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Ask John Neely Bryan: How the Yankees Conquered Dallas

I am truly humbled — (Ed.: You mean “honored” (I damn well know what I mean — JNB)) — to see the response elicited by my first foray into the dispensing of well-earned opinions, advisories, and judgments onto the World Wide Web. Most of you magnificently performed your duty of piling missives into the inbox at ask@dmagazine.com, and I shall endeavor to address your queries with all the timeliness of a bow-legged bobcat returning to its native soil during the first moon after the spring equinox to suffer the slow death it deserves for being such an abomination before God.

Some of you, I’m sorry to say, didn’t take my invitation seriously enough. “Boxers or briefs?” What sort of community icon, such that I am, would dare degrade himself by answering such impertinence? And what man in full possession of his faculties wears anything other than boxer-briefs these days?

Onward to more significant inquiries.

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Poll: The Greatest D Magazine Story in the History of Ever

By now you’ve had a chance, obviously, to read all 40 of the greatest stories ever published in the pages of D Magazine. In honor of our 40th anniversary, we revealed them over the course of 39 weeks between February and November. Now it’s time for a little scoreboarding.

Four writers landed two bylines apiece on the list: David Bauer (“The Sexiest Woman in Dallas” and “Akin vs. Dahl”), John Bloom (“Ole Anthony and the God Thing” and “Misty Crest: On the Frontier of the New American Dream”), Mike Shropshire (“Clayton Williams: Texas Crude” and “How Willie Nelson Saved Carl’s Corner — Again”), and Zac Crain (“Charley Pride Turns 70 and — Galdurnit — He’s Still Got Something” and “Love and Loss in a Small Texas Town.”)

One scribe boasts three — or two-and-a-half, depending on how you look at it. That’s Skip Hollandsworth (“Max Goldblatt’s Last Hurrah,” “The Fall of the House of Von Erich,” and “The Black Widow.”)

So one of those gents has got to be the greatest writer in the history of our humble publication, but we’re not here to debate that. We’re here to ask you to vote on the single-greatest story ever in D. The nominees are listed below. Write-ins accepted in the comments.

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How Should Gainesville Memorialize Killing 42 Men?

The Texas Observer has a piece about the recent unveiling of a memorial in Gainesville — in Cooke County, on Interstate 35, just south of the Red River — to the deaths of 42 men killed by the town for alleged treasonous activities in the midst of the Civil War. What duty does the city have to recognize this horrific act of mob violence?

The Medal of Honor program helped Gainesville get nominated—and then win—Rand McNally’s 2012 competition for “Most Patriotic Small Town in America,” a designation the town’s mayor, Jim Goldsworthy, loves to mention.

Around the time the town won the Rand McNally award, the Morton Museum of Cooke County leased a billboard to advertise a 150th anniversary: “October’s Reign of Terror, Commemorating the Great Hanging of 1862.” Within days, the city’s mayor pro tem, Ray Nichols, had voiced his disapproval. “Gainesville was voted most patriotic city in America this year, and we are very excited about it and our Medal of Honor Host City program. I think those are important. That other thing? I don’t think that’s important to anybody,” Nichols told the Austin American-Statesman at the time.

Though no explicit demands were made, the Cooke County Heritage Society pulled its sponsorship of the anniversary event, according to former Heritage Society President Steve Gordon, for fear that city officials’ anger might mean funding cuts to the town’s history museum. Gordon, an Oklahoma native and engineer who retired to Gainesville, was livid. “This story’s got to come up,” he says. “A lot of these people’s [families] weren’t even here in 1862. Why are they so upset?”

“These are good people,” McCaslin says. “They want their town to look good. You want to live in a town you’re proud of. That’s not a bad thing. Where does the Great Hanging fit into that? The town killed 42 people. It’s kind of a clunker.”

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New Lease on Life For Two Historic Buildings Downtown

Two buildings downtown that have sat vacant for decades are set for major redevelopments. Yesterday, the Dallas Business Journal broke news that the historic Dallas High School has finally found a developer, and what’s encouraging is that it’s South Side on Lamar developer Jack Mathews. Mathews has a strong track record with regards to turning around historic properties. Dallas High School has sat on preservation lists for years, and with its odd lot – adjacent to I-345 and Dart – it was clear it would take a creative developer (plus a rebounding downtown residential market) to make the property work. Mathews hasn’t said what he’ll do with the building, but it’s reasonable to expect some mix of residential and commercial.

