office Box at the downtown Post Office. So when he needed to go pick up his mail we’d make a trip of it. We’d all load up in the family car and head downtown via Zangs. If we had behaved, on the trip back we’d stop at Polar Bear Ice Cream or the “Fresh” Orange juice stand next door. I think there was also a Watermelon place close by with picnic table that would sell you a slice of cold melon for a hot summer night. This was before most cars had A/C.

    Charlie Goff
    Kimball ’66

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks for posting, Jim! WSA was wonderful, wasn’t it? I can still hear those Top-Ten tunes floating through the place courtesy of the appropriately placed speakers sprinkled around the course/courses. Those were good times!

  • Jhsalyons

    The Zang Street Bridge comes into Oak Cliff near the sight of the Wee Saint Andrew miniature golf course, one of the most beautiful and challenging hillsight courses in all the universe!-jim lyons

  • Jay Caple

    Hi, Peggy….. GREAT to hear from you.  Jay Todes, remember him?  Our DE teacher.  I was away when we had the 45th, but I will be at #50.  I hope all is well.  Regards, Jay Caple — jcaple@sbcglobal.net

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Actually, Virginia, I missed the Cockrell Hill mini-golf course. I “think” I vaguely remember the place…but I’m stretching my brain cells a bit on this one. Your summer memories sound quite similar to the ones we (the boomers) also remember. Not that different. Can you believe those 5-cent ice cream treats!!?? I think by my day thay had risen to 10 cents…but still a good deal. The “ice cream trucks” that used to roam through our neighborhoods were fun…especially if our folks gave us the dimes to make purchases. My favorite? Fudgsickles! Don’t know if I’d still pick one now, but back in the day…Yum! Always great to hear from you, Virginia.

  • Virginia Mehaffie

    These are all great reminders of our youth (mine being quite a few yrs. earlier than some of your correspondents).  Still, they bear some similarities.  I believe you mentioned Cockrell Hill miniature golf course in an earlier column, Gilpin and West Jefferson.  They also had nickel snowcones.  My sister and I bore up under the summer heat by splitting a red 5c popsicle, running through the water sprinkler, and sticking our heads in front of the swamp cooler.Thank you for triggering some fun memories.

  • Peggy “Finney” Kowalski

    Gosh Jay – DE in 1966 – I was there too!  My job was with E.M. Kahn in the warehouse area in Downtown Dallas.  KHS Class of ’66 had our 45th reunion last October.  Did not remember seeing you but lots of people were there, or maybe I am just getting old, fighting it kicking and screaming all the way :).  It was a success.  Looking forward to our 50th and the Committee has already tossed around a couple of ideas.  Hope to see you there if not before.  Peggy “Finney” Kowalski 

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Jay, Holy tamoli! You’ve got a connection to just about everything in vintage Oak Cliff! I see some items here I’d like to ask you about. Please email me at gkokel@advocatemag.com. Thanks!

  • Jay Caple

    Thank you Gayla— Here’s a little “stuff” from a KHS ’66er that remembers them.  In DE (Distributive Education) in ’64 thru ’66, I worked at a little store at Jefferson at Adams called The Morris Store.  My favorite lunch was at the Charco Broiler and I went as often as I could afford. My dad managed the B.F.Goodrich store at that same corner, just across from Raven’s Pharmasy, so I have seen that raven many, many times.  Later, as a disc jockey at KLIF and KBOX, I spent many hours at Top Ten Records and would give anything if I could remember the original owner’s name— He was a nice guy also.  November 22nd, 1963, Rick Torres and I skipped class and went downtown to see JFK and stood just feet from the motorcade and just hours later, headed to my Dad’s store, I drove by J.D.Tippit’s patrol car and then watched as Oswald was taken from the Texas Theater.  And, to top it off, if I had a buck for every time I had a BBQ sandwich at Austin’s, I would be a rich man……  And my dad graduated from Oak Cliff High School, which later became Adamson High School….. so this atricle brings back lots of memories.  Thank You — Jay Caple KHS – Class of ’66

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Lon. I always know I “got it right” when you (and Bob) approve!

  • CrazyLon65

    Another superb effort Gayla…YOU NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE…keep chargin’  LON OAKLEY  Big A ’65

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Paul, this is great info! Do you have any photos or any other memorabilia related to this project?

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    I most certainly do remember Dougherty’s, Sandy. There was one in the Kiest & Polk Shopping Center, on the far west end, close to where I lived in the 50s and early 60s. It was really nice and was sparkling new when I used to go there. And go there I did. My family used the pharmacy many times, and they had a great cosmetic counter–at least for those days. I had a friend who lived in the apartments behind the store, and she used to go over there before dates and use the sample cosmetics and perfume! Always loved that story. Thanks for posting.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    I agree. The Bronco Bowl should be included. I’m doing an Icon Tour III that will come out in August. So…I’ll do my best to add that one. I even have a photo or two I can add. Thanks for the good idea, Larry. I lived close to the Hampton Rd. Drive-In and do remember it well. My memories, like yours, are of the playground and lawn chairs. I also agree with you: Oak Cliff was THE best place to grow up…expecially inside the “big city.” The North Dallas small fry missed it, didn’t they?

  • Larryecollins

    What a terrific walk down memory lane!  Those days were iconic.  God was in His heaven and all was right with the world in Oak Cliff in the 50’s-60’s.  I agree with the addition of the Hampton Rd Drive-In (spent many nights there with my parents as a child – sitting on lawn chairs in the warm night air) and the Polar Bear Ice Cream shop.  My grandfather would take us all there on Sunday afternoon.  He’d always get peppermint ice cream.  I’d also recommend adding the Bronco Bowl.  The center of SO much fun for a decade.  I’m proud to have grown up in such a great neighborhood and I’m glad to see it’s resurgence.  

