The architecture of Downtown Dallas

I met Penny, from Adventures of a Carry-On, through social media first and in person last week. She’d published an article on the architecture of Downtown Dallas, I commented on it, and then we continued the conversation on Twitter and finally exchanged phone numbers. Since we both live in Dallas, we arranged to meet for lunch and a stroll.

Our meeting point was outside the Wilson Building, on the corner of Main and Ervay streets. The Wilson was built in 1903 and its design was inspired by the Grand Opera House of Paris.

The Wilson is now dwarfed by modern high-rises
The Wilson is now dwarfed by modern high-rises

Main Street was given its less-than-creative name by John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas. The area became the financial and commercial centre of the infant city and still remains so. It had periods of growth and decadence and now it’s experiencing a kind of revival, with new businesses, hotels and old office buildings being converted into lofts and apartments, like the Kirby.

The Kirby Building (1509 Main St.) was built in 1913 in the Late Gothic style by Adolphus Busch, he of Budweiser fame. Originally, it housed offices and a department store. The lobby reminds me of a church with the decorative ribs of its ceiling and the marble staircase. The views of Dallas from the 18th floor terrace are spectacular, including that of the red Pegasus.

The Kirby
The Kirby

The red Pegasus is a symbol of Dallas. The original is on display inside Dallas Farmers Market and used to be on the roof of the Magnolia Building. Magnolia Petroleum (now Exxon Mobil) built their headquarters in 1922 in the Renaissance Revival style. The red Pegasus was its emblem and was placed on the roof in 1934. Nowadays, The Magnolia is a high-end hotel (1401 Commerce St.)

The Magnolia seen from the Kirby's terrace
The Magnolia seen from the Kirby’s terrace

There are a handful of landmark buildings in this area, like The Adolphus, on the corner of Commerce and Akard. This splendid hotel was built by Adolphus Busch in 1912 in the Beaux Arts style. It must be wonderful to have a luxury hotel built and name it after you. How does the Ana Hotel sound? Not very grand, I’m afraid.

Two other historic buildings are being redeveloped: the Merc (the Mercantile National Bank Complex – Main, Ervay, Commerce and St. Paul streets), built in 1943. It was the tallest building in the city at the time. The 1931 Lone Star Gas Co. building is an Art Deco gem located on 301 S. Harwood St

Lone Star Gas Co. Building
Lone Star Gas Co. Building

Notes from a road trip to the Texas Hill Country

Local flora: prickly pear
Local flora: prickly pear

“I’ll need something as collateral, sir. Your keys, your wallet, your watch…the clerk said. This E-Z gas station is located outside Granbury. Customers have to pay inside before pumping. I guess many have not been as honest as they should have and the clerk was forced to take precautions.

“I love your accent” was a recurring comment throughout the trip. Sean’s British accent was indeed a big hit with locals. They were super friendly and asked us a lot of questions. Usually, they would realize I was standing there too once the spell cast by Sean’s accent was broken: “Oh, do y’all have an accent too?” A foreign accent, yes, but not British. “Say something so I can hear it… Are y’all German?” No, I’m not.

Antique store in Llano

We stopped off at Llano on our way to Canyon of the Eagles. On a whim, I decided we should visit an antiques store. I bought a red train set that seems to date from the 1960s. No, it isn’t a toy train but an oversized makeup case. My grandmother used to have a pearl grey one so my new acquisition in a way reminds me of her. I also bought a book printed in 1854. The front page reads “The Fourth Reader or Exercises in Reading and Speaking. Designed for the higher classes in our public and private schools.” It was printed in Portland, Maine. How on earth did it end up in remote Llano, Texas, in 2012?

We took a cruise around Lake Buchanan (pronounced buhk hăn uhn). Our guide, Miss Candy, a retired teacher from the area, helped us spot some local wildlife, such as egrets or ospreys. She shared very interesting information about the history of the manmade lake. We hopped off the boat to visit the ruins of Bluffton, a town that was submerged in 1937 when the Buchanan Dam was built. There wasn’t a lot to see; however, her narration was captivating.

Egret on Lake Buchanan
Egret on Lake Buchanan

“Burnet, durn it! Learn it!” is apparently a popular way to learn and remember the correct pronunciation of Burnet (BER nĕt) because of the easy rhyme. We learned this from Miss Candy too.

