Old City Park, Dallas’s first public park and one of the largest green spaces near downtown Dallas, today announced that Michael Meadows has been named interim CEO of the Dallas County Heritage Society, the nonprofit organization that has managed Old City Park for more than 50 years. In his role as interim CEO, Meadows will lead the effort to transform Old City Park from a living history museumto a free public park that celebrates the history of North Texas.
Earlier this year, the Dallas County Heritage Society Board of Trustees adopted a new mission for the organization: provide a recreational space where visitors can connect with the past, inspire the future, and celebrate Dallas’s rich diversity. Underscoring the significance of this new mission, the Society’s board changed the name of the local attraction from Dallas Heritage Village back to Old City Park and eliminated admission fees, thanks to a generous grant from The Eugene McDermott Foundation. Both decisions have been widely applauded by supporters and the community.
“As a native Dallasite, I have grown up watching Old City Park, and the neighborhood around it, evolve. I am honored and delighted to have the opportunity to work alongside our dedicated board and staff, neighbors, community supporters, and City of Dallas officials to successfully transition Old City Park back to being a lively public park that attracts a much greater number and broader diversity of Dallas residents and tourists,” said Meadows. “Our goal is to make Old City Park a top-of-mind attraction and place of vibrant activity and public recreation for our community.”
This is the second time that Meadows has managed one of the institutions owned by the City of Dallas. He previously served as president and CEO of the Dallas Zoological Society for 14 years. During his tenure, he successfully led the effort to privatize the management of the Dallas Zoo and helped transform it into one of the nation’s top 10 zoological parks.
“We could not have selected a better interim CEO than Michael Meadows,” said Board Chair, Michael Duty. “He has already been working behind the scenes as we reimagine Old City Park. His experience and talent will help lay a solid foundation for the future of the park.”
About Michael Meadows
Michael Meadows is the President and CEO of Meadows Family Consulting Group LLC. Prior to founding his consulting firm in 2019, Meadows held the role of Senior Vice President/Private Wealth Advisor at Westwood Wealth Management, where he led the company’s foundation and philanthropic advisory services. He led the Dallas Zoological Society from 2004 to 2014 and earlier from 1994 to 1998. Meadows has also held positions as Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for Southwestern Medical Foundation, Director of Development for The University of Texas at Dallas, and Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for The University of Texas at Austin.
This year, Old City Park invites you to celebrate Women’s History Month by supporting local, women owned businesses. Below you can read about 9 businesses and the impressive women who run them. If you are interested in reading more about important women in Dallas history, visit our previous blog post entitled “This is Dallas.”
Sandwich Hag: Owned and operated by chef Reyna Duong, and located in an old cigar lounge in the Cedars district, Sandwich Hag serves up a take on Vietnamese home cooking. Although she initially hated cooking, Duong has fond childhood memories of her mom in the kitchen. When her parents were in their 80s, Duong assumed custody of her brother Sang, who has down syndrome. When their parents died, Duong began cooking Vietnamese food for the two of them to honor their mother’s memory. Cooking for Sang, she realized that working in food was more appealing to her than her corporate job. To Duong, food is only one part of Sandwich Hag’s mission. She uses the restaurant to advocate for individuals like Sang, who now works alongside his sister at the restaurant. Though there are complications that come from employing a workforce of differently abled individuals, the food and long lines speak for themselves. If you are interested in ordering from Sandwich Hag, click here.
Sue Ellen’s: Founded in 1989, Sue Ellen’s is named for Sue Ellen Ewing of Dallas fame and is considered the sister bar to nearby JR’s. One of the oldest lesbian bars in Dallas, it has been managed by Kathy Jack since it opened. Now it is the only lesbian bars in Dallas, one of the few in the state, and one of just over a dozen left in all of the U.S. Located in Dallas’s “gayborhood” of Oak Lawn, the iconic two-story nightclub features two covered patios, full service bars on both levels, and the largest game room on the strip. The bar closed its doors in June 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19 shutdowns, but in June 2021, it reopened to the cheers of the Dallas LGBTQ+ community. Longevity is important to Jack, who says the secret to running Sue Ellen’s now that she’s in her 60s is listening to the younger generation about what what events to do and how to ensure the bar continues to support the community. If you are interested in learning more about Sue Ellen’s, click here.
The Plant Project: Founded in 2020 by Bree Clarke, The Plant Project is an extension of her work with the Iman Project, which has long hosted creative workshops that encourage inclusivity. Clarke says that plants are therapy and she wants to bring people back to seeing the beauty of what plants can do. It is the first black woman owned plant shop in Dallas and is located on Uptown’s Routh Street. The physical shop itself is located in the historic State Thomas area of Dallas, once a Freedman’s Town settled by formerly enslaved peoples after the Civil War. Years of road building and gentrification has rendered the neighborhood’s rich history largely hidden. Rooted in diversity, The Plant Project was created to celebrate community, culture, and plants. Clarke believes that in order to grow a strong community, we must root for each other. If you would like to learn more or are interested in ordering from The Plant Project, click here.
