On Texas Courthouses, and the Loss Thereof

A while back, I posted “Greetings from Austin“, an introductory article on the souvenir postcard booklet from 1930s Austin, Texas. One of the cards features a view of the PWA Moderne-style Travis County Courthouse:

I have to say, PWA Moderne is one of my favorite architectural styles. Descended from Art Deco, to me it signifies the optimistic interbellum years between the (first two, hopefully) World Wars. Also, it’s closely-related to another of my favorite, Zigzag Moderne, as shown in this shot of the T&P Station in Fort Worth, Texas:

Curious about the Travis County Courthouse, I had to check if it was still standing, which it is (Google Streetview to the rescue!)

Which is fortunate, as Texas counties have a nasty habit of tearing down old courthouses to replace them with monstrosities.

Some examples:

Austin County replaced this lovely old building:

With this garbage:

Brazos County took down this:

In favor of this bit of misfortune:

Galveston County got rid of this:

In favor of whatever is going on here:

And in my hometown of Tyler, Smith County thought this grand old edifice was not worth keeping around:

And tore it down in favor of this horrendousness:

Some counties do it right, however; they keep the old building around for historical reasons while moving the functions of the court to a newer building.

For example, my current county, Collin, still has the old courthouse:

(which, admittedly, isn’t very attractive)

But they’ve since moved the courts and related functions to this bit of weirdness:

Dallas County kept around “Old Red” as a museum:

But did replace it with whatever this is :

Even Travis County is building a new building rather than tearing down their old courthouse:

While a striking building, it just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi that makes a courthouse a courthouse. To me, this looks like another generic office building. But I’m not an architect, so what do I know?

If you’re interested in Texas courthouses, there’s a whole website that documents all 254 of them at texascourthouses.com. Go visit and take a look at some lovely buildings along with a fair-helping of architectural misadventures.

How Big Is ________?

Note: It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States, so I’m reposting an article that originally ran way back in 2011 on my photography blog rather than creating new content.

I was going over photos from our latest Vegas trip the other night, pondering on how I never seem to make it to every place I want to go when I’m out there in the desert and how I always think “I’ll make it there next time”, then never do.  Part of the problem with trying to make it everywhere you want to go in Vegas is the sheer  size of The Strip, which is where we usually confine ourselves to while visiting the gambling Mecca.

Anyone whose ever been to Las Vegas knows that everything is further than you think it is.  The size of the hotels are deceiving…more than once a day do you think “Oh, The Wynn?  It’s just right there”, then end up walking 45 minutes to actually get “there”. People forget that, because of the way the land was platted back in the day, the largest resorts occupy a full block.  And a full block on Las Vegas Boulevard fronts a quarter mile along the road.

Since the largest of the resorts have over 3,000 rooms, everything is outsized, though you have to give the architects credit in using optical trickery to try to bring everything down to a human scale on some of the buildings.  For instance, The Bellagio has 3,933 rooms, most of which are in its main tower:

Now, count the floors.  I came up with roughly sixteen.  Not that big, eh?  Wrong.  It’s actually 32 stories tall, but uses a “One Window, Four Rooms” architectural trick to make it seem smaller (you can read more about it here, along with other Vegas examples).  In addition, the lake in front of the hotel–home of the famous fountains–is 9 acres in area, giving the building a nice setback to help “shrink” it.

As you can see, things along The Strip are really massive.  But I wanted to know how massive The Strip is compared to something I know well, so I decided to compare its area with that of my neighborhood.  So I popped over to MapFrappe, which lets you outline things in one Google Map and overlay it in another, and go to work.

I outlined The Strip corridor along its traditional boundaries–from Sahara Avenue in the north to Russell Road in the south.  For the east and west boundaries, I used the extent of the back of the lots of the various resorts.  This covered all the land from the recently-closed Sahara Hotel and Casino to the Mandalay Bay.  Then I overlaid it on the Addison, Texas area:

It nicely fits between Spring Valley Road and Frankford Road–just about four miles!  So, no wonder it takes so long to walk anywhere on The Strip (and the 100 degree-plus summer heat doesn’t help!)

Of course, I couldn’t stop there…I had to compare the sizes of lots of things.  For instance, here’s the main campus (excluding Research Park, the Bush Presidential Library and Easterwood Airport) of my alma mater, Texas A&M University, superimposed over central Austin, Texas–home of A&M’s rival the University of Texas (it’s the area clustered around the red-roofed building):

And here’s Rome’s Colosseum compared to the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium:

Here’s Manhattan Island overlaid Houston:

Here’s Beijing’s Forbidden City overlaid on the Vatican:

Back to my home state of Texas…growing up here, you’re taught that Texas is big, but you don’t really get a good idea of just how big until you compare it to other places:


 

So, yeah, Texas is pretty big.  Interestingly, the longest dimension of the state is from the corner of the Panhandle where the border touches Oklahoma and New Mexico to the tip of state at the mouth of the Rio Grande–a distance of 796 miles.  Or, more succinctly, you could fly from that corner and be in any of the places within this circle quicker than you’d be to Brownsville:

Interestingly, the size of Texas means that people in Texarkana are closer to Chicago than El Paso, Houstonians are closer to Mobile, Alabama than Amarillo, people in Brownsville are closer to Mexico City than Dallas and El Paso residents are closer to Las Vegas, where this post started, than to Dallas.

Bonus fact:  The tiny Texas Panhandle town of Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than its own: Santa Fe, NM; Denver, CO; Topeka, KS; Oklahoma City, OK; Lincoln, NE; and Cheyenne, WY.