Burnet
Burnet

Hello everyone. I’m going to be your guide today. My name is XXXXXX and I’m a fifth generation Texan and a secessionist” This is how our guide to the Longhorn Cavern introduced himself. No doubt as to his lineage and political views whatsoever. Actually, he wasn’t the only person we met this trip that expressed a similar view. Sean struck up a conversation with a three people while we were waiting for a table at a restaurant in Burnet and somehow they managed to mention secession as well. It’s not a subject that usually crops up in conversation in the city.

Besides the egrets and ospreys, we spotted other local wildlife too. One night, we stopped the car the let a tarantula cross the road (no, really!). I’d never seen one before; it was as big as my hand. Just in case, I watched her progress from the safety of my car. We also saw some buzzards eat a dead animal lying beside the road. We spotted a roadrunner, which wasn’t running but flying low. I looked up to check that an ACME safe wasn’t falling from the sky. Last, but by no means least, we say a herd of buffalo grazing on a field. That was a first for me too.

Buffalo
Buffalo!

The award to most creative (and scary!) ranch gate has to go to the folks whose gate reads “We don’t dial 911” below a shotgun. Across the road there is a satellite dish with a biblical quote.

Around Texas: Dinosaur Valley State Park

It is possible to walk on the footsteps of dinosaurs in Texas. Really. At the Dinosaur Valley State Park, located in Glen Rose, about ninety miles southwest of Dallas. We went there on a late summer day and had a T-Rex of a time! (Bad joke alert.)

Although the scenery is beautiful, the main attraction is the genuine dinosaur tracks on the bed of the Paluxy River. They advise visitors to call in advance to check on river conditions to make sure the tracks are visible before setting off. We didn’t call ahead but figured it’d be all right since it was summer and quite a dry one at that.

Paluxy River

The terrain is quite hilly and the river meanders along a small valley. We had to climb down the rocks to get to the riverbed. I was so excited to see the tracks! We had visited the interpretation center, which gave us and idea of what had happened (or what they think happened), millions of years ago. It was something like this: a group of dinosaurs (maybe brontosaurs) was probably drinking water when another group of hungry dinosaurs showed up and probably ate them up (carnosaurs). Well’, that’s my interpretation of the interpretation.

Theropod tracks (I learned the name thanks to Kuban’s Paluxy Website. Thanks!)
More Theropod tracks

We saw some local fauna, like these lovely white-tailed deer. Other local species are coyote, bobcat, various rodents, raccoon, beaver, skunk, opossum, armadillo, fox squirrel, rabbit, lizards and snakes. I’m terrified by snakes so I wasn’t too keen of walking among rocks. However, I’m sure they were more scared of me than I was of them.

White-tailed deer
 The park is located 4 miles west of Glen Rose. Take U.S. Highway 67 to FM 205 for 4 miles to Park Road 59; then go 1 mile to the headquarters.

All’s well that ends well

This is part 2 of our spontaneous, unplanned road trip. Read part 1 here

 

This trip graduated to the road trip category the moment we stocked up on sodas, gummy bears, chips and other equally nutritious food. We left Austin before noon and headed to San Antonio. We had no plans except check in at our hotel and grab some lunch. It was another scorching hot day in Texas. Oh joy.

Out of the blue, I remembered reading an article about the Franciscan missions in San Antonio and my inner history buff was doing cartwheels at the thought of visiting them. I suggested we visited only one and be done with it as I was aware that this may not be Sean’s idea of how to spend an afternoon. He was very sweet and obliging and drove me to all five of them.

We started at Mission San José, created in 1720. It is the biggest and best preserved of them all. I absolutely loved it, it’s so beautiful. This and the other missions were founded by the Franciscan order to teach local Indians – the Coahuiltecans- “to live and worship as Spaniards and, ultimately, live independently from the mission.” The Indians were taught to blacksmith, to weave on European looms, to cut stone and to make shoes and cotton clothes.

Mission San Jose

The compound consisted of a church, the centre of life at the mission, a granary, acequias for water, Indians quarters, the armoury, a mill and the friars’ quarters and offices. Most buildings are still standing and some even show traces of original frescoes. The church is quite big with an ornately carved front. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the inside because there was a wedding in progress as it still functions as parish church. The bride was waiting outside, baking in the sun, which struck me as odd. At my wedding people waited for me!  We waited until the doors opened and I caught a glimpse of the sky blue and gold leaf altar.

