Things you never knew

The brick building on McCree Road didn’t look like much, but to Paul Summer and his friends, it had several distinct advantages.

The lobby was air conditioned, always a plus in Dallas in the mid-1960s; even then, not a lot of places were air conditioned. Plus, it had a soft drink machine, so they could drink Cokes in an air-conditioned lobby.

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Most importantly, though, the building was all about rock ‘n’ roll – the home of the legendary KBOX-AM, a name that still coaxes a smile from anyone who remembers it. Forty years ago, the biggest rock station in town was Ron Chapman’s KLIF-AM, the Mighty 1190. But if you were cool (or if you wanted to be), you listened to KBOX.

“We’d ride our bikes up there, drink our Cokes, and bug the receptionist for promo stuff like stickers and 45s,” says Summer, who lives in Old Lake Highlands.

“And if she wasn’t terribly forthcoming, we’d go around the side of the building outside the studios and see if the DJ would open the window to talk to us. If he did, we’d ask him if he had any promos they weren’t using.”

Which is how Summer ended up with an Animals’ single, a B side called Baby Let Me Take You Home. (“I played the hell out of it,” he says with a laugh.) And all from a brick building on McCree Road that didn’t look like much.

But don’t be surprised if you didn’t know about KBOX. There are many things about Lake Highlands that even two-decade residents don’t know, despite their best efforts to keep up. It’s one thing to stay current with Lady of the Lake lore – like where her cemetery is supposed to be – or to realize that the McCree Cemetery is the resting place for members of the Peters Colony, the group that was among Dallas’ original settlers.

But it’s another to know about KBOX, or that Fields Cemetery on Skillman is almost as historically important as McCree, or any of a dozen other things that have helped make this neighborhood what it is today.

All you have to do is look.

CRANK UP THE VOLUME

It’s hard to believe, in this day of corporate radio, that disc jockeys would open a window and talk to their listeners (let alone give them a record). But that’s the kind of station KBOX was. Since it couldn’t beat KVIL, it had to be different, more interesting.

The overnight disc jockey, Frank “the Jolly Green Giant” Jolle, is still remembered as one of the great Djs of that era – someone who would even play local bands such as Dana Rollins and Jade of Stone. He also claimed to have seen the Lady of the Lake in November 1966, which caused quite a stir.

Says long-time Dallas radio voice Jim White: “Dallas radio was pretty hot back then, and KBOX was the Top 40 station of choice for many teens.”

Today, there’s a subdivision on McCree between Audelia and Aldwick. But in the ’60s and ’70s, it was KBOX, or as the station put it, “KBOX, Radio Park, Dallas 18, Texas.”

You could drive up McCree and see not only the station’s call letters on the building, but also the station’s four signal towers.

Being the No. 2 rocker, though, was not enough for the station’s owners. They switched formats to country music in 1967, and then promptly sold the station. KBOX had some success with country for several years, but over the next two decades it went through almost every format imaginable, as well as a variety of owners and call letters – KMEZ replaced KBOX in 1982.

The studio and towers were torn down in 1991, and Dallas radio era finally ended.

LEAVING LITTLE EGYPT

The news was big enough to warrant a front page story in The Dallas’ Morning News in May 1962 – “200 Little Egypt Residents to Leave ‘Bondage’ Today.”

With that, what was perhaps Dallas’ first freedman’s community was bulldozed for what would eventually become the commercial area around the Northlake Shopping Center.

The community, known to its inhabitants as simply Egypt, had been there for almost 100 years. In 1865, freed slaves Jeff and Hanna Hill were given title to 100 acres of cotton fields and peach and plum orchards in what was then a decidedly rural part of Dallas County. Over the next century, as the city grew out to meet them, the descendants of the original settlers worked as sharecroppers on neighboring farms and plantations. The streets were not paved, and there was no electricity or running water. Much of the time, there was no school, either. When children did go, it was to the segregated Hamilton Park school.

Lake Highlands’ growth in the late 1950s and early 1960s meant the end for Little Egypt. Developers wanted the land to build retail space for the new subdivisions that were being built. So they offered the residents a minimum of $6,500 per family, and said they would pay to move them to other predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Surprisingly, at least to the developers, the residents accepted the buyout without much fuss.