Arch by Suki: Sukhee Suwal grew up in Nepal dreaming of having a beauty business. Since 2008, Arch by Suki has been doing Brow 101 and proudly serving the DFW area. Located in Deep Ellum, the brow studio specializes in brow shaping, via threading and microblading, and makeup artistry. Their Brow 101 service offers guests a chance to learn, ask questions, and address issues about their eyebrows. In 2017, Arch by Suki was on the Best of Big D list, and now, when Sukee travels home to Nepal, she is able to share her experiences, skills, and knowledge to those who are new to the beauty industry at no cost. The dedication to quality over quantity is why the brow bar is appointment only. If you would like to book an appointment with Arch by Suki, click here.
Dondolo: Founded by Catalina Gonzalez, Dondolo is a luxury lifestyle brand that provides women and children with heirloom-quality clothing. It aims to inspire, shape, and support the journey of motherhood. By employing women in Colombia through an ethical manufacturing chain, Dondolo provides them with funds they need to help raise their children. The women in the communities Dondolo touches are typically facing extreme poverty. Recently, Gonzalez has started the Mom Empowering program that hires women to assemble her new Dondolo dolls while they also receive training on how to start and run their own business. Gonzalez’s goal from the beginning was giving back to both her native Colombia and the local Dallas community. If you would like to learn more or purchase from Dondolo, click here.
Black-Tie Babysitting: Founded and run by Hope Oriabure Hunter, Black-Tie Babysitting provides on-site luxury event childcare for weddings, conferences, company parties, and more. As professional caregivers, the staff is trained in first aid and CPR. The company exists because Hunter believes families should be able to attend formal events together and is currently one of the only companies in Dallas offering event and wedding childcare. In response to COVID-19, the company pivoted to provide off-site childcare at nearby hotels and in-home care for events. To date, BTB has served 3,000 plus kids at over 200 events across Texas, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. If you would like to learn more or book with Black-Tie Babysitting, click here.
Rare Heart Vintage: Founded and run by Katie Randle, Rare Heart Vintage is a clothing boutique located in Oak Cliff. The shop specializes in vintage classics, staples, and statement pieces but is most known for denim and t-shirts. Rare Heart’s selection is eclectic and curated by Randle who is a one woman show. In 2021, RH was included on the Dallas Observer‘s “Best of Dallas” list. If you are interested in browsing the RH collection, click here.
Emporium Pies: Founded by Megan Wilkes and Mary Sparks in 2012, Emporium Pies is a specialty pie shop with locations in Oak Cliff, Deep Ellum, Fort Worth, and McKinney. Wilkes has a background in design and business while Sparks is the creative baker behind the pies. Their hunger for community shapes everything the shop does. Emporium Pies encapsulates Wilkes’s desire to create a place where people could spend time together and feel a sense of belonging. As with most small businesses, Wilkes credits the success of Emporium Pies to collaboration with other businesses and people in the community. If you would like to learn more or are interested in purchasing from Emporium Pies, click here.
Power BAR Women’s Fitness: Founded in 2016 by Teresa Saffold, Power BAR is a pole fitness gym that specializes in developing total body strength to be an active part of each women’s fitness success and confidence progression. Saffold says Power BAR is unique because they are positioned for fitness and trail the edge of being taboo in nature. Her classes help women, and some men, feel amazingly good about who they are and how they look. Saffold aims to use the platform of pole dancing to reach multitudes of women that are seeking to take control of their self-development and self-acceptance. Through fitness, community, and Pole Dance fun – Power BAR Women’s Fitness provides a safe and positive atmosphere for women to embrace how powerful they truly are. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in booking a class, click here.
This year, Old City Park invites you to celebrate Black History Month by volunteering your time to organizations that support or are run by members of the Black community in Dallas. Below, you can read about five organizations, their history, mission, and find the links to their volunteer pages. If you are interested in reading about some important Black figures in Dallas history, visit our previous blog post entitled “This is Dallas.”
The Afiya Center: TAC was founded in 2008 with the purpose of bringing education and resources to Black women living with HIV/AIDS. As the center grew, it began meeting the needs for education about reproductive rights and maternity care. TAC is the only Reproductive Justice organization in North Texas founded and directed by Black women. The center’s doula training program, Southern Roots Doula Services, has played a large role in improving maternity care for Black women. TAC now works to provide ongoing support and programs to ensure Black women have access to all reproductive health services. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in volunteering with TAC, click here.
House of Rebirth: Launched in 2019, The House is a housing option and community founded in memory of Black trans women Muhlaysia Booker, Chynal Lindsey, and Merci Mack. The House provides resources and information for Black transgender women in North Texas about how to access health care, change their name and gender on identification documents, and more. They have partnered with the Afiya Center to provide a safe space for Black cis- and transgender women to learn skills to advocate for necessary healthcare. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in volunteering with the House of Rebirth, click here.
Dallas CASA: Founded by the National Council of Jewish Women, the agency was established in 1979. CASA volunteers advocate for abused and neglected children in order to help them gain safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible. The agency serves children and families of all cultures, identities, and backgrounds; however, only 15% of Dallas CASA volunteers are Black. Volunteers of color are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system despite the fact that children of color are more likely to form deeper relationships with volunteers who are comfortable having conversations with them about issues unique to their racial and ethnic identity. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in volunteering with Dallas CASA, click here.
African American Museum of Dallas: Founded on the campus of Bishop College in 1974, the museum was and was originally called the Southwest Research Center and Museum of African American Life and Culture. Eventually moving to Fair Park, the museum received funding for a new building that opened in 1993. The African American Museum of Dallas is dedicated to the research, acquisition, presentation, and preservation of visual art forms and historical documents that relate to the life and culture of the African American community in Dallas. It holds one of the largest African American Folk Art collection in the U.S. and has become one of the most successful museums promoting and preserving African American history and culture. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in volunteering with the African American Museum of Dallas, click here.
