Dallas, despite being the Buckle of the Bible Belt, has a rich tradition of gambling, gangsters, boozing and naked ladies.
All you people are here for the Super Bowl. I know what you're thinking. You call Dallas things like "the Buckle of the Bible Belt." Then you mock us for being hypocrites, because we have so many nekkid bars.
It's true. We do have a long history of trying to improve people's souls. And we do have a long history of nekkid bars. So what's your problem?
We show you a good time. Then we save your soul. What else do you want, a mint under your pillow?
As a matter of fact, Dallas has accomplished something over the years that people should respect—a tradition of good management principles applied to the infinite chaos of the human soul. Depending on how you look at it.
We have always had lots of churches. We have always had lots of naked dancing ladies. I suspect we have always had quite a few naked dancing men, too, but farther out in the woods.
Our bipolar, holy roller, tits-and-temperance history is recounted in a wonderful book, Big D, Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century, by Darwin Payne. Payne tells how the very ground where the first little log cabin was planted in Dallas, down by the Trinity River, was later incorporated into the city's first official red-light district, called "The Reservation."
It was all well-managed. The Reservation was officially recognized in the new city charter of 1907, which included a number of special provisions designed to keep the area safe and secure. Imagine an entire neighborhood, neatly laid out, populated entirely by naked ladies.
An early visitor, Henry Bruere, who identified himself as a "writer-researcher," was shocked to find ladies at all hours of the day and night—all hours—"practically unclothed, always eagerly sometimes clamorously soliciting trade."
So the guy's in the official red-light district. He's there at all hours of the day and night. And he is shocked, shocked to find naked ladies all over the place.
That's what I'm talking about. In Dallas, we have always been all over the map about naked—wound up, shocked, turned on, conflicted, out there all hours of the day and night, researching the human soul. You could do worse.
There was in Dallas at that same time a very prominent preacher with the fabulous moniker of J.T. Upchurch, who crusaded to save the city's "fallen women." Preacher Upchurch even built a nice workhouse called the "Barachah Industrial Home for Girls." Apparently recruiting was tough. Can't imagine.
Upchurch published a gazette he called the "Purity Journal," in which he flailed the city mercilessly for its sins. He even revealed that one of the biggest whorehouse owners in Dallas was a pillar of his own church—Dr. W.W. Samuell, a man whose name is on parks and streets all over Dallas to this day. Apparently he made the most of his fortune off The Reservation.
Now tell me this town is simple.
The era of The Reservation in the early 20th century was mild compared to what came later. In the 20 years from the early 1940s through the early '60s, Dallas was kind of a cross between present-day Vegas and a Christian version of Tehran. And jumping.
At mid-century the churches in Dallas were stronger than ever; prostitution and gambling were strictly forbidden by law; and yet Dallas was also one of the most wide-open dens of boozing, gambling and nekkidness in the nation.
How did we do it all at the same time? Good management.
The great institutions of this city turned the term two-faced into an art form. Example: Even though horse race gambling was illegal in Dallas, The Dallas Morning News published a daily "sporting edition" in the afternoon for gamblers. But the News also published crusading stories in its morning editions exposing the existence of illegal gambling in the city.
In one such story, a reporter set out to see how many forms of illegal gambling he could take part in during a single day. In the morning, he placed an illegal bet on a horse with a bookie and played an illegal slot machine at a downtown cafe. Later he bought two 25-cent chances on an illegal "punch-board," a kind of mini-lottery based on a peg-board hanging over a cash register.
Then he played an illegal gambling pinball machine and bought a 25-cent ticket on a policy wheel—another form of illegal lottery sometimes called a numbers racket. That evening he was invited to an illegal craps game at a downtown hotel but was too "tired" to take part.
Readers, presumably, were shocked, shocked, to find gambling in Dallas!
See, that's what I mean. Even back then, you had to get up pretty early in the morning to get ahead of Dallas in the moral complexity field.
It wasn't always easy keeping vice compatible with piety. During the 1920s, Dallas ostensibly was one of the nation's most pro-Prohibition cities. But it was also a big drinking town.