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Really? Can you believe that those yummy dips of PB ice cream were 5 cents each? And you’re right about the Texas Theater…or any of the others. It was a bargain, for sure, and our parents didn’t need to worry about us seeing anything “over the line.” Riding the streetcar was fun, and riding the bus, too. Remember getting free bus passes for public school day at the state fair? We’d ride all the way from Oak Cliff to downtown, transfer busses and get dropped off at Fair Park, then come back–at night–the same way and then walk home in the dark! By ourselves! And $10-$12 dollars was all a kid needed to have a really good time — all day — at the fair. In fact, I think I only took $8 or so, and it lasted just fine, corny dogs and all!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Glad you enjoy these stories, Benny. There certaily are plenty of them, aren’t there? Between our parents, us, our kids, and the present…well, I’ll always have plenty of material.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks, Queen Mary! Glad you had a nice “trip.” I agree. Both time periods were/are good. We are blessed.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    What a great story, Perry! Honestly. Sounds like something Richie Cunningham might have done. Or perhaps Potsy Webber would be more likely. I think your story would have made a good episode of “Happy Days.” Surely Dad Cunningham would have driven you back to the school in the family Hudson, to get your car. Love it!

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    A very appropriate comment about Mr.D, Danny. You are right on the money with that one!

  • Sandy HARRIS McBride

    Does anyone remember Daughtery (Daughtry ?)Pharmacy and Soda Fountain on the corner of S. Tyler and maybe Clarendon? We used to walk from our house to catch the streetcar there to go to Dr. Tim Green’s office.   If I was good, we stopped at Daughtery on the way home to enjoy the most delicious, coldest ice cream cones while sitting at one of the wrought iron tables or on a barstool at the soda fountain. 
    Sandy McBride

  • Bunnyroom

    Oh, how I also remember the Polar Bear ice cream place…I could get a triple dipper of peach or black walnut ice cream for the grand total of 15 cents!!! I also remember the watermelon place close by where you could sit at picnic tables and eat cold sliced watermelon with a plastic fork. You could buy it by the single slice or by the half and eat it there…or…you could buy a whole one to take home!!! There was just something about sitting outside these two sites in the evening with all the other people eating ice cream or watermelon. I can sit here and think about it and it all comes back like it was last year. Of course…it was not last year but it was more than 50 years ago!!! I also fondly remember going to the Texas Theatre on Saturday mornings and watch several movies including the NEWS reals and great cartoons…all for the price of a single ticket!!! I could ride the streetcar that came down my street to the shows and take it back home when the shows were over. Later when I was attending Adamson High School…my boyfriend (who later became my husband of 50 years in 2013) Terry Kokel would take me there for a movie date. You have done it again…sweet Gayla…you took me back to what I remember hearing on the TV show…THE LONE RANGER…you took me back to the days of yesteryear!!!!! Keep em coming. Lynda Welch Kokel

  • Pfehmel

    My grandfather was the contractor that built the Houston Street Viaduct.
    Paul Fehmel

  • Mary Newton Maxwell

    I just took a virtual trip through our wonderful Oak Cliff, through your words, accompanied by Randy’s photos.  While life is great right now, I just have to say….those were the days, my friend.  Love it, Gayla.  Your fan ~ Mary Newton Maxwell

  • Dan McCammon

    Excellent!
    I would also suggest the Hampton Road Drive-In Theater sign, at night a glowing beacon representing all that W.P. Durrett (principal at Kimball) opposed.

    Danny McCammon, Kimball ’67

  • Perry Gross, Sunset ’62

    Gayla, thanks for mentioning Wynnewood Shopping Center, it reminded me of a funny event. I didn’t get my own car until I was a Senior at Sunset, and I rode the bus to school, and to my job at Wynnewood Cleaners every day after school during my sophomore and junior years. On the first day with my own car, I parked it in the small lot just east of the school, and after school, out of habit, I got on the bus and rode to work. It wasn’t until after six o’clock, and the cleaners had closed, that I remembered I had driven my “new” car to school.
    Perry Gross ’62

  • Charles Benny Kirtley

    On the agenda of favorites Gayla, I would consider this article one of the best because of the excellent content. Just from my standpoint this is what I like to read about. I can attach a memory to each of the old landmarks  and enjoy a pleasant thought about a particular time and place. Thanks again for a great article. Benny 

  • Billmelton37

    GREAT !

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Glad you liked Hawaiian delight, Marshall As I didn’t, that just left that much more for you! All good. I have contacted some folks who are associated with the old OJ stand and plan on doing something about it in the future. Thanks for posting.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    And…I also plan a column on OC drive-ins…eventually.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Hey Mike! Always good to hear from you.
    On the orange juice stand: I have made contact with some folks who used to work there and a few former customers. One guy even met his wife there! At some point, I’ll probably do a story on the place. The only problem at this point is that no one has a photo. I found one that has the stand in the background (a photo of  Lake Cliff Park). I’ll be sure and let you know when it’s done.

  • Marshall Wilson

    I actually liked the Hawaiian Delight. Maybe because I had it the day my brother was born. My Dad and I went there after Dad visited my Mom at Methodist Hospital. When my wife and I were dating we got fresh orange juice from next door for parties. It made great screw drivers.

  • M. E. Atwood

    Now surely you can’t forget to mention the place next to Polar Bear that served the”fresh” home made orange juice, or the Hampton Road Drive Inn.  My family watched so many John Wayne shoot em ups there!  You definiely knock the rust off the brain cells Gayla…keep it up…