Mothers Against Police Brutality: Collette Flanagan founded MABP after her son, Clinton Allen, was shot to death by a Dallas police officer in March 2013. The organization unites mothers who have lost their children to police violence in order to fight for civil rights, police accountability, and policy reform. Additionally, MAPB works to restore trust between the police and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. Their overarching goals are to instate a federal standard use of force so that all police are trained the same and for the laws on qualified immunity for officers to be changed. If you would like to learn more, or are interested in volunteering with the African American Museum of Dallas, click here.
A message from our Director of Education and Interpretation, Heather Rodriguez:
This blog post is a part of a larger exhibit entitled “This is Dallas” that includes both a satellite exhibit, which will be on display in the Dallas Galleria from December 3, 2021-December 31, 2021, and an on-site exhibit at Old City Park, which will open January 17, 2022.
The goal of the exhibit is to tell the stories of historically marginalized individuals (people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community) within the history we are already interpreting at OCP. My hope is the exhibit will reflect how the history of disfranchised individuals and groups is relevant and impactful to “big picture” history.
The exhibit will highlight the stories of 8 individuals, and below you can find short biographies of each with a bibliography at the end if you are interested in learning more about any topic.
Marcellus Clayton [M.C.] Cooper 1862-1929
Cooper was born, enslaved to the Caruth family, on February 12, 1862, to Sallie Lively, also a slave, and a white man, also named M.C. Cooper. He spent his childhood on Caruth Farm and attended school in East Dallas in the black settlements near White Rock Lake. After high school, Cooper got a job at Sanger Brothers Department Store in Dallas. He worked for 11 years saving money in order to study dentistry at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Cooper returned to Dallas in 1896 and opened a dentist office on Commerce Street. By 1900, he had moved his practice to the same building as Dr. Benjamin Bluitt, the first black surgeon in Texas. Cooper died on December 19, 1929, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, now L. Butler Nelson Cemetery, in South Dallas. The M.C. Cooper Dental Society in Dallas was founded and named in his honor in 1954; Cooper Street in South Dallas also commemorates him.
Anita N. Martinez 1925-Present
Martinez was born December 8, 1925, to Anita and Jose Nanez, and she grew up on Pearl Street in the area of Dallas known as El Barrio. In 1946, she married her husband, Alfred, whose family owned the El Fenix Café. Martinez became involved in her husband’s business by way of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Dallas Restaurant Association (DRA) eventually leading to her candidacy and election to the City Council. In 1969, Martinez was the first Hispanic elected to serve on the Dallas City Council. She focused her political agenda on sanitation, health, and infrastructure for the poor West Dallas communities. In 1973, she was asked and accepted a position from President Richard Nixon’s administration to serve as a Peace Corps Advisor. When she left office in 1975 West Dallas named their new recreation center “The Anita N. Martinez Recreation Center” in her honor. To this day, the ANMRC is one of the most used facilities of its kind city-wide.
Rodd Gray [Patti Le Plae Safe] c. 1958-Present
Gray was born in West Memphis, Arkansas around 1958. He studied business and computer programming before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 1979. By 1985, Gray had taken a job with a company in Dallas, and he joined the Cathedral of Hope, located at the time in the building that is now Resource Center Dallas off of Cedar Springs Road. Gray connected with the Dallas Gay Alliance – now the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance – that came to speak during a church service and was inspired to get involved with the AIDS Resource Center. Patti Le Plae Safe, Gray’s drag persona, was born in 1986. She began writing a regular “Ask Patti” column for the AIDS Update discussing safe sex practices and how gay men could limit their risk of exposure to the HIV infection. Within a year, Patti was the United Court Empress and was traveling to events all around Texas as a missionary spreading the “play safe” message and raising money for AIDS.
Maggie Wu c. 1984-Present
Wu was born around 1984 and grew up in a small town in China’s Fujian province. She graduated from Xiamen University before moving to Enid, Oklahoma to work for a family business. Wu married in Oklahoma before moving to Dallas for her husband’s fuel company in 2011. After arriving in Dallas, she realized the only place she could find something written in Chinese was in the Chinese newspaper. She wanted to fill the gap she saw, so Wu started writing a Chinese language blog, whose title translated to “Dallas Foodie.” Though she did not have any formal training in journalism or writing, she quickly became successful. By 2014, her success convinced her to take a risk and move into print. The Asian Magazine, based out of Plano, Texas, covers food and drink, travel, lifestyle, fashion, and entertainment. 90% of the writing is in Chinese, but Wu hopes to add more English in the future.
Alexander Sanger 1847-1925
Sanger was born on May 8, 1847, in Obernbreit Main, in present-day Germany. He was apprenticed at 13 to a dry goods businessman. In 1865 Sanger followed his older brother to the United States, and in 1872 he joined the family business, Sanger Brothers, in Corsicana, Texas. He moved to Dallas later that year to open and manage a branch of the company. From 1872 to 1902, Sanger took charge of the firm’s wholesale business, assuming the retail responsibilities in 1902 and the office of company president on December 28, 1918. After arriving in Dallas, he helped to organize one of the first synagogues in the city. His Hebrew Benevolent Association grew to become Temple Emanu-El. Sanger served as city alderman from 1873 to 1874, made one of the first major donations toward the establishment of the Dallas Public Library, and helped organize the State Fair of Texas. Despite his business success, Sanger maintained a key interest in civic affairs throughout his life. He died in Dallas on September 13, 1925.
