The Builder and The Electrician

The earliest pioneers I know in Oak Cliff were Will and Clara Basham. They came to Oak Cliff around 1900. They first lived in the area near Lake Cliff Park, restoring homes, selling them, finding another to redo and sell. After several homes in that area, they moved westward to a new development, Winnetka Heights.

Records show they were the first owners of several houses in the neighborhood because they would build to a point, move in and finish out the houses, start another, move and the cycle continued for years. I know they built many of the houses in the 200-300 block of N. Clinton, although I’ve been told of others.

Clara was an older sister to R. J. Reitz, my grandfather. It was Will that got RJ a job as a lineman for “Baby Southwestern Bell, ” a.k.a. ATT, shortly after he married. R.J. and Anna started restoring houses, too, around the area of the Bishop Arts District before they built their home at Winnetka and 8th St. in 1912. They already had two small children and the house was almost finished when “Papa” put a “For Sale” sign out front. “Mama” had the last word, and she had moved for the last time.

R.J. became the first electrician in Oak Cliff. Houses in the the older parts of Oak Cliff and even some in Winnetka Heights were built without electricity. Even though they had a surrey “with the fringe on top,” RJ walked Oak Cliff with his pull wagon full of tools to take care of the jobs requested, while Anna stayed home with the children and became the secretary to the business answering the phone. Later, he bought a four wheel wagon, pulled by a horse — and the family continued to grow. It was OK because the streets in the neighborhood weren’t paved anyway. It was several years later when his growing sons helped him buy a pick-up. His four sons all became electricians early in life, learning from their father, and ended up with well-known companies, WFAA, or working on Boulder Dam. Several grandsons even became electricians.

Will and Clara continued building homes until they moved to Ft. Worth in later years. But, after death, they were returned to Oak Cliff and are buried in the Oak Cliff Pioneer’s Cemetary near Townview Magnet.

“Papa” died in 1954, yet Anna was able to stay in her home until her early 90’s. The house remains in the “family” and is occupied by a grandson, Mike and his wife Janice.

In all, six generations of Anna Reitz have lived in Winnetka Heights. Will, Kristen, and Kieran are the sixth. In all, I’ve counted 22 direct descendants from 5 generations of RJ and Anna who have lived in Winnetka Heights.

Introducing ‘History’ with Donna Lackey

Oak Cliff is very rich in history. From cowboys at the bars on Davis, oil wells, cotton fields and cattle drives on their way to the Ft. Worth Stockyards — right through Winnetka Heights on 8th St. — to the many doctors, lawyers, professionals and entertainers that once lived here.

In the late 1800’s, to 1900’s to 1950’s, Oak Cliff was entertainment. People traveled here for “spas”, opera’s, multiple theaters, an amusement park, and a ballpark. Just like Arlington, it’s a base for the development of Oak Cliff that spread.

There are many reasons these various forms of entertainment disappeared, mostly political.

There’s a lot to read on www.oakcliff.com.

Growing up in Oak Cliff during the 1950’s was fun. Shopping on Jefferson during Christmas time was bumper to bumper with police directing traffic. We finally got a mall in the 70’s; little did we know it would destroy Jefferson and Wynnewood when the businesses moved from these areas to Redbird.

During the summer, before there was a seatbelt law, my mother would pile ten kids into the car — her own plus the neighborhood kids — and take us either to Polar Bear where a scoop of ice cream was 7 cents or to a local snow cone shop where they cost a nickle.

Oak Cliff was the country life to Big D. It was nothing for 20 kids from the neighborhood to gather in our yard to play games from kickball to chase or something else we would invent. At night, we would lie on blankets, and in the darkness look at the stars, watch for airplanes, and big lights spanning the sky. During the 50’s, it didn’t take much to entertain a kid.

April 2, 1957

1957 Tornado Destruction newspaper photoSome days just stick out in your mind and you remember forever where you were and what you were doing.

Before there were radars, news interruptions, or sirens people just had to rely on instinct and knowledge.

It didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary that day until my older brother came running in from school and shouted a big black thing was following him home from school. He had pedaled as fast as possible.

My mother ran to the front of the house. The next thing I knew all the kids in the house were ushered under a large table with two adults and a transistor radio. We listened as the tornado traveled down Polk, hitting the Dixico plant, traveling north.

When it was thought to be safe, we got out to investigate the damage — heading toward my grandmother’s house on Winnetka to make sure she was OK. What we discovered was the tornado had hit around Willomet and Jefferson and traveled down Winnetka. You see where tornadoes take entire blocks, but this one was so selective — up and down, sparing one and hitting another.

