Mark Rice grew up in Dallas and graduated from Lake Highlands High School in 1969. Rice is a history lover who published “Downtown Dallas: Romantic Past, Modern Renaissance” in 2007. After beating pancreatic cancer, one of the disease’s deadliest forms, he decided to self-publish a second book, “Dallas at Dawn,” which he published last year. Rice is also a contributor to Legacies, a Dallas history publication that comes out twice a year. “It’s a labor of love,” he says.
How he got started:
When I got in my 50s, I started collecting postcards off eBay. I don’t even really remember how I got into that, but I bought these Dallas history postcards. When I would get one, it would make me curious as to when that building erected. Why was it built? What year? Who built it? What happened there? And sadly, in Dallas, whatever happened to it? Because a lot of them are gone. Curiosity drove a lot of it. I’d collected these postcards, and I’d research them through the Dallas Public Library. You sit in the comfort of your own home and do unbelievable amounts of research online. And then I started going down to the library as well and looking at images, so I started writing essays on these buildings, and I wrote a several dozen. I was showing the stuff I had written to a couple of friends and they were like, “This is fantastic. You ought to write a book.”
The first book:
I went to Brown Books [Publishing Group in Dallas] and self-published that first book in 2007. It covered most of the historic buildings in Downtown only. That book was incredibly expensive to do. It was a full-color coffee table book, but I wanted to do something really special, really beautiful, so I plopped down a bunch of money and ended up getting my money back and making some money on that book. I was very lucky. I printed 3,000 of that first book and sold 2,900. I’ve got a few dozen left.
The new book:
I restricted that first book to just Downtown, and I had a lot of material that covered South Dallas, East Dallas, Oak Cliff, North Dallas. I didn’t know if I’d do another book. After I retired, I thought, “I can’t invest that kind of money on a book again and not know if I’m going to get it back.”
About a year after I retired [in 2017], I started to have some weird symptoms. I went to a doctor at Presbyterian hospital and found out that I had pancreatic cancer; 85% of the time that’s a death sentence, and that’s the first thing I thought of. I’ve got a kid who’s at UT, and I thought, “I’ll never see him graduate. I’ll never see him get married.” They did surgery and removed the cancer, and I did chemotherapy and radiation for nine months after that. Once I got out of the hospital I thought, “I need to get that book done. If I’m going to do it, I better do it now because who knows what the future holds?” I guess having something like that happen kind of sharpens your focus.
Why people love history:
We are so beaten down by political stuff that it’s like an escape in some ways. People at the time probably would have thought things were just as bad as they are now. You look back at the past through rose-colored glasses. “That was a better time,” well, probably not. I think people are just hungry to escape into something where you can forget about some of the stuff going on now, so I enjoy doing those kinds of stories.
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