Antonio Maceo Smith 1903-1977
Smith was born on April 16, 1903, in Texarkana, Texas to Howell and Winnie Smith. Smith received various degrees in economics and business law, eventually going on to get his Master’s at Columbia University in 1928. In 1932 Smith moved to Dallas, Texas, and beginning in the early 1930s, Smith worked to promote black economic and political empowerment. By 1944 he was working closely with the legal team of the NAACP on the Smith v. Allwright voting rights discrimination lawsuit. He also participated in the NAACP’s legal campaign to end educational segregation in Texas in the Sweatt v. Painter civil suit. In South Dallas, A. Maceo Smith High School was created in 1978. It was replaced by A. Maceo Smith New Tech High School in 2011 and then the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy at A. Maceo Smith in 2018. The A. Maceo Smith Federal Building in downtown Dallas is also named after the civil rights pioneer. Smith died December 19, 1977.
Grace Danforth 1849-1895
Danforth was born on February 21, 1849, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin to David and Frances Howell Danforth. The family moved often when Danforth was a child, eventually ending up in Texas. She followed in her father’s footsteps and taught school and music in various communities in Northeast Texas. Danforth decided to enter the medical field after finding the classroom injurious to her health, and she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago in 1886. While in Chicago, Danforth claims, she became a proponent of women’s suffrage. After opening a private practice in early 1888, she was admitted to membership in the Dallas County Medical Association. Beginning in 1890, Danforth worked at the North Texas Hospital for the Insane, later Terrell State Hospital, and served as a gynecologist. In 1893, with the help of nine other women, she organized the convention that established the Texas Equal Rights Association (TERA). Danforth was elected the first president of the TERA. She died in Granger on February 21, 1895.
Quanah Parker c.1845-1957
Parker was born around 1845 to Pera Nocaona and Cynthia Ann Parker. There has been debate regarding his birthplace resulting in both Texas and Oklahoma claiming Parker as a native son. After refusing to join the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867, Parker’s band of Quahada Comanches held the Texas Plains virtually uncontested until 1874. Under relentless pressure from the U.S. army, the tribe surrendered their independence and moved to the Kiowa-Comanche reservation in southwestern Oklahoma. Parker made the transition to reservation life with such seeming ease that federal agents, seeking a way to unite the various Comanche bands, named him chief. In general, Parker was an assimilationist, an advocate of cooperation with whites and, in many cases, of cultural transformation. Parker died on February 23 and was buried beside his mother in Post Oak Mission Cemetery near Cache, Oklahoma. In 1957 Quanah and Cynthia Ann Parker were relocated to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery at Lawton, Oklahoma.
Guest post by Peggy Helmick-Richardson, History Educator and our textile expert
Last April, Old City Park opened its doors to the arts in a whole new way. Three rooms in Brent Place were converted to studio spaces for local artists who found themselves displaced when the Continental Gin Building sold. Today we offer the second of three articles on our resident artists.
As manager of marketing and programming of our neighbor and non-profit arts incubator The Cedars Union, Adrienne Lichliter aids their juried artists in best expressing their creations. As one of the tenants in Old City Park’s Brent Place studios, this printmaking and paper artist creates to express herself.
Growing up in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, Adrienne and her husband Ben Hines now live in Deep Ellum.
Although she enjoyed art and art classes in school, Adrienne opted not to apply to Dallas’s Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts because she also wanted to be involved in school activities such as student council and track not offered at the magnet school. “Plus, I just didn’t think it was something I could make a living off of,” she admits.
Adrienne went on to SMU to earn her degree in art history with the intent of working for a museum or art gallery. “That somehow felt a little bit more realistic,” she recounts. “And I had ambitions of being a professor.” A few years later she opted to return to school and earned her MFA from Clemson and soon found herself becoming more involved with her own creations.
Her early art career included three years as an adjunct professor at Navarro College in Corsicana and the University of North Texas and then as manager of studio art education for the Crow Collection of Asian Art.
Then Adrienne suddenly found herself in a whirlwind of transitions.
Before the Continental Gin closed its doors, she was one of the artists subleasing studio space there. While there, she shared an area with Sarah Theobald-Hall, one of our other Brent Place artists. And if losing her studio space wasn’t bad enough, she also found herself out of work after The Crow Collection was donated to the University of Texas at Dallas.
Through a chance meeting of Sarah at a coffee shop, Adrienne learned about the studios at Old City Park. Seeing this space as an opportunity to focus on her own creations, last spring she moved into the third and last available room in Brent Place.
“I fell in love with Old City Park and having this park right in front of my space,” Adrienne notes. “It’s nice to take a break from what you are working on and take a walk. It is a really special setting.”
Brent Place also proved to be a perfect match for her artistic style. “I’ve always been into sort of old, worn, quiet moments in the world, …a reason this space suits me so well,” she explains. “Whether that is a scratched up piece of copper or cracks in the sidewalk, things that are naturally occurring without human hand.”
I’ve always been into sort of old, worn, quiet moments…
Defining her art as non-objective, she explains, “The aim is for things to look like they are sort of naturally occurring.”