The other historic property long considered in-danger is the 508 Park, the four story art deco (or, “Zig Zag Moderne,” if you want to nit-pick architectural styles) that was famously the place where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson made half of his recordings.

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Dallas: ‘City of Hate’ vs. ‘Plague City’

We like to poke fun at Dallas’ perennial striving to be “world class.” It’s a symptom of a kind of self-regarding, aspirational character that is not unique to Dallas, but which does manifest itself in this city in a particular way. Most newer, up-and-coming cities share a sense of wanting to prove their worth. But Dallas’ history has shaped this sensibility in its own way. Entrepreneurialism is the city’s birth right; social status is engrained as one of its highest civic values. But our scars, too, have contributed to the particular substance of our striving, self-conscious attempts to be regarded as great.

As we spent considerable ink exploring last year during the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, the scars left by those terrible events affected Dallas in a particular way. Not every city could have been branded a “city of hate;” that was the result of the particular cultural and political soup that was simmering here at the time.  But also, not every city would have internalized that reputation – and its shame and sense of remorse – with quite the same measure of wounded-ness. Those wounds have taken decades to get over, and they have also contributed to the desire and drive to make Dallas a great city.

In the days following the Ebola breakout, I couldn’t help but think about the assassination.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: The Saga of Priscilla and T. Cullen Davis

This week we’ve got the first (and only) double feature of our series celebrating the 40 greatest stories ever published in D Magazine. Together they recount the scandalous lives of wealthy Fort Worth socialites  Priscilla and T. Cullen Davis. One night in 1976, someone entered the mansion of the estranged couple and killed Priscilla’s 12-year-old daughter and live-in lover, as well as wounded two others, including Priscilla herself. Each of the surviving eyewitnesses said Cullen was the perpetrator.

The trial was just about to begin at the time Tom Stephenson’s March 1977 story was published. Ultimately, Cullen was acquitted of the murder of his stepdaughter, but that wasn’t the end of his legal troubles. An FBI sting operation resulted in incriminating tapes in which Cullen was heard arranging to have the presiding judge and witnesses in his murder trial killed. But his defense attorney again managed to argue that Cullen had been framed, and he got off.

The story of the multimillionaire who once famously hosted a screening of Deep Throat in a Winnebago at the Colonial golf tournament then took an odd turn.

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Akin vs. Dahl

It’s fitting that we’re posting this story during the annual run of the State Fair of Texas, since it concerns the later years of George Dahl, the architect who deserves much of the credit for the acclaimed Art Deco buildings at Fair Park. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t focus on the legacy of Dahl’s work but instead the unhappy family saga that consumed much of the final decade-plus of his life.

The facts, as presented in David Bauer’s article in the April 1979 issue of D Magazine (one of the 40 greatest stories we’ve ever published), are that Dahl’s daughter Gloria and her husband, Ted Akin, filed for guardianship of the then-83-year-old Dahl in April 1978. They said they’d done it because of their concerns about Dahl’s failing mental competency in business matters. Dahl believed they were motivated by greed, looking to take control of the millions of dollars in the trust that had been established in the name of his late wife, Lillie, of which Dahl himself was the sole trustee. They also were seeking to prevent him from marrying Joan Renfro, a much-younger woman whom they suspected of being only after Dahl’s money.

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Simplest Plan Ever For Dallas’ Future: Make It More Like Dallas’ Past

A streetcar system blanketing the city. Crowded downtown streets. A Trinity River Project without a toll road. Frog town. The cafes of Deep Ellum in the era of Blind Lemon Jefferson. Mayors who were Swiss abolitionists and former socialist utopians. Dallas was WAY hipper a hundred years or so ago. So that’s my suggestion for any and all conversation about where this city should head: let’s just try to make it more like it was.

What sparked this random, useless thought? Well, there’s more depressing news today about failed plans here, here, and here. But then I saw this post about Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff, which, in the brochure that dates to 1906, looks a lot cooler than anything that’s in Dallas today (seriously, it had the world’s largest roller skating rink). So let’s start there: bring back Lake Cliff Park as Dallas’ Coney Island. Anyway. Blah. Of course there was also the rampant racism, oligarchical governance, and all that other fun stuff. But, from an urban planning and land use perspective, this city had it figured out (oh, except for, you know, not paving the streets of or extending sanitation to West Dallas or Little Mexico — but come on, I’m trying to be nostalgic here). So what’s the biggest difference between yesterday’s Dallas and today? You know it: highways. Had to get that in there. Gratuitous. I know. Okay, I’m going back to trying to write about this.

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