Places. This site is all about places, and how a place shapes our experience, defines who we are, what we believe, and who we really are underneath all those layers of change. The enduring question is, “Where are you from?”
Once answered, this question starts shaping the drawing that becomes a version of who we are. We hope to see this picture one day, and we hope to help draw in some of the depth, and value, and perspective, and color, and texture of this story. We hope to do this by sharing our places with you, and finding out where you are from, too. We believe one of the best ways to do this is to share what we read, what we write, and where we “ARE” in life.
Factual Misrepresentations About Fort Worth
by J. Tarvin
What do Robert Bass, Charles Tandy, Amon G. Carter, W. T. Waggoner, K. M. Van Zandt, and Ephraim M. Daggett have in common? You thought you would never need it, didn’t you? You thought it was just another term you could file away after the final exam. You thought it was a waste of your precious time. You thought Oligarchy was an unnecessary burden on what few brain cells you’ve managed to preserve.
Well, maybe it is, but it is the correct answer. No, it has nothing to do with oil, not directly anyway. It has to do with that big fish in the small pond metaphor for the socio-economic political legacy of this town. Fort Worth is a model oligarchy. Your civics professor probably used Fort Worth and Amon G. Carter to explain oligarchy. Understanding and appreciating the oligarchic form of the socio-economic political game is one of the advantages and/or disadvantages of living here. You may have been around this system so long, it is difficult for you to recognize. If you’re a native of Fort Worth and you’ve always wondered why all of your cosmopolitan friends from other parts of the country thought you had a distorted sense of how the world works, and that your naïveté about why you and your place in this world is so insignificant, this is why.
Feel better? You should, this should explain much of your own weltschmertzenangst. This is why your cousin could not get on at the Fire Department after high school. This is why Fort Worth is smaller than Dallas. This should explain the M & O Subway. This is why the streets are paved with Thurber brick, the fire trucks are painted white, and why there is an image of a panther on every badge of every Fort Worth Police Officer. No, we don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges. This should explain Sundance Square, Hell’s Half Acre, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rivercrest, the Southwestern Exposition Fat Stock Show & Rodeo. This is why Fort Worth is three-hundred and seventy-seven miles from Del Rio on Highway 377, and thirty miles from Dallas on Interstate Highway 30, and twenty miles from Weatherford on Interstate Highway 20, and thirty-five miles from Denton on Interstate Highway 35, and two-hundred and eighty-seven miles, …oh, well, you get the idea. Oligarchies also create strange aberrations that mysteriously compliment the atmosphere of an oligarchic society, such as Laundromats, ice cream Drumsticks, Midget Village, the Bryce Building, an indoor rodeo, and Lake Como Casino. So if you have ever used coins to make your washing machine work, taken your best girl down Hidden Road after dark to visit the midgets, made some unwise bets at the Lake Como Casino, or eaten an ice cream confection called a Drumstick, seen the smallest office building in the world, or attended the world’s first indoor rodeo, you share some responsibility, if not part of the blame for this oligarchy called, ‘Cowtown’.
Yes, Cowtown, you know a place with cows, cowboys, cowgirls, and a tremendous pile of cow manure. Another oligarchic device to keep the population in check, the economy controlled, and the politics safely tucked away in that proverbial ‘smoke filled back room’ down on Seventh Street where the aroma is just ripe enough to stink up the place.
Cowtown is actually an improvement, at least it is better than their earlier attempts with panthers, snakes and the other things they used to dissuade, intimidate, and discourage growth. This place was once called, The Panther City, the unavoidable bane adopted because it was so quiet panthers slept in the streets of downtown undisturbed by any traffic. This was supposed to discourage any upstart outsider from interfering with the current oligarchy in power structure. It was an image they thought would work, but all it seemed to have done is help yellow page sales. Hence, the Fort Worth Cats baseball team, the Panther City Boys Club, along with Panther City Bail Bonds and Speedometer Repair, the Panther City this, and the Panther City that, the badge maker, and others. This ruse obviously backfired, and people still came here. So, they built a zoo to put the panthers in it and bought Pete.
Pete is, Pete the Python, a large snake who calls the Fort Worth Zoo, home. Pete kept a whole generation of Fort Worth children confined to their homes, because of his proclivity for escape from the zoo. The newspapers featured ‘Pete the Python Alerts’, and radio and television programs were interrupted with public service announcements alerting the public to retrieve their small children and keep them inside until Pete could be recaptured. We had no traumatic atomic bomb annihilation scars from our childhood. We had more immediate, realistic, media driven and believable threats to contend with. We were absolutely convinced that we would be eaten alive by a gigantic snake if we so much as ventured to take the garbage out to the alley. How does anyone grow up sane in this town?
