Oak Cliff history: The corner of Marsalis and Jefferson

The corner of Jefferson and Marsalis: Danny Fulgencio
The corner of Jefferson and Marsalis: Danny Fulgencio

Like the Hampton-Illinois corner featured in the October 2010 column, the intersection of Marsalis Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard holds volumes of Oak Cliff history. Last month’s story featured the beloved old Carnegie Library that once stood on the southwest corner. Here now, as promised, are the additional stories.

The now non-functioning triple bubbler-head fountain that remains on the corner was given to citizens of Oak Cliff, in 1915, by the Rev. George W. Owens. Erected at what was then called Library Plaza, the ornamental drinking fountain was a gift of gratitude for many kindnesses shown to Owens during his long and serious illness.

Born in 1852 in Alabama, Owens’ father died in the Civil War before his family moved to Texas in 1868, where the fatherless family picked cotton. Owens worked his way through school to become a circuit riding preacher and church founder for the Methodist Episcopal Church, eventually settling in Dallas. He helped organize Oak Cliff Methodist Church (across Jefferson Boulevard from the library) but also had a good head for entrepreneurship, later entering the lumber business. By the time of his 1918 death, George W. Owens & Son owned roughly 35 lumber outlets.

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For many years Owens, who lived at 222 Lancaster Rd., was the financial agent for the Texas Christian Advocate, the state’s M.E. Church organization, and also served as president of the Texas Lumbermen’s Association. He became president of the Metropolitan Street Railway Company (the South Belt line) in Dallas and served on the board of directors of the American Exchange National Bank. He donated the girl’s dormitory and dining room at Polytechnic College in Fort Worth and also developed a plan to assist deserving young men finance their college educations at Southern Methodist University, by lending tuition money. “The only security they need[ed] in getting the money is good character.”

Owens’ 1918 funeral was held at Oak Cliff Methodist Church.

On a negative note: The fountain’s three drinking heads sadly were marked “White Children,” “White Adults” and “Colored.”

Allen Melton (April 2013 column) told the story of meeting his wife at the old library and of inviting her to church with him — right across the street at Oak Cliff Methodist. Founded in 1887, the church’s basement rooms were built in 1912 and the sanctuary completed in 1915, but with a reported difference of opinion between two of the congregation’s most prominent members, one being T. L. Marsalis. It seems the two disagreed about which street the church should face: Marsalis or Jefferson? Obviously a compromise, the building faces … the corner!

The August 2010 column mentioned the “Oak Cliff tamale man” who vendored on the same corner, in front of the library. Recently, while reading Rose-Mary Rumbley’s book “Dallas, Too: Stories I’m Telling Again, Because I Want to Hear Them Myself,” I stumbled across the following:

Juan Rodriquez and his wife made the tasty, cornhusk-covered Mexican staples during the day, and Juan sold them at night. Hanging a lantern on his red tamale cart, Rodriquez enticed customers by opening the cart’s lid, allowing the steaming aroma to attract customers. He charged 15 cents per dozen, a price even Depression-era folks could afford.

It was this same intersection where, in 1929, Bernard McGee stepped off the corner on his way to work and was hit by a drunk driver. McGee, who at the time worked for North Texas Interurban, never recovered well enough to return to his job but eventually opened a small hamburger stand across the street from the veterans’ hospital on South Lancaster Road. The McGee Family story is shared in the same October 2011 column as Juan Rodriquez, above.

This corner is now renamed Turner Plaza, in honor of Adella Turner (Mrs. E.P., as she was more widely known), who lived in Oak Cliff and served for decades as founder and president of numerous women’s organizations. A mother of four, Turner organized and led the Texas Federation of Women’s Club, the Standard Club, the Women’s Alliance and the Texas Women’s Forum, with most organizations emphasizing education and better living conditions for women and children. She also worked in the fine arts world, supported the WWI effort and campaigned for women’s suffrage.

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After her death, Turner’s two living sons donated the four-story Victorian Turner home on Ewing Avenue (pictured on the wall at Norma’s Café) to the Oak Cliff Society of Fine Arts. However, when construction of I-35 E demanded the property, the society relocated to its current location on Rosemont Avenue and named its facility “Turner House.”

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Turner (1856-1938) was one of the first two women elected to the Dallas School Board in 1908. Adelle (not Adella, her real name) Turner Elementary School, on South Polk Street, was named in her honor.

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I miss the old library, as do many former and current Cliffites. Speaking for all of us, I wish the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League — and Michael Amonett — were around back in 1967. Another classic Oak Cliff building might still be standing. (I’ll bet we could also find someone to peddle tamales there, as well.) A good book, some warm Tex-Mex munchies and church on Sundays. Ah! If only …

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  • Karen Waldrop

    I remember the old library very well. My family lived in the apts on the corner of Marsalis & 8th St, and we girls were allowed to walk down to the library (or anywhere else on Jefferson) that we liked. The big library was absolutely beautiful. I also remember a little grocery store caddy-corner from the library on Jefferson & Marsalis where I would walk (or skate) by myself to buy a few groceries for my mother. Times were certainly different then. Oak Cliff will always hold my most beloved memories.

  • Sunny Gadway

    Dear Gayla,

    sunny Langston Gadway and I both grew up in Oak Cliff. I remember the early years in Oak Cliff also being born at Methodist hospital. I lived on Leander. Dr directly behind the Vernon and James Smith Builders offices ( which was housed in the building built by amy grandfather, Hoke Smith. Many of the moms in oak cliff I’m the early 50’s would take their children to the old library on Saturday mornings and go downstairs to sit in a circle for story hour!, these were wonderful times when all of the children in the neighborhoods played together and learned together at Rosemont, Greiner and Sunset HS. (As many of our parents did). In later years, as times changed lots of kids went to Stephens Park and Kimball.

    This was a great article and brought back fond memories which we have been remembering in the book you co-authored about Oak Cliff with so many wonderful pictures.

    Fondly,
    Mike Glover

  • Charles Goff

    I can remember my Grandmother taking us to the Oak Cliff Library on Saturdays to check out books. We also use to get bus transfers there. We live at the other end of Marsalis just 2 houses up from Loop 12. We went to grade school at T.L. Marsalis on up the hill. And about half way between Jefferson and where we lived we went to church at Wesley Methodist on Marsalis.

  • Benny Kirtley

    Marsalis and Jefferson was a very familiar intersection some years ago as my family and I worked at Oak Cliff Baking, Marsalis and ninth, for many years. Remembrance of Taylor Pontiac on the southeast corner and Beodecker-Verner on the northwest side of that intersection. Good article Gayla as always.

  • Wes Johnson

    Thanks for the story, I see my Dad’s store, Johnson Automotive, in the picture – 611 East Jefferson. Like Bill Melton (below) I grew up in Oak Cliff Methodist. Lot’s of memories

  • Donna Lackey

    It is a great story about the great history of OC and those whose names are so familiar to many.
    Thank you for giving us these great stories.

  • Bill Melton

    Gayla…Another Great story! Mr. Owens and his Corner are Legendary. I grew up attending Oak Cliff Methodist Church and never knew the story of why the Church was situated as it is, until now. Thanks. And yes, that was Mother and Dad’s Church (He
    actually asked her to OCM). Many wonderful memories at the corner of Jefferson and Marsalis. Thanks for bringing the Library, Church and Water Fountain to life again!