Also, you can view my Vegas photos here.

Bonus:  Here’s the Great Pyramid overlaid on The Luxor:

Looking for the Lost

It’s 1979. In the midst of the malaise of the Carter Administration, the Dallas Cowboys are two years removed from their second Super Bowl victory and are at the height of their reign as “America’s Team”.

In attempt to capitalize on the popularity of The ‘Boys, a vanity film is put into production: Squezze Play.

(Not to be confused with 1979’s correctly-spelled “Squeeze Play!“)

This movie has haunted me for years for silly reasons. Back in the day (what a vague term!), in my hometown of Tyler, Texas, we’d go out to Bennigan’s (RIP) for drinks and, once the bar closed, we’d take our hungered selves to the local Whataburger for late night breakfast tacos. Hanging in the location we frequented was a movie poster for a film we’d never heard of and were always unsure of why it was hanging there. We’d remark on the questionable spelling of “squeeze” (was it pronounced correctly or was it actually “squezzay”?).

Starring people you’ve probably heard of (assuming you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan), Hollywood Henderson, Too Tall Jones, Jay Saldi and Drew Pearson; along with people you haven’t heard of, Dawn Chapman, Gary Vazza and Eddie Thomas, the film was a strange mystery.

Eventually, we stopped going to Bennigan’s and Whataburger…our little drinking gang moved on, got married and grew up. I forgot about “Squezze Play” until a few months ago when I was at my local 7-11 here in the far northern suburbs of Dallas (practically Oklahoma). Waiting in line, I noticed that the guy in front of me looked remarkably like an older Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Knowing that he lives in the area and that this fellow customer was wearing an NFL Players Association hat and that he got into a Mercedes G-Wagen with a Dallas Cowboys decal on the back window when he left, I’m 98% certain it was, in fact, Too Tall Jones. Getting into my car (decidedly not a G-Wagen), I suddenly remembered “Squezze Play” and regretted not taking the opportunity to ask him about it.

I later mentioned this occurence to my brother and the kind of forgot about it.

Until earlier this week. My brother randomly texted me with a link to an old UPI story about the producer, Bill Chaffin, getting convicted of fraud for selling securities to finance the film. Further research led me to Chaffin’s site and it appears that he became a motivational speaker after serving his prison sentence (note that the endorsement is from Nextel, which ceased to exist in 2005). I submitted a question asking about the film on that site’s contact page, but have not heard back.

I also found this clipping from a 1979 Irving Daily News issue that highlights the film’s premier at Texas Stadium (RIP).

Part of my curiosity about this film is wanting to know what the plot is. Neither the poster nor the press clipping give any information beyond letting us know that their style does not including “backing down”.

The film’s plot synopsis on the IMDB is an indictment of the unprofessionalism of the cast and crew rather than the actual story of the film:

Troubled production starring four prominent Dallas Cowboys in the late 70s: Jay Saldi, Drew Pearson, Thomas Henderson and Ed Jones. Barely screened around Texas. In the words of director Anthony Lanza: “It was a bad movie, just a bad movie. It had four Dallas Cowboys in it. At the time, they were very popular. It had two or three people that were starlets that were just starting out, didn’t really have any background, didn’t want to be told what to do or how should I direct them and the action. It was just very unprofessional, and I didn’t enjoy putting that together at all.”

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10950080/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

That the move was “barely screened around Texas” and there is scant information on the web about it, I’m afraid that this is an example of a lost film. Occasionally, lost films are rediscovered…the most-famous recent example is the 1980 short “Black Angel“, shown around Europe before “The Empire Strikes Back”, it disappeared for decades and it was assumed that no prints existed until 2011 when an archivist found a print in the Universal Studios collection and was subsequently restored and re-released.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be a rediscovery of “Squezze Play”. Without the backing of a major studio that might’ve squirreled away a copy or two in a climate controlled archive, any print that exists has probably rotted away into oblivion on a forgotten shelf in a garage or attic. That said, I continue to hold out hope that one day a print will be rediscovered and shared with the world. Or at least with me.

Hula Honey History

Years ago, I picked up a pack of postcards entitled “Hula Honeys”, which featured reproductions of posters and ads for Hawaii and Hawaiian-themed nightclubs from the mid-Twentieth Century, when the country was going through a weird fascination with all things Polynesia and South Seas, such as Trader Vic’s.

I recently rediscovered these in a box I unpacked from our last move (it was only 18 months ago!) and took another look at them and one caught my eye:

Century Room

The name “Adolphus” jumped out at me, and not only because it reminded me of Hitler.

The Adolphus is a historic Hotel here in Dallas, opened in 1912 and built by the founder of Anheuser-Busch, Adolphus Busch. Today it’s one of the most-luxurious hotels in America, but back in the day, in the time of the Century Room, it was a hotbed of Southern Racism, including ties to the KKK. But it’s not the racism that intrigued me…there was, and still is, plenty of that going around; but rather it was the Century Room itself. 

The Century Room was a (whites-only!) swanky ballroom that featured Herman Waldman & His Orchestra playing the tunes of the day while couples danced, drank martinis and smoked cigarettes. The most-interesting part, to me at least, is that the dancefloor could retract, revealing a skating rink for ice shows, featuring flashy ice dancers performing choreographed routines. 

Eventually, the Adolphus was integrated in the 1950s. The Century Room stuck around for a few more decades, as the Adolphus lost it’s luster. In the 1980s, it came under new ownership and a massive remodel took place, adding luxury, painting over the past and reducing the Century Room to a parking lot.