25 Things You Should Know About Dallas
By Jenni Miller
The Lone Star State's third-largest city is a sprawling metroplex, boasting a rich history, signature snacks, and internationally-recognized architecture. Read on to learn more about the place residents call the "Big D."
1. The world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed Dallas Theater Center’s Kalita Humphreys Theater, a gorgeous performance space located in the Turtle Creek area of the city. According to the official DTC site, it’s the only freestanding theater Wright designed that was built to completion. The last home Wright designed before his death in 1959, the John A. Gillin House, is also located in Dallas.
2. Everyone’s favorite 24/7 snack destination, 7-Eleven, got its start in Dallas as an outgrowth of an ice-selling operation; in addition to blocks of ice, the Southland Ice Company began selling grocery staple items like milk and eggs to customers in 1927. The company moved into selling gasoline in 1928, eventually adding more goods and services as time went on. The Slurpee, originally known as the icee, and its attendant brain freeze was unleashed on customers in 1965.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
The home of Tex-Mex is also the birthplace of the frozen margarita machine. A young restaurateur named Mariano Martinez hit upon the idea after a visit to, well, 7-Eleven. Martinez told The Dallas Morning News, “I had a sleepless night and the next day, I stopped to get a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven and I saw that Slurpee machine. The entire concept hit me at one time.” His machine now lives at the Smithsonian.
4. You can still go see movies at the historic landmark theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. As it turns out, he wasn’t initially arrested for the murder of President John F. Kennedy at the Texas Theatre but for the killing of a local police officer named J.D. Tippit. Oswald had snuck into a screening of War is Hell to evade officers on the hunt for Tippit’s killer. Today, the Texas Theatre screens art house and repertory films, and hosts special events.
5. Big Tex is the official mascot of the State Fair of Texas, which takes place in the Fair Park area of Dallas. Big Tex made national news when he caught fire in 2012, the year of his 60th birthday, but he was rebuilt in time for the 2013 fair. Plus, he’s bigger and better than ever. The 2013 iteration of Big Tex is 55 feet tall, compared to the original 52 feet. Heck, even his cowboy hat is bigger: the original was a mere 75-gallon hat, whereas now he sports a hefty 95-gallon lid.
6. You can visit the graves of the infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Dallas, but you’ll have to make two separate trips. Although the lovers died together during a police ambush in Louisiana, they’re buried in different graveyards. Arthur Penn’s Oscar-winning film Bonnie and Clyde filmed some scenes on location in and around Dallas.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Every airport seems like a schlep, but the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is actually as big as it feels—or maybe even bigger. It covers almost 27 square miles, which makes it larger than the island of Manhattan.
8. German chocolate cake isn’t actually German at all. It’s named after Sam German, the genius who came up with the delicious dark chocolate used in the recipe. The recipe itself was first published as a recipe of the day in The Dallas Morning Star in 1957.
9. Doc Holliday is most famous for his role as a gun-slinging dude who was part of the gun fight at the O.K. Corral, but Holliday (né John Henry Holliday) was also a professional dentist before his gambling habits got the best of him. Before buddying up with Wyatt Earp, he worked as a practicing dentist in downtown Dallas.
10. Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood is known for its trendy nightlife destinations and live music, but back before the cool kids were packing ‘90s venues like Trees, the area was a performance destination for masterful blues musicians including Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, T-Bone Walker, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith.
11. Although Robocop takes place in a dystopian Detroit, there are a number of exterior shots featuring famous Dallas locations. Although a few are easy to spot, like Reunion Tower, others require a keener eye. Film locations include the Plaza of the Americas, the ballroom of Deep Ellum’s Sons of Hermann Hall, the inside of the infamous Starck Club, and Dallas City Hall.
Texas Instruments’ own Jack Kilby won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his invention of the integrated circuit, otherwise known as a microchip. He also helped invent the personal calculator, along with fellow TI engineers Jim Van Tassel and Jerry Merryman.
13. Barney & Friends was birthed in the Big D by Kathy Parker and Sheryl Leach, who hit upon the idea while stuck in a traffic jam on Central Expressway (an experience any DFW native can relate to). Not only did it result in big bucks for Leach and co., it also proved to be a game changer for the actor who played Barney from 1992 to 2000. David Joyner told Buzzfeed, “Back then, when I was single and I was dating, yeah, I was pretty well known in the Dallas area … If I ever mentioned that I played Barney, [women would be] like, ‘Ooh wow! Ohhhh OK.' … You’d be surprised how well that works. … Not that I would use it as a pick up line.” Uh huh. Sure.
