Welcome to the ’20s, Oak Cliff.
Silent movies accompanied by live orchestras, sparkly knee-length dresses with chunky boots, people riding motorcycles with no helmet, elaborate facial hair. That could be New Year’s Eve at the Texas Theatre, but we’re talking about the 1920s.
As we say goodbye to this century’s teens, let’s take a look at the Roaring ’20s, backward and forward.
Streets and sidewalks
The Dallas Automobile club’s big initiative for 1926 was requiring drivers to use consistent hand signals, and deciding what those should be, for left turn, right turn and stop. Modern turn signals weren’t invented until 1938. Club members also wanted to make sure that police were enforcing “the new headlight law,” according to a story in the Dallas Morning News Historical Archives. One of the club’s main traffic concerns was congestion at both ends of the Houston Street Viaduct; they wanted to find a way to build a second viaduct to Oak Cliff. One was built, the Jefferson Viaduct, in the 1960s.
Watch in 2020: The project to repave and build new curbs and sidewalks on West Davis should be completed soon. After that will come work to turn Tyler and Polk into two-way streets with a roundabout near Kidd Springs Park.
Sears & Roebuck Co. announced in October 1929 that it planned to open 18 stores in Texas, including one on Jefferson Boulevard. Sears opened in Jefferson Tower that year; its last location was on the site of what is now Fiesta Mart. That closed in 1975 when Sears opened at Red Bird Mall. The Sears & Roebuck distribution center on South Lamar was built in 1915 to service catalog business across the region.
Watch in 2020: Uber broke ground in November on its Dallas headquarters building in Deep Ellum, where it plans to offer thousands of high-paying jobs just a 5-mile commute from our neighborhood. The tech unicorn hasn’t proven itself to be real yet, though. Uber’s stock prices are on a steady downward trajectory; the San Francisco-based company laid off 1,000 people in July; and it lost billions of dollars in 2019.
The local newspaper in 1925 ran a story about O.A. Gilliam, who lived on Lancaster Road and said he was a picket guard for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller. Gilliam tells an overtly racist story about capturing a black Yankee soldier, except he doesn’t say “black.” He also recounts personal conversations he supposedly had with Lee, including his bragging to Lee about capturing the Yankee. The City of Dallas unveiled its bronze statue, Robert E. Lee on Traveller, as part of the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebration, in June 1936, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance.
Watch in 2020: The statue was removed in 2017, and Lee Park was renamed Turtle Creek Park. A golf resort that’s owned by Dallas billionaire Kelcy Warren in the far West Texas town Lajitas bought the bronze at auction for $1.4 million in 2019. The city plans to spend that cash removing the Confederate War Memorial, a granite pillar surrounded by four Italian marble statues of three Confederate officials, near the Downtown convention center.
The Oak Cliff Little Theater produced George Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Craig’s Wife” in the auditorium of Oak Cliff High School [See page 5] in October 1928. Kelly was the uncle of Princess Grace of Monaco, and the play has been made into a movie three times. The Oak Cliff Little Theater formed in 1926 as an offshoot of the Oak Cliff Fine Arts Society, which is active to this day.
Watch in 2020: The Bishop Arts Theatre Center produces “Loving and Loving,” Feb. 5-23. It’s a play about Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who were arrested for being married in 1958 Virginia.
A news item from October 1929 informs readers that Mrs. Ada Jones would continue operating the bus line she owned and operated because of a “loophole,” the fact it was outside the Dallas city limits, in the town of Lisbon. Other small towns surrounding the original Oak Cliff had recently been annexed to Dallas, and an expanded city bus line on Ewing Avenue offered low fares to connect to the streetcar. Lisbon, now the part of Dallas surrounding the Dallas VA Medical Center, had not yet annexed. So Mrs. Jones got to keep her private bus connection with its high fares.
Watch in the 2020s: The city has $8 million to extend the new Dallas streetcar from Union Station down Young Street to the convention center. The city and DART plan to connect the streetcar, via Elm or Commerce, to the McKinney Avenue Trolley as soon as 2023. Our end needs a connection from Bishop Arts to Jefferson. Maybe this decade? The old streetcar, which ceased service in 1959, once ran down Jefferson from Zang to Tyler.
Artesian wells still supplied Oak Cliff’s water in the 1920s. Sounds great, right? Well, not always. “The pure artesian water is ordinarily warm in the summertime and reaches a point sometimes too warm for domestic use.” Developer Charles A. Mangold, whose Cliff Towers was nearing completion on Colorado Boulevard in 1929, told a reporter that the residential building’s 25,000-gallon water tanks would feature a cooling and heating system delivering water at three temperatures, including just above freezing, achieved by “a mechanical process of an iced spray system.” What a luxury in the Texas summer. Commercial buildings in Dallas only started getting air conditioning in the mid-1920s. Home air conditioners didn’t come on the market until about 1928.
Watch in 2020: City Council has proposed changing rules for how bulky trash is picked up and recycling brush, yard and food waste. The council didn’t take up the issue in 2019 as expected.