An Oak Cliff parking lot doesn’t sound like a place where anything “historic” would have taken place. Those were my thoughts.
But not any longer.
While attending a recent Kimball alumni association brunch, I discovered new information about a certain Oak Cliff parking lot. Although I must admit that I participated in some of the more innocent activities there, before I graduated from high school in 1965, most of what I learned at the meeting happened after I was no longer a teenager, which I guess takes me off the hook a bit.
In the early 1960s, the newly developed southwest corner of South Hampton Road and West Illinois Avenue became fertile ground for all sorts of teenage goings-on. Oh, the stories!
The main anchor of the corner’s strip center was Minyard grocery store, where scores of Oak Cliff teens worked over the years. And other teen employees manned the myriad small businesses like Hiegel’s One Hour Martinizing, Red Wing Shoes and, later, an El Fenix Cafeteria.
Also located in the center was Pizza Inn, only the second location in Oak Cliff. And Jack-in-the-Box, reportedly the first in Oak Cliff.
Before these two openings, many Cliffites had never heard of either.
Both eateries became instant Oak Cliff teen hangouts, with the drive through window at Jack’s always backed-up. Without the carhops required at the Dairy Marts and Dairy Queens of the day, drive-through service normally proved to be quicker — definitely the “new thang”.
At this corner, teens could munch pizza at Pizza Inn, have ice cream at the Polar Bear, go cruising up and down either Hampton or Westmoreland — or Kiest Park — then back to Jack’s for a Dr Pepper “nightcap”. Jack-in-the-Box stayed open late, also a new concept at the time.
Another reason the area attracted so many teens centered on the Hampton-Illinois library, close to the intersection. Always needing a place for some munchies after those rough nights of library research, Austin’s Barbecue catty-cornered Jack’s, and Griff’s Hamburgers and Naler’s Restaurant on the other corner allowed a fairly stellar choice of readily available eating options — complete with friends already hanging around. What else could a high schooler want?
Margaret Kemp (Kimball ’74) told me she met her first husband while in the drive-through line at Jack’s. And SueAnn Wall (also Kimball ’74) told me about Stevie Ray Vaughan (who lived only a few blocks away) playing music in the parking lot when he couldn’t find any other place to perform. Who knew?
According to Margaret and SueAnn, merchants didn’t complain about all the teen traffic and loitering. “They loved it,” Margaret says. “Everyone ate or purchased items at the different stores, so they liked us being there. It was good for business. No one complained.”
Margaret also shared her story of going trick-or-treating at the strip center with some girlfriends. According to her, they managed to acquire a few pieces of candy from the Minyard manager, along with two Brach’s Halloween candy displays, and ice cream cones at Polar Bear. (Wow! Those early-’70s teenagers really knew how to have a good time!)
For years, teens congregated in the parking lot and hung out, listening to music on car radios, sitting on car hoods, or wandering around the lot visiting with friends. Because the corner’s location was just west of the point where the Adamson, Sunset, and Kimball high school boundary lines came together, and because of all of its novelties (like Pizza Inn, Jack-in-the-Box, and the satellite Polar Bear ice cream store, too), the popular area hosted students from all three schools, and a few others. (Most of the South Oak Cliff teens stayed east of Beckley and south of Saner, and Carter was a bit further away, although those Carter Cowboys could drive.)
But all the enjoyment came to a halt when the teen activities started resembling those in “Rebel Without a Cause” more than those in TV’s “Happy Days”, and the Dallas Police began “discouraging” the congregating.
All these aforementioned teenagers are now, like me, a part of the aging baby boomers generation. There are no longer hordes of Oak Cliff teens hanging out at the once busy lot, although the Pizza Inn and the Jack-in-the-Box do remain … as do the memories.
Oh, to be young again, back in line at Jack’s! But this time around, I wouldn’t be there at midnight. It would be more like 5 p.m. For us boomers, 5 p.m. is the new midnight.