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Making Dallas Even Better

Ask John Neely Bryan: What’s the History of Munger Place?

Question: I’m trying to do some research on my new neighborhood, Munger Place. What’s the history of it, and why are there so many damn apartment buildings? — Ricky F.

Congratulations and felicitations on settling into the Swiss Avenue Historic District’s disreputable older brother, Munger Place. You’ve arrived in time to surf a wave of urban renewal and nouveau gentrification. These days your new next-door neighbor is as likely to be an associate at some dandy-pants downtown law firm as a hooker — not that there’s much difference.

Time was, a ways back in the 20-aughts, that more “respectable” citizenry frowned upon the goings-on in this corner of Old East Dallas. But, from my vantage point, you missed out on much of what made life in the neighborhood an invigorating experience.

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Mailer Colleagues Recall His Journalism, JFK, and Oswald At a Sixth Floor Event

Chatting during a reception before an event at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza last week, a couple of heavyweight literati had some friendly advice for Nicola Longford, the museum’s executive director. It would help to add exhibits here—a la The Newseum in Washington, D.C.—aimed at putting the John F. Kennedy assassination more into the context of its times, Lawrence Schiller and J. Michael Lennon suggested.

For example, Schiller said, one good addition might be a description of the foreign travels of Lee Harvey Oswald, the president’s accused assassin: Finland, the Soviet Union, Mexico. When Longford lightly protested, citing the museum’s space constraints, Schiller and Lennon waved off the objection, insisting that “one panel” would do it.

The two men are sort of experts on these things. Schiller (who introduced himself to me saying, “Hello, I’m the big bad wolf”) is a photographer, author, and filmmaker who photographed the Kennedys for major publications and worked for nearly 35 years with the late writer Norman Mailer on such books as “Oswald’s Tale.” Lennon is Mailer’s archivist and authorized biographer (“Norman Mailer: A Double Life”).

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Why Are Most North Texas Houses Built of Brick?

We’re used to it, because this is where we live, where seemingly everyone has a brick house. But Gaile Robinson addresses the matter in the Star-Telegram:

The reason is simply geography and geology. As any gardener knows, our soil is loaded with clay, which is not great for gardening but is excellent for brickmaking. There is a large vein of clay that stretches across the United States from Central Texas, across Oklahoma and Arkansas, and up into Virginia and Maryland.

It has, in varying degrees, the right combination of clay, sand and silt for brickmaking. Within the belt is an ideal band called the Wilcox formation that has no iron in it, making it even better for brickmaking. It runs from San Antonio up to Arkansas. North Texas sits smack in the middle of the mother lode of brickmaking clay.

Most of it is under what the brick manufacturers call “overburden,” a very distressing term for trees, grass and other attractive organic matter.

Once the overburden is scraped off, the clay is removed in a strip-mining fashion that leaves very large terraced pits. Often the clay plays out and the pits are filled, making lakes. Some clay reserves are still producing, though, even after 100 years of mining.

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Edwige Belmore, Parisian Punk and Starck Club Tastemaker, Has Passed Away

Maybe you were lucky enough to be there. Maybe you just saw one of the documentaries or read one of the many articles. But those who remember Dallas’ legendary Starck Club at the beginning, in those heady early days in 1984 when Dallas, of all places, opened one of the most lavish and well-appointed nightclubs in the world, remember that to get into the club you to meet the demanding high standards of the woman manning the door. Her name was Edwige Belmore, and, sadly, she has passed away.

Edwige was in Dallas by way of Paris, London, and New York, where she hobnobbed with just about anyone who mattered in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Via Vogue:

[She] palled around with Yves Saint Laurent, Loulou de la Falaise, Bianca Jagger, and Farida Khelfa. She was photographed by Helmut Newton, Maripol, and Pierre et Gilles; reportedly dated both Sade and Grace Jones; kissed Andy Warhol on the cover of Façade (“The Queen of Punk Meets the Pope of Pop”); and walked the runway for both Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler. At the former’s 1979 James Bond extravaganza, she took to the catwalk in ripped fishnets and a black feathered jacket, singing “My Way” (the Sid Vicious version, bien sûr).

Yes, there was a time in Dallas when you couldn’t just hobble up McKinney Avenue with your drunken sorority sisters and stumble into the latest hot night spot. You had to impress someone who went to Studio 54 for the first time with Andy Warhol on her arm. Not many made it through the door at first (the crowded Starck in the old photos largely came after management relaxed its standards in early 1985), but those who made it into Starck in those early days were greeted with something Dallas — or the world — had never imagined before: black polished terrazzo floors, Romanian crystal champagne flutes, one of the best sound systems west of the Mississippi, a one-of-a-kind sunken dance floor, and, of course, legal Ecstasy.

Dallas isn’t the same city it was when the Starck Club opened, and, in part, it has the Starck to thank for that. And the style and soul of the Starck owes much to Edwige Belmore. It is sad to hear of her passing.

Historic Buildings Are Now a Little Safer in Dallas (Sort of)

Dallas has a brand spanking new ordinance designed to help prevent the midnight demolition of the city’s historic buildings. The Dallas City Council passed a demolition delay ordinance which will force a mandatory review period after a developer files for a demolition permit that will allow the city to double check to make sure that the building is not, well, historic. Here’s how it will work, via the Dallas Wilonsky News report:

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Preservation Dallas Announces 2015 Endangered Places List

As we mentioned last month, Preservation Dallas decided to designate “Most Endangered Historic Places” in the city for the first time in five years. The list has just been announced.

It includes a Swiss Avenue house that’s been in use as a wedding venue (against the wishes of neighbors), Highland Park ISD schools that are set to be rebuilt if a bond is approved this November, the Forest Theater, Norman Brinker’s first restaurant, “historic cemeteries” like McCree in Lake Highlands, and “low-rise” downtown buildings whose protection would help ensure a sense of “human scale” to the city center.

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Did Texas Monthly Go Too Soft on the New Texas Textbooks’ Treatment of Slavery?

The September issue of Texas Monthly reports on the Texas school book controversy that has been simmering since 2010. That’s when the Texas State Board of Education adopted new curriculum standards that, it was argued at the time, attempted to coax publishers into producing student textbooks that downplayed the historical realities of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. Well, now those textbooks have been published, and while they are not yet available to the general public, TexMo’s Tom Bartlett reports that those who have perused them don’t believe they are as bad as many feared.

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