Even a kid, under 10, can be surprised to see Grandma’s house without a roof! The entire roof was lifted off the house and thrown into the neighbor’s backyard tree, while pictures remained on the walls. The tornado — at least in the 400 block — had skipped the two 2-story houses and hit the 3 single story homes. When you go down Winnetka and see wrought iron columns, it was the thing in those days and probably replaced damage from the tornado. Although 401 N. Winnetka has the same floor plan, the roof and porch are not close to the original, and changed the appearance greatly.

After hitting 400 N. Winnetka, the tornado crossed at the alley onto Clinton and damaged the theater at Davis, before crossing over to Edgefield and into west Dallas.

I found this clip of the tornado on you-tube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YpBli5sP7A

Lots of photos of the tornado on this site: 1957dallastornado.net

Researching Your Home’s History

Originally posted by Vicki Fitzgerald

Researching the history of your home can be rewarding and interesting, and also frustrating. Take for instance 318 N. Rosemont.

The home was built sometime between 1912 & 1915 for J. G. Webster, vice president and general manager of Webster Wholesale Grocers. He lived there until 1920 when he moved to Highland Park. The address was listed as 302 N. Rosemont.

J. P. Webster moved into 402 N. Rosemont in 1920 and the address was listed as 402 N. Rosemont as it stands today.

302 N. Rosemont was north of 8th Street. In 1924 302 N. Rosemont shows up as south of 8th St.

Until 1937 the Webster home on the corner was next door to 230 N. Rosemont. The lot to that house was divided and another house was built. In 1939 302 N. Rosemont became 318 N. Rosemont. In 1950 the house and land was divided and the address 318 ½ was added to the city directory.

Many Winnetka Heights addresses have changed, and it is often difficult to trace the homes’ roots.

If you are interested in tracing the history of your home, you may e-mail Vicki Fitzgerald – punkypu (at) swbell (dot) net. I have some history on a lot of the homes in our neighborhood.

If you want to feel the experience of finding out about your home on your own, here are some tips:

  • Go downtown to the Central Library, seventh floor.
  • Ask for city directory microfilm for the year showing on your tax certificate.
  • Starting with that date, go backwards until your address shows up.
  • Ask for the building permit book for that year.

Looking through the permit book is tedious, but you can gather important data.
From that information, you can learn who built your house, when, and how many owners had it before you.

Tyler Street Methodist Church

By Vicky Fitzgerald

On January 29, 1912 in the home of Mr. & Mrs. W. O. Forrester, the Tyler Street Methodist Episcopal Church was born. The congregation met at West Dallas Methodist until the sanctuary at the corner of Tyler & Sunset was completed on July 7, 1912.

In 1919 a building was purchased at the corner of Tenth and Polk Street. Two years later the congregation moved into the partially completed building, and in 1923 the building fund had $32,430.00 and construction resumed on the upper levels of the sanctuary.

The Tyler Street Methodist Episcopal Church holds the dubious distinction of having been the first church in Dallas to be foreclosed on. In 1932 during the Great Depression, the Mercantile Commerce Bank & Trust of St. Louis ordered the church to pay its indebtedness of $108,000.00 or be padlocked. The latter happened. On Good Friday, 1932 the building was padlocked. Easter services that year were held in the Rosewin Theater on Jefferson. In 1933, with the help of the North Texas Conference, a new loan was negotiated and the church was reopened.

In 1926, Mr. & Mrs. U. M. Boyd presented a gift of a leaded stained glass window. Either parishioners and or church groups donated each window and the dome in the church.

The beautiful windows were commissioned to Roger McIntosh, one of the most skilled stained glass artisans ever in this area. He took his first job working with glass shortly after 12 years of age at the Dallas Art Glass Company. McIntosh’s work is legendary, and examples of his beautiful craftsmanship can be seen on the Ross Avenue Baptist Church, Munger Place Methodist, McFarlin Auditorium, the Adolphus Hotel, the Herbert Marcus home, and the Dallas Power & Light Building, to name a few.

In 1966 the sanctuary burned, but the windows and dome were saved.
Mr. & Mrs. W. J. Evans moved to 300 S. Montclair in Winnetka Heights in 1914. They raised seven children here and were active members of the Tyler Street Church.

Mr. Evans was secretary to Dallas Mayor Joe Lawther in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 Evans joined the Federal Reserve Bank, and in 1936 became Vice President and Secretary of the Board. He was also National President of the American Institute of Banking.

If you have never paid attention to the windows of Tyler Street, make it a mission to see these gorgeous windows, and the dome. They are some of the most beautiful works of art ever seen.

Interesting facts about the windows:

  • Christ knocking at the door – the door in the window can only be opened from the inside.
  • Mary, Martha, and Jesus – the inclusion of a bird on the drapery rod and the dog curled up next to the chair are very unusual.
  • Lilies and crosses are displayed in each window, and in the dome.