How did this place get to be this place? Right from the very beginning there were problems. We have a dysfunctional background. Fort Worth was founded by a unit of the Second Dragoons. The Second Dragoons? What a group that must have been? What is a Dragoon? What is a Second Dragoon? Why not the real American frontier cavalry troopers, why ’goons? Maybe, an oligarchy was the only answer. The Second Dragoons is a United States Army designation. This partially explains it, but not completely, if you have a weird name to begin with, a name that says, Dragoon, maybe it’s best to change the name, instead of adopting such an eclectic concept of a socio-economic political design.
The motto of the Second Dragoons is, “Remember your Regiment, and follow your Officers” , the author of the motto is, you guessed it, an officer, Brevet Major Ripley Arnold. Major Arnold is buried in the Pioneer Rest Cemetery on Samuels Avenue. He was shot in the back by one of his own men. Is it any wonder we have doubts about our origins, our place, our leaders, our oligarchy? Remember your Oligarchy…
So, we continue on from these modest beginnings with one oligarchic patron, or group of patrons after another assuming control of our destiny. If it isn’t the Seventh Street Gang, or the Leonard Brothers, or Tandy, or Uncle Amon, or the Basstopo, it will be some other patriarchal characterization of a leader with a corner on the market of some media empire, or technologically advanced enterprise, or real estate empire, or an oil and gas legacy, or the next innovation of industry and commerce. They will assume the role and call the tune for the next decade or so, until their replacement comes along or the Two Cain’ts Rule is invoked. There are only Two Cain’ts in the oligarchy game, if you cain’t do it, you cain’t stay.
There is only one other plausible theory to all this convoluted history. It is one that I only hesitantly offer. Oh, it has its claim on a quiet verisimilitude, it has its ancient and scholarly roots, and yes, even a biblical authority to support its premise. But I have to admit it takes real conviction and insight to make this ontological leap of faith to this paradigm. There are only subtle and ethereal glimpses of this truth and to prove it out takes extraordinary intelligence and foresight, and it is much too complex of an undertaking to explore here.
However, just to peak your curiosity and leave you with some things to think about, listen. Remember Ephraim Daggett, Isaac Van Zandt, Jacob Washer? And, what about Timothy Isaiah Courtright, and what about Daniel Meyer Coliseum, and that plague of frogs? Doesn’t chosen people lend something to this Oligarchy idea? Could we be a lost tribe? Was that lost tribe an Oligarchy? Does the phrase, ‘let my people go’ stir any deep seated emotional scars of a forgotten past?
Finding My Place:
by Melvin Morgan
When you’re growing up, you can go from point A to point B without ever veering off your pathway, but side trips can possibly make life much more fruitful.
As an adolescent, I spent almost every weekend in the Stockyards in North Fort Worth. I would walk 3 blocks and catch my bus to take me there. As the bus rolled to it’s Exchange Avenue. stop, the front door to the Penny Arcade was right there on the corner. It was a fairly large place that had an assortment of (not a single video) games that you could waste a little time and money on before going to the New Isis Theater for a Saturday triple feature, a cartoon, a serial plus a Newsreel.
My favorite machine at the arcade was “The Shocker”, put your money in and squeeze the handle and get the S— shocked out of you–that was the ‘Fun’ part. Then, I hit the boxing bag, played skee ball, and played on a couple of pinball machines. The photo collage (below-recent photos) is how the block was laid out. At the end of the arcade was a small alley walkway, then a small bookstore, Bruner’s Department Store and then the New Isis Theatre.
The bookstore had cigarettes, lighters, books and magazines, but it was way before Playboy, but I did find a book on anatomy. Although, it only had sketches, it helped clear up a few things I was not quite sure of and the book had the names of body parts written out (not slang), confirming all the parts.
Bruner’s Department Store was worth a weekly visit to the “Foot X-ray” machine to watch your bones and toes wiggle inside your shoes. It was an unattended X-ray machine and I would stand on the machine looking down on my feet for several minutes. No harm! Finally the movies and if you didn’t get enough on Saturday, come back on Sunday for two new movies.
The alley walkway led to a center parking lot surrounded by buildings. Unpaved, dirt/gravel and the backdoors and trash bins of all the buildings made it an unsavory somewhat dirty place. Some kids would go back there and acting like little thugs would watch fistfights or participate in crap games. Just past the walkway of the alley was a fire escape that went up to and behind an old walk up hotel.