“Where I have been moving lately with this is taking pieces of my work and iPhone photography and collaging them together,” she shares. This multi-process involves creating art, tearing that art into pieces, arranging them with other pieces, photographing these and then creating a lithograph from the resulting photo. “Through these steps, it seems like my hand gets further and further away from what I am doing, and it feels more natural and less contrived,” she continues.
“Funny thing about the work I am making now is I still call it non-objective despite that there are literal photographs in it,” she points out. “I’ve photographed it, digitally manipulated it, torn it up and printed it through ink lithography, so it’s really hard to see that it is anything at all. So it’s photo real and completely non-objective at the same time.”
This Dallas artist has also developed a unique style of wood lithography, a challenging art form on its own, that she occasionally teaches in workshops.
Some of the most significant influences on Adrienne’s artistic processes include the works of non-objective artists Cy Twombly and Richard Tuttle and mentorship from Sydney Cross, her graduate school advisor at Clemson.
The building that we call the Alamo Saloon was originally built as a general store in 1904 in Snow Hill, Texas.
If you drove about an hour from Old City Park, where Old City Park is today, you would have found yourself in Collin County in the community of Snow Hill. Snow Hill was located between Pilot Creek and Indian Creek near State Highway 78, north of Farmersville.
Collin County was established in 1846. Beginning in the 1850s, a community called Thompson sprang up, after the Alfred Thompson family that settled in the area. It began being called Snow Hill in the 1890s and was supposedly named by a group surveying the area while it was covered by a fresh layer of snow; however, no one actually knows the true origins of the “Snow Hill” name (the City of Dallas has a similar mystery about its name, but that is another story).
The Snow Hill Cemetery has been in confirmable use since 1855. In 1872, the Collin County School Board opened a school on the east side of the cemetery. The Thompson School House was abandoned in 1921, and a new one was built nearby. The new school remained in use until October 1948, and children then attended either the Blue Ridge or Farmersville schools. Neither school building exists today. The Snow Hill Baptist Church was constructed in 1900 on land adjacent to the cemetery. The church and the cemetery are still in use today.
In addition to the school, church, and cemetery, Snow Hill boasted ES Kemp Dry Goods &Groceries, which opened in 1890 and was owned by Everett S. Kemp. The railroad had been in Texas for eighteen years; however, no tracks ran near Snow Hill, and Kemp hauled his goods in wagons from either Greenville or McKinney. He sold hardware, farm machinery, pickles, candy, hoop cheese, and dry goods (including salt, sugar, flour, crackers, beans, coffee, and peas).
Kemp’s daughter, Lela Kemp, married David Benjamin (DB) McCall in 1901, and in 1904, with Kemp’s brother Street, McCall constructed a new building for the general store. McCall ultimately became the proprietor in this shop and changed the name to DB McCall General Merchandise. For a time, a man called Roy Belt operated his barber shop from the premises, charging 25¢ each for either a shave or a haircut. In 1925, McCall added a gasoline pump.
Snow Hill was never a large community; the 1940 census listed only 20 souls calling it home. In the 1950s, Snow Hill consisted of the church, the cemetery, and McCall’s Store. It had no school or post office; both children and mail traveled each day to either Farmersville or Blue Ridge. The store closed in 1958 after McCall’s death.
OCP obtained the building in 1977, and it was revived as McCall’s General Store. It currently serves as the Alamo Saloon, where cold root beer, lively music, and games are available weekly.
Ancestry. n.d. ancestry.com (accessed August 21, 2019).
Old City Park. Saloon building files, 2019.
Nedderman, Kristi. Snow Hill Cemetery photographs, January 4, 2020.
Old City Park. Teacher’s Guide to Old City Park. 1984.
Simon, Hal. Email correspondence with the author, March 30, 2020.
–. Email correspondence with the author, September 22, 2019.
Texas Almanac and State Industrial Guide, 1939-1940. Dallas: Dallas Morning News, 1940.
Living history has a very different meaning these days, doesn’t it?
As we all navigate these extraordinary times, I wanted to give you a glimpse into what’s happening here at Old City Park. We are committed to sustaining both our employees and our organization throughout this crisis. The staff you all know so well—Gene back at the Farmstead, Angie in the Section House, Bonnie with the donkeys, and so many more—will be paid their regularly scheduled hours through the end of March. We are currently putting together some work from home options for these staff members for April. After all, being at home is a perfect time to do history. When you visit next, expect us all to have to a lot more stories.
The rest of the team is also working to move the past forward. Some are working from home, while others of us are still coming into the office. Since we work in historic houses across the campus, it’s very easy to practice social distancing at the workplace. Sarah and Lisa are planning programming for reopening—we’re just not putting any dates on the calendar. Elizabeth is doing research and getting our records in order. Sydney is still chatting with clients about future rentals—and offering a 20% discount through May 1. As the weather allows, Wolf is weeding gardens and tackling maintenance projects. The roof at Sullivan is still being replaced. Aidan is keeping things going on social media. And Preston and I are coming up with various strategies to sustain us financially through this period. All of us are using this time as an opportunity to strengthen this museum. Though we don’t yet know when we’ll be able to reopen, we are getting extremely excited about what we’re planning for those days.
