When Pappy’s Showland lit up West Dallas

Before luxury apartments lined West Commerce, and even earlier than that, before old motels sat rotting away and developers noticed that — hey! — West Dallas is a killer location and started tearing stuff down, before all that, there was Pappy’s.

Pappy’s Showland opened at 500 W. Commerce St. in 1946.

The owner, C.A. “Pappy” Dolsen, once owned a club with the notorious Las Vegas casino owner and one-time Dallas racketeer Benny Binion in the 1930s. Pappy knew Jack Ruby well.

“He was a double-crosser,” Pappy told Texas Monthly in 1974. “He always wanted to get the best of you.”

He owned the Colony Club with Abe Weinstein, and when Weinstein bought him out, Pappy went across the river and opened his own club.

From the beginning, Pappy’s booked national acts. Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Henny Youngman and Bob Hope all performed there.

Besides big bands and comedians, Pappy’s also had burlesque, circus acts and in the days of Jim Crow, he sometimes booked African-American performers for all-white audiences.

Pappy’s was a huge club that could hold as many as 3,000 revelers. If your parents or grandparents lived in Oak Cliff in the mid-1900s there might be a photo of them all dressed up and ready for the show at Pappy’s.

Message board user Earl Crumbie posted his memories of Pappy’s Showland in 2003. “It was bowl shape with a dancing floor on the lowest level and … tiers up from the dance floor,” Crumbie wrote. 

The club also hosted boxing and wrestling matches, some of which were televised locally.

Showland was the “least lucrative” club Pappy owned, according to the 1974 Texas Monthly article, although it doesn’t say why. It was very popular. Maybe Pappy spent all his money on building the enormous club and then couldn’t make it pay off.

Texas Monthly describes the interior of the club: “Several 8 x 10 glossy photographs … show a large, high-ceilinged rectangular room with an elaborate stage halfway down the longer wall, a stage large enough for a full orchestra plus plenty of room for a singer, tap dancers, or a stripper. In front of the stage is a dance floor surrounded by hundreds of round tables, large enough for six or eight people and all with white tablecloths.”

Pappy’s closed in 1958 after Oak Cliff went dry, leaving its owner in debt to the tune of $110,000.

By 1974, Pappy was 77 and a widower, living with four dogs and four cats in a house near Love Field.

At the time, he was the city’s biggest manager of strippers. Back then stripping was still more about performing burlesque than shaking that booty for dollar bills.

Texas Monthly asked him what makes a good stripper: “It takes a gimmick. Some girls are beautiful, and that’s their gimmick. But you’ve got to have, you know, something to set you apart. I’ll tell you one thing: I don’t think a girl should take everything off. After you’ve seen it all, what mystery’s left? Why come back?”

In December 1975, he celebrated his 79th birthday at a party with friends and 17 strippers. His picture with a scantily clad Chastity Fox made the newspaper.

He died in January 1979 at age 82 and is buried at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas.

We couldn’t figure out when Pappy’s Showland was demolished, but for decades after it was the site of the Dallas West Mobile Home/RV park. The Pike West Dallas apartments were built there in about 2016.

By |2019-03-22T15:11:30-05:00March 18th, 2019|All Magazine Articles, Back Story|Comments Off on When Pappy’s Showland lit up West Dallas

About the Author:

Rachel Stone is the Oak Cliff editor. Email rstone@advocatemag.com or follow twitter.com/advocate_oc.