They shouldn’t have been surprised, one resident was quoted as saying. Not only would life be easier in their new homes, but Little Egypt’s residents faced the threat of condemnation proceedings if they stayed – and a community that poor could hardly afford the fight the developers and the city in court.

THE CRAPPIE ARE RUNNING

In the early spring and late fall, go east on Northwest Highway, and turn left on West Lawther. Almost as soon as you make the turn, you’ll see the men, fishing poles in the water. Lots of men, and lots of poles. For a minute, it’s almost as if you’re not in Dallas, but in a Hemingway novel, with the sun blocked by the trees and an almost mystical sort of coolness in the air. It really seems as if you’re not in the middle of the ninth-largest city in the country, and that it can’t possibly be White Rock Creek where these men are casting their lines with great success.

But it is. That part of the creek – where Lawther makes a loop east and turns into Lanshire in Lake Highlands – is known not just throughout the city for its fishing, but throughout the state. No less an authority than Texas Parks and Wildlife rates the white crappie fishing excellent, and says the creek is a sure bet in the spring. Crappie like cooler weather, and run in late February and early March and November, which is when the anglers congregate.

And what do you do with crappie, some of which get as big as three or four pounds? Eat them, of course. They’re quite tasty, especially pan fried and finished with some fresh herbs and a touch of lemon juice.

FINAL RESTING PLACE

Drive north on Skillman, and just past Walnut Hill on the left, sits a metal gate and a chain link fence. The sign on top says Fields Cemetery, and if you don’t know it’s there, you can drive past without noticing it.

But it’s worth noticing. The McCree Cemetery on Audelia Road, which dates to 1866, may be more well known, but the Fields has a rich history as well. It’s named for the Edward Fields family, slaves who arrived in the Dallas area from Kentucky around 1850. Their owner was William Barr Caruth, who would eventually become one of the richest men in Dallas, and whose family remains one of the area’s most wealthy and influential. The Caruth cotton plantation, which took in thousands of acres, covered much of the area north of Mockingbird between Central and the Tollway, not just after the Civil War, but well into the 20th century.

Anderson Fields, who was one of the first black men to own land in Dallas County, apparently established the cemetery some time around the Civil War. It’s still maintained and used today (though the family doesn’t talk about the cemetery, and the gate is kept locked). Several graves date to the Civil War and its aftermath, including Margaret Barnes Fields (1867-1933), Louis Fields (1862-1926) and John Clayton (1865-1950).

PAVING OVER THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Read the report, and it seems to make sense. Dallas’ population was not just growing, said the 1967 Texas Department of Transportation study, but was growing northward. And since the area had little mass transit, the only way to meet the demands of a population that was both increasing and spreading out was to build freeways to enable everyone to get where they needed to go. Two possible solutions: the $200 million East Dallas Freeway, running along Abrams and then Skillman to the Collin County line, and the $194 million Garland Freeway, more or less following Garland Road from I-45 to Collin County.

Needless to say, if these plans had come to fruition, none of us would be here reading this. Lakewood and Lake Highlands would have been split in two by the East Dallas Freeway, and the Garland project would have done the same thing for Casa Linda, Forest Hills and the other half of Lake Highlands. The consequence? The neighborhoods would have been ruined, following the pattern of post-war freeway construction throughout the country, which sacrificed close-in neighborhoods in order to get commuters from their homes in the suburbs to their jobs downtown.

To be fair, the social cost of all this construction was not completely understood 40 years ago. Yet the results are evident today in cities like Cleveland and Chicago. When freeways bypass neighborhoods, homes, and businesses are torn down, property values sink, and people move out. Who wants to live in a community where a freeway is the dominant feature, other than people who can’t afford to live elsewhere? Freeways work best, as Dallas has shown with LBJ, when they’re built before the people get there.

Why weren’t the 1967 proposals built? Primarily because they weren’t high priority items (18 and 16 on a list of 26 – finishing LBJ was first), and the federal money that paid for massive road projects had dried up, thanks to the Vietnam War.


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