When an organization is built around community—whether it’s a restaurant, gym, museum, or school—it’s incredibly challenging to suddenly have to rethink everything. As you consider the organizations that you want to still be here when this crisis passes, I hope Old City Park is on that list. Become a member. Send a virtual carrot to Waylon, Willie, and Nip. Make a donation equivalent to what you would have spent on tickets to Sunday Social or a spring visit. Or simply comment on our social media posts so that we can keep those conversations about history going.
Old City Park is more than just the staff, our circle is much wider than that. We are starting a blog post series about the whole OCP family so you can get to know all the people that are a part of what we do here…
Guest post by Peggy Helmick-Richardson, History Host and our textile expert
Last April, Old City Park opened its doors to the arts in a whole new way. Three rooms in Brent Place were converted to studio spaces for local artists who found themselves displaced when the Continental Gin Building sold. Today we offer the first of three articles on our resident artists.
Intrigued by a dead cedar waxwing lying by the holly bushes in her yard, Sarah Theobald-Hall snapped a photo of it. Today, she credits the striking image of that bird for being a primary influence on her current creative process.
Recalling a childhood of nurtured artistic expression, Sarah notes that this was especially significant after her family moved from New Jersey to the small town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, when she was 10. “My parents made it a point to find creative resources, so we were enrolled in music lessons, dance lessons, painting lessons, and we volunteered at the local performing arts center. We were also put in choirs, and I did musicals with the church growing up.”
After acquiring her bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, Sarah went on to earn both her masters and doctorate in English from the University of Tulsa. A primary reason for selecting the latter school was the opportunity to work with the semiannual journal Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. She later returned to the publication in 2003 to hold the prestigious position of managing editor for seven years.
Sarah also worked as the literary programs manager for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa and a grant writer for Domestic Violence Intervention Services in eastern Oklahoma. “There was always a writing and editing component to most of the work that I did,” she points out. “I could have these flexible sorts of jobs where I could help start something new or identify a problem in the community and brainstorm with people on how to solve it. It was really a great experience.”
In her spare time, Sarah took a variety of art classes and workshops. Many of her instructors were artists introduced to her through working with Tulsa’s Arts and Humanities Council. Although she explored an assortment of media, her primary interest then was in photography.
“I found myself always wanting to be around artists,” Sarah continues. “I had a really good friend who was a photographer, and she probably wondered why I was constantly either hiring her to do something or showing up at her studio…an old converted gas station with a little iron stove. It was charming, with all vintage furniture. I think I trace my own yearning for that kind of studio for myself back to that place.”
In 2010 Sarah moved to Dallas with her husband Larry and sons Joe and Adam. Although she continued to pursue a career utilizing her writing and editorial expertise in publication, with an emphasis on nonprofit organizations, her fascination with the arts continually tugged.
She began studying under impressionistic painter Marianne Gargour at her studio in the Continental Gin Building. First invited by her teacher to sublet some of her studio space, Sarah later came to occupy two other studios in the popular arts community facility.
It was here that the inspiring cedar waxwing photo proved pivotal for Sarah. Although describing her initial attempt to translate the photo onto canvas as “an abysmal failure,” Sarah allowed the experience to draw her into exploring saturated colors and artistic energy. She studied the birds both in nature as well as in photos and played with vibrant colors on even larger canvas. When the Continental Gin Building hosted its final Open Studios in November of 2018, Sarah’s stunning and popular paintings of cedar waxwings were on display.
Immediately following this final Open Studios, the artists housed there had to scout out new locales. Sarah not only recognized the similar ambiance Brent Place shared with her friend’s Tulsa studio, she was also attracted to Old City Park’s “pastoral setting in the middle of an urban landscape.” In addition, she laughingly confesses to a fascination with the sheep here. “I think their eyes are so different from anything I’ve experienced up close … and they will walk right up to you.”
Today, Sarah’s primary mediums are acrylic and oil, with occasional pencil, marker, and “whatever seems to suit the project.” The two Dallas artists who have offered the greatest inspiration to Sarah are her teacher Marianne Gargour and Mary Vernon. Her artistic influences are Matisse (composition), Alice Neel (line), Alexander Hogue (color), and Maruyama Okyo (birds).
At this time last year, Old City Park was facing some pretty big challenges. We didn’t know what would happen with our city funding. Our budget was up in the air. Key staff were departing, and it was unclear when we would be able to replace them. There was turmoil and uncertainty, to say the least.
And it’s not as if things instantly got better. We did receive a $70,000 cut in our city funding, after all sorts of political twists and turns. The weather has generally been terrible for just about every event, and Candlelight had its lowest attendance in years. We had more staff turnover. Our longtime curator, Evelyn Montgomery, discovered greener pastures and left in January. Also in January, Tuck, one of our beloved donkeys died. The Ambassador Hotel burned to the ground. And to top it all off, we spent most of last spring dealing with sewer line issues, complete with porta-pottys for months and a $40,000 price tag. Sometimes, we do feel that there must be a black cloud hanging over OCP.
But as I reflect on the past year, I think it’s also safe to say that this has been one of our best years yet. In February, we welcomed Joe McGill and friends to Texas. Joe is the mastermind behind the Slave Dwelling Project, a national effort to bring the story of slavery forward. We had some great partners, including the City of Irving and the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Project. We offered multiple programs, and in spite of the miserable weather, people came and had difficult conversations about our complicated past. And people are still talking. We plan to bring Joe back next May.
