Act like you know: The history of Bastille Day in Dallas

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Dallas Morning News Historical Archives

Time to brush up on the rules of pétanque, dig up one of those striped mime shirts that everyone seems to think say “French” and pony up $11.50 for your wine glass. Bastille on Bishop, one of the largest celebrations in the Bishop Arts District all year, is from 6-10 p.m. Sunday, July 14.

The Oak Cliff Bastille Day celebration started four years ago to celebrate the link between Dallas and France. It begins with La Reunion Colony, those crazy Belgian, French and Swiss pioneers who arrived in Dallas on June 16, 1855 with a goal of setting up a socialist utopia near the Trinity River … in summertime … in the wild west … before air conditioning. Anyway, the colony failed at farming, went broke and disbanded a few years later, but their heirs are still kicking around Dallas. Reverchon Park is named for a descendant.

We don’t know whether  the first settlers among the white cliffs of West Dallas remembered Bastille Day at La Reunion, but Bastille on Bishop is not the first celebration of its kind in Dallas.

Jean and Monique Bit, the French nationals who owned a restaurant called Chablis in the Quadrangle , threw Bastille Day celebrations  for several consecutive years in the early ’70s. They turned the outdoor area into a French cafe with lights and decorations, and if you made reservations, you could have a French dinner from Chablis and drink wine into the night. In 1972, the Bits invited their pal Francis Lyonnard, “a real French accordionist,” to perform classic French tunes.

The earliest Bastille Day celebration in Dallas might’ve been that of Camille de Dieu, whom the Dallas Morning News mentioned in its July 1939 column, “Dallas and Texas fifty years ago.” Supposedly this Camille de Dieu, of whom the Dallas Morning News Historical Archives contains no other mention, reportedly had entertained guests at his home at Bryan and Boll on July 14, 1889. Guests were “lavishly entertained. Wine and wit flowed freely.”

In the 1930s, a woman named Claire Vichy started up a French school in Highland Park. Vichy, whom the paper always referred to as “Mlle. Claire Vichy,” gave a Bastille Day concert and play at the school in 1933. What we might call “family friendly.”

Mr. and Mrs. Jose Martin (he was a French national, the sculptor who created “Pioneer Woman” at fair park) of 616 Exposition threw a Bastille Day party in 1952.

“A guillotine will be constructed alongside a bar in a room decorated by brush sketches of Paris scenes. Small tables will be covered with checked cloths and other tables will be set on the lawn in a boulevard cafe atmosphere.” the paper reported at the time.

If I could time travel only to one of those parties, the Martins would totally have no competition.


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