It’s gone now, but is vivid in many Cliffites’ memories
My stories normally have an accompanying photo or two, or three, or four. However, this month it’s not possible. Not only is my subject no longer around, but, to my knowledge (and I’ve turned over quite a few stones on this one), there appear to be no photos.
The subject in question was anchored on the south side of Twelfth Street, east of Beckley and across the street from the old courthouse. Its composition was like none other, at least none other than we mid-century Cliffites had ever viewed. And it certainly didn’t match anything else around. To all the locals, the structure was known simply as the “Chinese House,” because it was, well, Chinese! No kidding.
Glenn Straus’s (Adamson ’59) boyhood paper route took him past the house regularly, and he remembers the place quite well. It took up two lots, he says, and was “remarkable, ornate and overdone, but still tasteful.” The house’s exterior had “multiple colors of tiles, sculptured concrete, varied stones and petrified wood,” he explains. “These architectural details were also included in the concrete wall around the property and extended over the rather large eastern side yard. I also remember a large fountain in that side yard that I never saw working.”
“[I] think it was originally a prairie/foursquare that someone started revamping with rocks and upturned roof supports — a real Chinese look,” answered Cliffite Carla Boss when responding to my email query. “I remember seeing it as a young girl. It was definitely unique.”
The heavily tree-shaded house showcased a front exterior that included an ornate concrete stairway to a tiny second-floor apartment. The stairway’s railing was composed of concrete sculpted to look like a 3-inch-diameter tree trunk that reflected sawed-off branch stumps.
Straus reports that the renters in the upstairs apartment were subscribers for the five years he carried the Dallas Morning News, but he doesn’t remember ever talking to them about the owner, “although I must have,” he adds.
Straus saw whom he assumed to be the owner only twice in the five years, both times when Straus rode by on his bike. “I caught about a 3-second glimpse of him,” says Straus, who says the owner was of Anglo, not Asian, descent. “He was unloading groceries from his car in the driveway next to a side door” the former paperboy continues. “I got the impression that he did not want to talk, so I never tried.”
During my growing-up years and those of others, this Oak Cliff house provided the community with not only a true oddity to view, but with an assortment of stories to kick around as well — the most infamous reported by Boss: “There were lots of spooky stories about it, [the] best one being that the man had buried his wife there.” (I’m only a columnist, folks. I just report what I hear.)
Neighborhood newbies may believe the memories of this house to be a bit “out there” and not that relevant to Oak Cliff history. However … one only needs to ask any old-timer if they remember this one-of-a-kind place and the answer will most likely be: “The Chinese House? Sure! Everyone knew where it was. Is it still there?”
In a recent inquiry to Alan Elliott (the self-proclaimed “mayor” of oakcliff.org), Regina Kinney left the following message:
“I grew up in Oak Cliff in the 1950s and ’60s and remember that there was a house of Chinese architecture in Oak Cliff. It was so unusual that my parents would take my brother and me by there periodically so we could look at it. I think it was close to the zoo, somewhere off of East Clarendon Road, but I can’t remember where it was. Do you have any information on this house? Where was it? Is it still there? I would love to drive by and see it the next time I’m in Dallas. Thanks for any information you can give me on ‘the Chinese house’ of Oak Cliff.”
See what I mean, people? I don’t make up this stuff.
The “Chinese House of Oak Cliff” even has a thread on the Dallas Historical Society’s community forum, where the demolished place is described as “magical” and “legendary” and offers more inquiries about whether or not the house still exists.
“Seems like there were pieces of tile or china or glass or something embedded in the masonry wall that surrounded the house,” posted Vivian Yates Skinner (Carter ’72), who also states that two of her now adult sons remember the place.
Another poster remembers the “heavily beveled leaded glass front door” and adds that “to an Oak Cliff kid in the ’50s, this always seemed to be a magical place.”
Another statement on the board reads: “I thought sometimes it looked kind of spooky, but I always loved it.”
Where the house once stood now is the site of a Wendy’s fast food restaurant. The eerie stone structure is now only a ghost, brought down by an extensive fire that required the place to be demolished. But some ghosts endear themselves to us.
The old shadowy “Chinese House of Oak Cliff” is definitely one.