This project was also a chance for one of our new staff members, Lisa Lopez to shine. She joined us in mid-November, which meant she had to dive straight into Candlelight. She also managed the logistics of the Slave Dwelling Project and did a fabulous job. As Director of Visitor Experience, she also manages our frontline staff and our school tour program. Her job is very big, but we’ll be able to hire her some help very soon.
A few months ago, we were chosen to participate in the American Alliance of Museums Facing Change: Advancing Board Diversity learning cohort—a group of 50 museums nationwide. This program is working to address issues surrounding board diversity and inclusion. The Texas cohort includes some familiar names for you: the Perot Museum, the Witte Museum, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, and more. We’re looking forward to truly getting started on this work later this fall.
For the past year, we’ve been working hard on a reinterpreting Millermore. And maybe reinterpreting isn’t the right word. Expanding might be better. For most of our history, we’ve focused on William Brown Miller and decorative arts. But as we began to dive into our files and primary sources, we realized there are many more stories to tell—and lots more people to talk about. We began this work last fall—and then right in the middle, our curator up and left. And then there was another opportunity for a staff member to shine. Elizabeth Qualia had joined our staff as part time curatorial assistant in Fall 2017. We promoted her to full time Curator of Collections and Interpretation—and then handed her this giant project. We have radically changed how we talk about Millermore—we start in the cabin and talk about slavery. We end in the sitting room with walls full of family trees of both the black and white Millers. In between, we tell the story of Barry Miller, local politician, and his daughter Evelyn, a writer. And so much more. Even more exciting for some–almost all of the barriers are down. The new tour format launched last week, and I invite you to join us soon for a very different conversation.
Other new faces at OCP include Wolf Landrum. He also joined us in Fall 2017 as a handyman—
though we’ve known him for a very long time. He’s a longtime volunteer, and most importantly, his husband has been our St. Nicholas at Candlelight for a decade. When Evelyn left, we made him our full time Buildings and Grounds Conservator. It has been years since we’ve been able to dedicate an entire staff position to the care of our grounds. He has a lot of work to do, but I hope you can see some progress.
Aidan Wright joined us in February as Membership and Marketing Manager. He was also a familiar face—having worked as a history host a few years ago. He’s doing some great stuff on social media, and I hope you’re enjoying the “What the Artifact?” series!
But I want to talk a little bit more about Sydney Abdo, our brand new Rentals Manager. We have literally watched Sydney grow up at OCP. She was one of my summer camp kids, hanging out in my dearly departed Pages from the Past camp with Terri Brown’s daughter Isabel. She became a Junior Historian and worked on the Doctor’s Office exhibit. A few years ago, she joined our staff as History Host. When Stephanie made the decision to accept a full time position, she told Preston and I that we really needed to think about Sydney as her possible successor. And here she is.
That story encapsulates some of what makes this museum so special. Though we have plenty of visitors that we see once for a few hours, we also have many people that have made this museum an important part of their lives. People like Barbara Brockett, Queen of the Clothespin Doll, who recently passed her crown to Angie Gamez, longtime history host. Lynn Vogt, whose grandmother got this whole thing started and became a Life Trustee at last week’s Annual Meeting. Jorge Esteban, a brand new board member, who will be getting married at OCP next month.
There’s a lot to be proud of. A lot to be grateful for. Many, many people to thank. And though there are many things about this past year I would not like to repeat, I’m incredibly proud of all that the staff and board has accomplished. Even as we have waded through literal poop.
We’ve all been very concerned about the ongoing deterioration of the Blum House. We’ve had many conversations as a staff, and we realized that Blum needed to close indefinitely, primarily out of concern for visitor safety. As this is a major operational decision, the Executive Board needed to be involved with the final decision. Upon our recommendation, the executive board voted last week to close Blum to the public indefinitely.
For those that haven’t been out to OCP recently, a few of the issues with Blum include rotting wood, mold and ongoing issues with fleas. We hope that closing Blum will bring awareness to the deferred maintenance issues that plague not just our institution, but all city-owned facilities. There is a growing momentum to address these city-wide deferred maintenance issues, and we hope that that this very visible reminder will help with those larger efforts.
Blum has been a fundraising priority for years, but we have been unable to raise the funds to restore the building. Weare not giving up and are working to identify new avenues to finance the restoration work. With this indefinite closure, we have a far more compelling case for support. If you’d like to help in any way—by sharing this cause with others, introducing OCP to friends or making a financial contribution yourself, please be in touch with Preston or Melissa. Our most recent estimates put repairs in the $650,000 range—or about 65% of our annual operating budget.
In the coming weeks, we will be stabilizing the building, treating the fleas within, and removing some artifacts. It will remain closed until we can fully restore it. There is much work to do, but we know that with the support of people like you we can continue to preserve these wonderful buildings and move the past forward.
Melissa Prycer, President & Executive Director
Elizabeth Qualia, Curator of Collections and Interpretation
UPDATE: The Dallas County Medical Examiners have taken Alice to do further research. In a few months, they’ll be able to tell us her age and ethnicity. When their research has concluded, they will also take care of her final resting place. _______________________________
By Elizabeth Qualia
Curator of Collections and Interpretation
After 40 years of being in the spotlight, “Alice” the skeleton and only resident of the Doctor’s House has come off display. Recently, the display of human remains has come under scrutiny in the museum field. No longer are human remains being considered as just another object, but as objects that were once a living people and therefore requiring specialized treatment. “Alice” was once alive. She once presumably had a family and people who cared for her. Because of this, we as a staff have reexamined our thoughts and feelings about keeping “Alice” on display and came to the decision that we are no longer comfortable leaving her up.