14. Laser Tag was invented in Dallas by George Carter, who initially dubbed the new game “Photon.” Carter told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired by Star Wars, explaining, “Watching scenes of them running up and down the hallways of the spaceships looked like fun.”
15. Although Southfork Ranch is technically in Parker, Texas, the site for Dallas is but a horseshoe’s throw from Dallas proper. You can take a tour of the ranch and get the scoop on all things Ewing, from where Bobby’s funeral was filmed to props like the gun that shot J.R. There’s a Southfork Hotel nearby in Plano if you feel like putting your boots up for the night.
Susanne Davidson, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Bette Nesmith Graham went from a single mom supporting her family as a secretary to a business whiz when she invented Liquid Paper, which she initially referred to as Mistake Out when she first began selling it in 1956. Graham sold Liquid Paper to Gillette in 1979 for a cool $47.5 million. If her name sounds somewhat familiar, it could be because her son, Mike Nesmith, is famous as one of the Monkees.
17. Dallas almost had its very own legal red light district in the early 1900’s. According to documents found by the Dallas Public Library's Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division, “By 1906 the Dallas City Commissioners had proposed that the area of northwest downtown Dallas, Frogtown, become a sanctioned red light district.” It was a hotly contested proposition, especially by the North Dallas Improvement League. By 1911, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Dallas would have to enforce the state’s laws against prostitution “because the city commissioners could not suspend state law, only the state legislature could do that.”
18. Dallas is home to an impressive number of museums dedicated to fine arts and culture, from smaller venues like the Bath House Cultural Center to the massive Dallas Museum of Art, whose collection spans thousands of years. There is also the excellent African American Museum of Dallas, the Dallas Holocaust Museum, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and of course the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, for all your JFK needs.
19. The Dallas Cowboys have five Super Bowl championships, but without Dallasite Lamar Hunt, they wouldn’t have any at all. That’s because Hunt, one of the founders of the AFL and the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, came up with the term “Super Bowl” itself way back in 1967.
20. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were originally named the CowBelles & Beaux. They got their current name in 1972, when Cowboys president and GM Tex Schramm hired a choreographer and ushered in a new era of cheerleading entertainment. The DCC became so iconic that they inspired the adult film Debbie Does Dallas; after the film's release, the cheerleading organization sued Pussycat Cinema for trademark infringement, and won.
Woodrow Wilson High School boasts a slice of tasty history trivia related to its namesake. According to Congressional records, there’s a slice of Jessie Wilson Sayre’s wedding cake in the cornerstone of the building. It’s not quite clear why the architect decided the best way to honor Woodrow Wilson was to include a piece of cake from the president’s daughter’s wedding, but it’s certainly a unique way to pay homage.
22. The ritzy Highland Park Village, which opened in 1913, is America’s first shopping center. If you’re in the market for luxury goods or just some old-fashioned window-shopping, Highland Park Village is the place to be; the shops include Céline, Dior, Jimmy Choo, Saint Laurent, Christian Louboutin, and Chanel, for starters.
23. You can’t go anywhere without running into an ATM these days, and that’s at least partially due to the ingenuity of one Dallas-based exec. Don Wetzel worked at Docutel, a company that specialized in automated baggage-handling equipment, and he hit upon the idea when he was in line at the bank way back in 1968. He told Fortune, "Golly, all the teller does is cash checks, take deposits, answer questions like 'What's my balance?' and transfer money between accounts,” concluding, “Wow, I think we could build a machine that could do that!” Although other companies were working on various iterations of an automatic money-dispensing machine, Wetzel and Docutel are officially recognized as the inventors of this ever-present gadget.
24. Anyone who’s spent time in Dallas during the summer (or the spring or even sometimes the fall) knows its hot weather is no joke. The historic Adolphus Hotel, which is located in downtown Dallas, was the first hotel in the world to provide central air conditioning for its visitors. The hotel was built in 1912, and it took them up until 1950 to come up with central A/C, making for almost 40 years of disgustingly sticky guests.
25. Dallas’ infamous Starck Club was a hotspot for the rich, famous, and wonderfully weird in the ‘80s. (Grace Jones performed there on its opening night.) It was also notorious for the open sales and use of MDMA, which was legal until 1985. MDMA reportedly got its nickname Ecstasy from Michael Clegg, who began selling massive amounts of the drug to Dallas clubgoers back when he was still in seminary school. The Starck was raided after MDMA was made illegal in 1985. You can learn more about these heady days — well, nights — in the documentary The Starck Club.