One day I looked up and saw a young damsel looking down from her balcony into the lovely rose garden below. Wait a minute—That was just my imagination and the sun was in my eyes, there was not a rose garden and she was not a young Damsel, she was instead a middle aged fallen dove, standing on the fire escape landing* getting some fresh air or getting away from her latest “John.” We both waved, we both said Hi, she said “save your money”. Was it advice for the future or a warning not to gamble? She was nice and as taught I spoke to her returning her genuine friendly banter.
The Stockyards looked innocent during the day, but at night it was a rough and tumble area of western clothing/hat stores, pawn shops, small cafes, bars, a large drugstore, a nationally known restaurant, another restaurant that made eating calf testicles popular, but if you walked one block either side of Main Street chances are you would probably see a real fistfight or cuss fight for sure–exciting!
During what was called Pioneer Days, a Rodeo took place in the Coliseum with a carnival and side shows down the middle of Exchange Avenue. One such sideshow was a “Geek Pit”- this one particular Geek did not bite the heads off baby chickens, but would eat cigarettes people would flick on or at him-disgusting? Yes, but they didn’t have Siamese twins that year and it was better than a two headed calf.
Yes, a lot was not as perfect as some think today’s world is. All in all, North Side was a good place to grow up in, an excellent place for cowboys to hang out and a good starting place before venturing out to downtown.
Looking back I had a great time growing up where and how I did. A kid’s environment plays an important role in the lifestyle they choose to lead. I always enjoyed a bit of the wild side, as most people do, but could return to normalcy and school and innocence at days end, if I had to.
*About 40 years later I had the opportunity of standing on that fire escape landing, stepping out the door and looking down on the old dirty parking area, nothing had changed. The way I got out there was up the hotel’s steep walk up stairs that opened into an open old style parlor with a couple of old sofas and a couple chairs with bedrooms on both sides of the steep stairs. No amenities besides the bed was a small dresser and a chair were available–no bathroom. That was located down the hallway to the right past the fire escape. At the opposite side of the hotel was the madam’s large plush red bedroom with a bathroom. In its heyday it was not air-conditioned and did not come with a female for each room, but they had room service if you wanted one. The hotel has been refurbished to a degree and was being marketed as Miss Mollies’ Bed & Breakfast. I thanked them for the tour, and wished them good luck with their new venture!
Placing Myself by Jack Tarvin
Places have an intrinsic value to our perceptions, they color our vision and memories. Most everyone has a place to put themselves that helps them define every other place. The fabric of Texas has an intricate pattern of places and people, and each piece of this pattern has its own design. So, when you say you are from the Hill Country, or out on the Caprock, or down in the Valley, or up in the Cross-Timbers, others have some sense of the texture of the cloth from which you were cut.
Close examination of the patchwork of my place, the place that is woven into my character and has colored my vision and memory, reveals the North Side, an area bordered roughly by the Jacksboro Highway, Long Avenue, the Trinity River and the Fort Worth Stockyards. In my youth it was an extraordinary place to be.
The North Side was a grand melee of all things. It wasn’t Southern in socio-economic political terms, but it has its Southern roots. It wasn’t entirely Western, but it attempted to maintain it’s Western heritage. No one considered it cosmopolitan, but it held a great diversity of cultures, languages, customs. It was a different kind of place, a place with its own character
The North Side had things other places did not have. North of 28th Street, it had a pile of cow manure that maintained a consistent two story height and was more than three-hundred yards long. It had a Double A ball team, the Fort Worth Cats. It had two of the largest meat packing plants ever built. It had a dance hall with a canvass roof that was opened up on hot summer nights. It had the world’s first indoor rodeo. It had Thurber brick streets and unpaved alleys.
In the middle of the 20th century, when people came to look for work in Fort Worth, they came to the North Side. There were primarily only two places to work-the meat packing houses, or the bomber plant. The North Side sat right in the middle. There were Greeks, Poles, Italians, Germans, Czechs, Hispanics, and Blacks. There were Anagnostises, Payblases, Pokludas, Oujeskys, Remaldos, Regas, Wagners, Strauses, Espinosas, and Menchacas, Jacksons, Washington’s, Kellys, and Mcllhennys, and the occasional Snodgrass.
It was working class people with a working class lifestyle, living in small frame houses and driving second hand cars. There were a few blocks of larger two story houses, but not many. Most everyone knew who everyone else was, which kids were whose, who could be trusted, who drank too much, and who had a sordid past, or was living one.