Waiting bride

We followed the signs of the Mission Trail to the next one, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña- or Mission Concepción. All that remains now is the church, the granary and one other building, or rather, a big room. Luckily there wasn’t a wedding so I could go inside. Sean stayed in the car; he was probably “missioned out” by then.

There are still traces of the original frescoes and the church is beautifully restored. Here, as in the rest of the missions, Franciscan friars converted the local Indians to Catholicism and imposed Spanish customs and traditions as well. It was a way of maintaining Spanish control over Texas, a remote corner of the Spanish Empire at the time.

Mission Concepcion

Next came Mission Espada. It’s mostly ruins now except for the small church.  And guess what? There was a wedding in progress so I couldn’t see it inside. It was interesting to see a Franciscan friar walk by. It must have been an all too common sight almost three centuries ago.

At Mission San Juan, what little remains was closed off to visitors due to restoration work. At least there wasn’t a wedding.

You may be wondering which is the fifth mission. Remember the Alamo? Yep, that’s the one.

After cooling down at the hotel, we went out for dinner to a great restaurant called A Cenar. It’s right on the River Walk and has a lovely terrace but it was too warm to eat outside. We had margaritas and delicious Mexican food (not Tex-Mex). We strolled along the river for a while after dinner before going back to our hotel.

The next morning we walked around La Villita, an art community, a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but most shops were closed.

We pushed on back to Dallas. We had one more stop to make: West. The town of West, right outside Waco, was founded by Czech immigrants and that’s where we stopped for lunch. We were lucky to find Nors Sausage and Burger House open. We had a nice lunch but didn’t have enough room for kolaches. Maybe next time.

Another wedding at Mission Espada
El Alamo
West

* Thanks Johanna from RestlessJo for the inspiration for the title

Of best-laid plans and all that

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns said, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” 

We had planned to spend a weekend in Boston in late June, bought the tickets two months in advance, booked a hotel and bought a city guide. On the day of the flight, a Friday, we went to the airport with plenty of time to spare, went through security and waited at the gate. They announced a delay. No big deal, we can wait. The delay got longer and longer until they announced the cancellation of the flight. All my expectations were dashed to the ground. It was a full flight, with everyone eager to either get back home or flee from the scorching Texas heat (that would be us!).

While we were waiting in line to try and get on another flight, we decided that if we couldn’t fly tonight, we’d go somewhere else. All the flights were full and flying on Sunday morning only to return that evening was not sensible. We jumped on the truck (parked at the airport) and drove south. We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to drive to Austin and San Antonio.

The drive was pleasant; the countryside was quite green due to recent rains and made it to Austin at dusk. While checking in at the hotel, Sean mentioned our frustrated trip to Boston and the receptionist upgraded us to a suite.  Right on! The receptionist, a polite and attentive young man, also suggested we had a drink at the Driskill Hotel.

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The Driskill Hotel is located on 6th Street, Austin’s hard partying area but is patronized by a more mature clientele. The hotel was opened in 1886 by a cattle baron and is very grand, very Texas. We loved the bar. There was live music and a few brave couples danced to country-Western tunes.

The next morning I had to go shopping for shorts -as if I needed an excuse- because I had packed clothes for the milder climate of Boston and there no way was I going to face over a hundred degree weather in jeans! After that was taken care of, we went to the State Capitol.

The Texas State Capitol is said to be the second biggest in the country, only slightly smaller than the one in Washington. Hardly shocking news since everything is bigger in Texas. The building, opened to the public in 1888, was built in the Renaissance Revival style in sunset red granite. It sits on extensive grounds at the highest point of Austin. An interesting fact is that the contractors were not paid in dollars but in land: three million acres in the Panhandle.

The grounds are dotted about with monuments and statues. The first one you see is the Civil War memorial dedicated to Confederate soldiers who “died for state rights guaranteed under the Constitution,” according to the legend carved on one side. There is a list of all the battles as well. A Civil War memorial is a common feature in every Texan town and, whether or not you agree with the ideas of the Confederation, you can’t help but admire the immense pride Texans take in their heroes.

Now, off to our next destination: San Antonio.