In 1929 Collier's Magazine published a story about Dallas in which the author said, "Regardless of its registered attitude in favor of strict enforcement of dry laws, I know of no town more bold in its violation of them."
Terribly embarrassed by the article, city fathers staged a rally at which the sheriff joined the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in pouring out 5,000 gallons of contraband hooch into the gutter. Unfortunately some inebriate tossed a match into the river of highly flammable fluid.
By the time the Fire Department was able to bring the conflagration under control, 20 automobiles had been set on fire and several buildings damaged.
Nevertheless, Dallas did a pretty good job over the years of keeping order, mainly by keeping everything in-house. In 1946, according to Congressional testimony, the Chicago mob made repeated efforts to take over the rackets in Dallas, at one point sending down a strong-arm committee made up of mobsters Daniel Lardino, James Wineburg, Paul (Needle Nose) Labriola and Marty (The Ox) Ochs.
The four horsemen from Chicago were intercepted and sent packing by local law enforcement before they even got a toe in the door. Later, when Wineburg and Labriola were executed with piano wire and Ochs by a method unknown, some believed it was because they had allowed the Chicago mob to be humiliated in Dallas.
Which was not to say Dallas did not want any wiseguys around. Just not too wise. Maybe the best example—a guy who was just the right fit for Dallas—was Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ruby had mob ties, but not big ties. He was small-time but not a punk. Ruby owned a series of failed strip joints but eventually became proprietor and maitre d' of the Carousel Club, a successful place for a while that was sort of a prototype for today's "gentlemen's clubs" in Dallas.
In a 1964 book called Dallas, Public and Private, author Warren Leslie said: "Ruby never lived outside the law. He lived on its fringes.
"He was a second-rater, and he knew it and hated it. For him, recognition and approval were necessities, not just from people in general but from people in authority."
There should be a statue.
Dallas faced what was probably the most difficult adjustment in its cultural history in the 1980s and '90s, as the old-fashioned nekkid bar, with its B girls and backroom dice games, gave way to a whole new industry of clubs that were able to operate freely and openly, unhampered by old taboos.
Maybe a little too freely. In the '90s the clubs exploded and seemed to be totally out of control, in terms of when and where they could operate and what could go on, a most un-Dallas situation.
A great deal of political activism, law enforcement activity and civil litigation was devoted to reining the club scene back in. And it worked, for the most part. Not that things are totally buttoned-down now, but the current club situation in Dallas is much more in keeping with the city's history.
Take The Lodge, for example. Most people consider it the city's top topless club, offering a polished atmosphere somewhere between a genteel hunting lodge and Topkapi Palace. Gorgeous women dance in not-quite-naked attire, all within the letter and thread of the law. The club itself operates in compliance with the requirements of all zoning, liquor and cabaret laws, according to proprietor Dawn Rizos.
She didn't always have such smooth sailing. During the topless battles of the 1990s, Rizos operated at another location where nearby homeowners wanted her gone. She moved in 1996 to the current location on Northwest Highway, about three miles from Love Field Airport, so she wouldn't have to attend any more hearings at City Hall.
"You have to work so hard to keep any business afloat, in good times or in bad times," she says. "You put so much of yourself into it. You're the last one to get paid. To do all that and then have the emotional headaches that come with those sorts of negative meetings, it's not worth it."
She says she thinks the city likes her now, because she's got all the right zoning and does not have angry householders nearby.
"I think they view us as the most conservatively managed of the lot," she says, "which is true. All of our girls are over 21. We breathalyze all employees at the end of every shift. We don't leave any stone unturned that might let something bad happen."
See, that's all it takes in Dallas. Good management. You can run a topless club or a mosque. Just run it right. I don't see that as hypocrisy. To me that's full service, body and soul.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.
- Donald Trump Begins Building Like Totally for Real Campaign Organization in Texas
Sun., Oct. 11, 3:25pm
Sun., Oct. 11, 3:25pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 6:30pm
Fri., Oct. 16, 7:30pm
- Jonathan Stickland, the Observer's Favorite State Rep., Gets a Primary Challenger
- Can Dallas County Cash In on the Volkswagen Scandal?