Greetings from Memorial Stadium

A while back, I shared that I’d found a souvenir set of postcards from late 1930s Austin, Texas, amongst my grandparents’ cache o’ stuff.

One of the items in there was a postcard of the University of Texas’ Memorial Stadium:

Which is a far cry from how it looks today:

(but it still has arches!)

Built in 1924 with a capacity of 27,000, Memorial Stadium was dedicated to the nearly 200,000 Texans who fought in the Great War (as it was called then, since WWII and the forthcoming WWIII hadn’t happened yet). Over the years, it was steadily expanded to today’s 100,000 fan capacity. And, in 1996, was renamed after legendary Longhorn coach Darrell K. Royal to “Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium”, which was confusing if you didn’t know the origin of the name as Royal was still very much alive at the time of the rename, but it sounded like it was a memorial to him.

It’s an impressive venue, for sure, but my favorite on the UT campus is the Frank Erwin Center, mainly because of its bizarre architecture (bizarchitecture?):

Built in 1977 in a modern style I like to call “Loganism” after the set design and locations in the classic sci-fi film Logan’s Run, I’ve always loved the way this edifice has loomed over I-35 as one drives through Austin. 

Unfortunately, this fine building is being replaced with a new, less-bizarre structure, the Moody Center:

Light and airy, the Moody Center might be more-attractive to visitors, but it lacks the imposing presence of the Erwin Center. And I think that’s a loss. (My inability to visualize structures as people-friendly or approachable is probably part of the reason I dropped out of the architecture program in college in favor of computer science/engineering).

 

 

Defunct Theme Parks From My Childhood, Part 1 – The Smiling Genie

I’m sure it’s happened to everyone: you’re lying in bed, late at night, trying to go to sleep and, suddenly, a random, fuzzy memory pops into your head. 

This happens to me a lot. Almost unnervingly so. Last week it was the time I randomly drove to Galveston in the middle of the night with my two college roommates so one of them could try to patch things up with his ex-girlfriend (spoiler alert: it didn’t work. But we did end up drinking beer on the beach until first light, so that was a bonus). 

Last night, it was a vague memory of a long-forgotten amusement park that we went to a couple of times as a kid. I didn’t remember much, except that it was in Corpus Christi, Texas, and that it had a genie on the sign. I struggled for a bit, rummaging around in the dungeons of my mind trying to remember what it was called, but all I could remember was that genie, beckoning passersby to stop for some amusements. 

Giving up, I rolled over and grabbed my iPhone off my nightstand and, one quick Google search later, I’d found the name: Magic Isles, along with some other interesting tidbits.

Magic Isles was only in existence for six short years—1978 to 1984, yet somehow we managed to visit it at least once if not twice (my memory is good, but not that good). Since we didn’t live in Corpus Christi, it would’ve had to have been on a trip to visit my mother’s father in the time between him moving from near Houston to South Texas, which would’ve been in the very early 80s, so the sliver of time where us going to Corpus fairly-regularly and Magic Isles being open was pretty narrow. My memories of Magic Isles are pretty limited: I only really remember the smiling genie on the sign. 

Luckily, someone online had saves this image of the logo. The sign was pretty similar, featuring the smiling (yet kind-of-unnerving) genie with the Magic Isles logotype below.

It was located at Flour Bluff Road and South Padre Island Drive. Luckily, Google Maps gives us a location via historical imagery:

2020
2020
2020
1982
1982

It’s good to see that even though Magic Isles is gone, there’s still entertainment to be had: the location is now In the Game Funtrackers.

I also found a fairly-recent write-up in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that gives a bit more background on the park, but basically it’s demise came down to our old frenemy, money.

Which seems to be a theme with small, regional parks. You don’t see very many local amusement parks anymore…most of them are owned by big corporations such as Six Flags. I kind of miss the days that you could go to a poorly-maintained local park and risk life-and-limb to have a thrill. The closest you get now are the parking lot carnivals that pop-up at dying malls on occasion, but I always feel like those are a little too-unmaintained as they’re moved town-to-town regularly, like a WKRP disc jockey.