“Alice” came to the Old City Park in 1977. From what I discovered in the collection files she was disassembled and in boxes when she arrived. It was two years later that she, having been articulated, was installed in the Doctor’s house. She has hung there ever since.
But what of her time before coming to Old City Park? When we began to think about the removing her from the exhibit, the first thing I did as curator was to dig into our files to gather every bit of information we have on “Alice.” It wasn’t much. Here is what we know about her: Her skeleton was donated in 1977 and she went on display in 1979. The donor was the widow of a local doctor. It was this doctor who called the skeleton “Alice.” The local doctor purchased the skeleton around 1930 from another doctor. We believe “Alice” lived in Henrietta, Texas, and we think she was in her late teens or early 20’s.
Let us consider provenance. We know little about this other doctor; I’ll call him Dr. X. We know that Dr. X was from Henrietta, Texas. He practiced medicine in Dallas until he lost his license. We don’t know why. Since “Alice” was also from Henrietta it is a reasonable conclusion that Dr. X was the first owner. In that respect the provenance of “Alice” is clear: Dr. X to the donor’s husband to us. We don’t how Dr. X came to be in possession of the skeleton.
What we don’t know about “Alice” is concerning. We don’t know how she died, her real name, or her ethnicity. No one on our staff is a forensic anthropologist, so our investigations of the bones are amateur at best. We believe she was Caucasian and around 18 or 19 when she died. But we don’t have an accurate time period for her life. We can narrow it down to probably the end of the 19th century, but this is merely supposition and not hard fact. We do not know if she gave consent to become a medical specimen. This last bit is crucial. If she never even gave consent for her body to be used as a medical specimen, she’d probably not be okay hanging in a museum exhibit. There is too much we don’t know to for us to feel comfortable with keeping her on display.
For me, it comes down to human dignity. I asked myself: if this was the skeleton of my relative would I be comfortable with her remains displayed like this? No, I would not. Do I think that every museum should take down their displays of human remains? No. Every museum must examine their own collection for information to decide what they are comfortable with. For OCP, human remains are not crucial to our displays and our story. “Alice” can easily be replaced with a model and it won’t take anything away form the exhibit. We actually have more human remains than you’d think; certainly more than I was expecting to find. Along with “Alice” we will be removing a femur from the Doctor’s House and a partial skull from the Dentist’s office.
So what happens now? I’ve created a safe storage space for “Alice” in our warehouse. I’ve lined a box with foam, Tyvek, and archival tissue so that the bones will be supported while she is in storage. From there it gets fuzzier. Ultimately our goal is to de-accession “Alice”. This means to remove her from the collection. However, in order to do this we need to have a respectful way to divest ourselves of the skeleton. There are no clear guidelines to follow. Most remains removed from collections are done so because a family member or an ethnic group to which the remains belong request for the body to be returned. There is no one asking for “Alice” and since we don’t know her real name, we have no family to contact.
Some next steps are: using her remains to research her past, returning her to Henrietta, Texas, and burial. Of course, none of those are mutually exclusive, but not all of them are necessarily practical at the moment because our resources are limited. I’d like to have someone come examine “Alice” to confirm things like ethnicity and age, and to answer questions like cause of death. I feel that those things might help us identify her and personally, I’d just like to know. Whatever the outcome will be, we will do our best to make sure “Alice” gets the respect she deserves.
[Note: Through out this post I’ve been putting “Alice” in quotes because we don’t know if that is her original name, but I don’t like calling her “the skeleton” because it dehumanizes her. We need to remember she was once a living person.]
By now, many of you have seen the devastating news that our nearest neighbor, the Ambassador Hotel, burned to the ground last night. It cannot be salvaged. This building has been a part of our historic landscape for well over a century. It loomed over our grounds, giving visitors another reminder of what the Cedars neighborhood once looked like.
When the hotel was built in 1904, our properties were connected. For a period, it was known as the Park Hotel because of its adjacency. There are many, many stories of the people that lived or stayed at the hotel. One of my favorites was meeting someone at a public lecture whose grandmother lived at the Ambassador in the 1920s—and courted her future grandfather by walking through City Park. OCP’s very first director lived in an apartment at the Ambassador, and board members remember fixing up his rooms.
We were thrilled when Jim Lake Jr. bought the Ambassador in 2014. The Lake family also has a long connection to OCP, as his mother Barbara was part of our founding generation of volunteers. Jim loves historic buildings as much as we do, and we were eagerly awaiting this building’s next chapter. In fact, members of OCP got a tour of the Ambassador about two weeks ago—we were perhaps the last members of the “public” to be inside this iconic structure.
We are incredibly grateful to the Dallas Fire Department for proactively spraying the Farmstead and Blacksmith Shed down last night. With the quantity of cinders and ash covering the Farmstead this morning, we know Dallas could easily have lost more historic structures last night. The sheep and chickens that live at the Farmstead are also safe.
We are closed today, as access to our western side of the museum is very difficult. We will make a decision about tomorrow later. Smoke still lingers in the air. And soon, they’ll be bringing the walls down. The next time you visit OCP, we will definitely look a little different.
Today, we mourn with our neighbors the loss of this great building. It will take some time for us to get over this loss.