Arts & Culture News

East Dallas Residents Want the Spaghetti Warehouse Trolley Back

Junius Heights neighbors are bringing their trolley home, piece by piece.
Junius Heights neighbors are bringing their trolley home, piece by piece. Mark Reeves
For a group of Dallas residents, one streetcar is truly named desire. A group of Junius Heights neighbors is on a mission to bring a historical streetcar home, even if that means carrying it out, piece by piece, of a pillow factory-turned-spaghetti restaurant.

Junius Heights, a small rectangle of a neighborhood located northeast of Munger Place and southeast of Swiss Avenue, was first established in 1906 and designated as a historical district in 2005. It's no exaggeration to say the streetcar birthed the neighborhood. According to nonprofit Preservation Dallas, the Dallas Consolidated Electric Street Car Co. built a trolley line out to Junius Heights before anyone even lived there. The Junius Heights line started operating on Sept. 2, 1906. That afternoon, potential purchasers were given free rides to go view the newly platted lots.

“You could come out and look at the properties,” Rene Schmidt, the current historian and former president of the Junius Heights Historic District, said. “You had free fares to come on out here. And since it was a Sunday, they had a land rush at 12:01 Monday morning because you couldn’t do anything Sundays back then. After the pistol went off, it was billed as one of the record land rushes of the Southwest.”

The neighborhood's origin story is a flawless illustration of the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy, which was, according to the website Dallas Gateway, a common tactic used to persuad Dallasites to buy property outside of what was then the city.  Preservation Dallas notes that 200 Junius Heights lots were sold within an hour of the pistol shot and all the lots were sold by Wednesday.

The Junius Heights line connected the East Dallas neighborhood to downtown Dallas until the city’s trolleys were decommissioned in 1956. Most of the Junius Heights line streetcars were then sold for scrap or to collectors; one of them, however, somehow ended up inside the dining room of the original Spaghetti Warehouse in the West End.

When Spaghetti Warehouse closed in October 2019, Matt Wood, the current vice president of the JHHD, called the property owner and requested that the JHHD be informed of any plans about the future of the trolley. Spaghetti Warehouse sold it in an auction, but — at least as Wood had heard — the buyer didn’t want to pay to move it out of the building. About a year later, the company remodeling the former Spaghetti Warehouse property offered the streetcar to the JHHD for free on the condition that they figure out how to get it out of the building.

This past Saturday, board members from the JHHD and volunteers showed up to move windows, wooden parts and other bits and pieces of the streetcar to a nearby warehouse. There will be another move day at a later date to do the hard part — moving the body of the trolley.

“The big challenge to it … is a very large metal frame,” Eric Folkerth, the president of the JHHD, said. “It’s like 40 feet long. It’s big. It’s big and real sturdy … It’s likely to be cut into sections by professionals and moved out of the building. So that’s still there. But everything else that we need we moved to our warehouse.”

We want people to be able to continue to enjoy it as we’ve been able to for the past few years when Spaghetti Warehouse was open.” – Junius Heights Historic District's Mark Reeves

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The board isn’t quite sure where the streetcar will go, but they’re certain of the setup.

“We’re fortunate to be able to have it in as good of condition as it is,” Mark Reeves, a member at large of the JHHD, said. “We plan to raise money so that we can put it in a location where it will have some protection, have some cover, so that it’s not just out in the elements and so that we can give it a longer life. But then people can also interact with it. That’s our goal. We want people to be able to continue to enjoy it as we’ve been able to for the past few years when Spaghetti Warehouse was open.”

The board is keen on repatriating the streetcar because the histories of the Junius Heights neighborhood and the trolley are indelibly intertwined. The trolley gave rise to the neighborhood and the decommissioning of the streetcars brought the — albeit temporary — destruction of the neighborhood, Schmidt said.

“Abrams was redone and cut through the neighborhood,” Schmidt said. “With the automobile age, more and more people just moved out of the neighborhood and it became an inner-city slum. It was mainly the automobile age that caused the demise of Junius Heights for a while.”

When Folkerth moved to Junius Heights, wild dogs and drive-by shootings plagued the streets. According to Schmidt, the creation of the historic district turned the neighborhood around. With streetcars and history playing such a vital role in the life of Junius Heights, it just makes sense the board would want to bring the trolley home.

“The streetcar is on our logo,” Folkerth said. “When we had the opportunity to bring it home, that was just an immediate, ‘Oh, yeah, we at least have to go down his road. We have to go down this road and see any possible way we can get it here.’

"And I think there’s just broad agreement that would be a really, really energizing thing for our neighborhood — to continue to honor our past even as we’re growing and changing in the present day.”
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Trace Miller has been reporting and writing in the DFW area for about two years. A native of East Dallas, he studies economics and Latin American literature at NYU and works as a deputy managing editor at the Washington Square News, NYU’s independent student newspaper.