If you’re interested in other out-of-business theme parks, I suggest perusing the excellent Defunctland on Youtube.

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.

Texas, Renowned for Cigars

When you think of cigars, I bet you think of Cuba; the fields of tobacco drying in the Caribbean sun or Los Lectores, reading the day’s headlines from Granma as workers roll the tobacco leaves into H. Uppmans or Cohibas.

But, if you’re a good Texan like me, you think of San Antonio’s own Travis Club cigars. 

Travis Club Senators Box Side

“Wut?”, I can hear you asking. 

My childhood memories include vivid images of my late grandfather chewing cigars (he never smoked them, only chewed), not unlike Hannibal from the A-Team.

Cigar Gnawing

And his preferred (and only?) brand was Travis Club; in particular, their Senator line of fine cigars. 

As a kid, the best part about this was that there was always a ready supply of Travis Club cigar boxes lying around their house (I’ll save memories of their house, in particular the “back room”—which sounds nefarious but isn’t—for a later day). I’m not sure why, but it was always strangely-exciting to get a cigar box. You could pack it with your Hot Wheels or Star Wars guys, or use it to store your baseball card collection. Sometimes, you’d even be able to snag a purple velvet Crown Royal bag to go along with it. 

Recently, I was going through some old stuff from their house and came across one of these boxes. 

I’ve posted the side of the box up above, but here’s the top:

Travis Club Senators Box Top

Somewhat stately, with a nice faux-woodgrain pattern. However, the inside flap was always the most-interesting part:

Travis Club Senators Box Inside

What was this old building with the cars out front? As a child, it was interesting, but as an adult, it’s intriguing.

As it turns out, this is the Travis Club building in San Antonio. And while that may seem obvious, it’s still an interesting discovery. Unfortunately, there’s little history or information about the Travis Club available online. I found a postcard available for sale on Amazon:

Travis Club Postcard

And an old photo of the groundbreaking of the building in 1911 in the collection of UTSA:

Travis Club Groundbreaking

As for the cigars themselves, Mark Louis Rybczyk has a short write-up in his excellent book San Antonio Uncovered: Fun Facts and Hidden Histories, the gist of which is that the Finck Cigar Company of San Antonio came up with this special blend cigar exclusively for members of the Travis Club and then later released it the general public. In fact, Rybczyk even wrote a book called The Travis Club that I’m now embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read, but will soon.

Which leads us to the makers themselves, the Finck Cigar Company. As it turns out, they’re still around and still selling the Travis Club cigars. Unfortunately, while the company is still based in San Antonio, the cigars are now made in such places as the Dominican Republic and Honduras. 

I like to think that, if he were still with us, my grandfather would still be chewing his Travis Club cigars and drinking Crown Royal at 100+ years old. Maybe I’ll have a drink tonight to remember him by…

 

Greetings from Austin

I recently came across a cache of old postcards while going through some of the photos and other memorabilia that I inherited from my late father (who, in turn, had inherited them from his parents—my grandparents). 

Greetings from Austin

 

Among these was a curious item that was titled a “Souvenir Folder of Austin”. It’s an accordion-folded collection of various sights (or sites?) around Austin. I can’t put a solid date on it, though there is a couple of good clues. First, the suggested postage is 1½¢, which corresponds to postage rates in 1938. Second, one of the postcards is of the Littlefield Fountain on the campus of the University of Texas. This fountain, by noted sculptor Pompeo Coppini, was completed in 1933, so this is from no-earlier than that date. Suffice to say, I’m comfortable saying that this dates from the very-late 1930s.

 

Littlefield Fountain

The postcards are credited to “Ellison”, which seems to be the Ellison Photo Company which, according to this site, was in business from 1900 through the 1980s. These are ostensibly photographs, but they’ve obviously been hand-colored and touched-up to the point that they look more like paintings or even hand-drawn architectural renderings.

 

Souvenir Folder of Austin