Most all of these people proclaimed with some pride their affinity for this place called, the North Side, or “the Hill”. Collectively, they called themselves North Siders, and at the same time separated themselves into groups. There were Catholics and Baptists, Jews and Methodists. There were Democrats, Dixiecrats, bureaucrats, and a Republican. There were Convair people, and Armour people, and Swift people, and a few school people. They could call each other derisive names referencing each others’ parentage or character flaws, but if anyone who lived outside of the North Side tried the same thing they suffered dearly for it from a united front of North Siders.
They worked with each other, but they didn’t worship with each other. They went to school together, but they didn’t much date each other. They voted the Democratic ticket together, but they still had fist fights in the precinct meetings. They were a raucous group. It was real life in epic proportions with a cast of thousands
When the shift changed at the packinghouses, I could stand at the intersection of Houston and Exchange and watch an odyssey of momentous change. They blew the whistle and people made their way out of the packinghouses, the livestock pens, the horse and mule barns, and the Exchange Building. They migrated into the street and a cloud of dust rose up about them, meat cutters in their blood encrusted white coats, cattle buyers in their 10X beaver felt hats, the Weighmasters in their khakis and Stetsons, and the yard men in their mud and manure caked boots and jeans. Their numbers diminished as made their way up Exchange Avenue, peeling off into beer joints, being picked up by their wives, or catching buses. On paydays it was even better, as an urgent sense to spend, or gamble, or pick a fight emerged.
The stockyards had its own sense of spontaneous mischief and practical jokes woven into the routine. A yard hand caught sleeping on one of the stone and wooden benches often woke up to a newspaper fire set under his bench. Greenhorns searched futilely for left handed shoehorns for the blacksmiths. In the bars and barber shops bets were made with the naive on the absurd.
There was a strict code of conduct, though, even with these pranksters. You didn’t make small talk about anyone’s personal problems. You couldn’t back down from a fight, or cuss where ladies were present. You didn’t spit on the sidewalk, your employer was always addressed as, “Sir,” and you never wore a straw hat after Halloween, or a felt one after Easter.
Crazy Mike was the mascot of our community. He walked the streets of the Hill day and night. You could talk to Mike about anything, he always had an opinion. He never had a real job, but he picked up trash, swept the sidewalks, collected bottle caps and bottles. He directed traffic, rescued baseballs from storm sewers, killed snakes, and caught and collected lightening bugs on warm summer evenings. Long before it was a popular performance genre he entertained children with his one man, one act plays. He taught us to live our lives with a little more abandon, to ride cardboard sleds down dry grass hills, and to roller skate down metal slide fire escapes.
Mr. Sam Roy showed up at the B & B Barbershop every other Saturday. He only spoke in dramatic monologues. He would shove the shop door open and begin his story.
“Came here to the North Side in nineteen hunnert and three with my Daddy in a covered wagon. It took us six days to get here from Hillsboro. Came up North Main to Marine Creek, Daddy dug a hole. Backed that wagon down in that hole, and he cut heads for two bits a head. He sent me down to the creek ever mornin’ to haul water up to that wagon. I hauled five gallons of water from the creek each day, and Daddy warshed everybody’s head in the same bucket. Cut heads until the City shut him down and he went to work for Armour and Company”
“I don’t know why I come in here every other Saturday and entertain you fellas. You all look like you could be just as easily entertained watchin’ a piss ant push a bale of hay up the Vidock.”
Generations of families on the hill have fostered a rich tradition and heritage with their own stories. And, the mystique of the place was enhanced by people like Rogers Hornsby, Yale Lary, Johnny Rutherford, Bob Schieffer, and other famous names, but the bulk of our heroes are the ones who gave this place a depth of character and a tradition of pride that has been instilled in its children. There were the prominent ones like Mrs. Hazel Leigh, who established the North Fort Worth Boys Club, and Dr. Abe Greines who gave a lifetime of medical service to the people on the Hill. And, there were the ordinary folks who made their lives models for the youngsters to emulate: the barbers Foy Babb and Jack Bridwell, the grocers Dale Weir and Herb Hunter, Mr. J.D. Farmer at his cattle commission company, Ray Croslin the school teacher, and coach Ted Koonce, Gordon Smith and R. Earl Allen the Baptist youth director and pastor.
This place has an intrinsic value to my perceptions. It has colored my vision and memory. It’s the place I use to help me define every other place. It’s in the cut and texture of the cloth of my character, a place called The North Side.