Cowtown Underground (Part 1): “All Aboard” the M&O Subway

To people who were living in Fort Worth during the last half of the twentieth century, riding the M&O Subway is one of the abiding memories of life in Cowtown, along with riding the Forest Park miniature train, hunting for Pete the python or Goatman, watching Slam Bang Theater on Channel 11 or a movie in a fancy theater on 7th Street downtown, and waiting for your number to be called in the catalog order department at Ward’s.

On February 15, 1963 a blue and white subway car drove through a simulated brick wall and into the basement terminal of Leonard’s Department Store. The M&O subway was officially open. This postcard shows the double track and the tunnel. The M&O subway’s name was derived from the first initials of store founder Marvin Leonard and brother Obie Leonard. (At the top of the bluff the new Criminal Courts Building had just opened.)

The brothers had built a five thousand-car parking lot beside the Trinity River at Henderson Street and had operated a fleet of buses to ferry customers to the store up the hill. The subway’s cars replaced the buses. Leonard’s Department Store bought the cars from the D.C. Transit Co. of Washington; the cars were remodeled, and air conditioning was added for Texas summer shoppers.

subway 8-2-62 dmnThe Dallas Morning News announced plans for the subway on August 2, 1962.

m&o tunnel 3 laurensub1sub2The subway line was short (.7 mile, and only .2 mile of that underground). The Dallas Morning News said the tunnel was forty feet below ground level where it passed under Belknap, Weatherford, and 1st streets. The mouth of the tunnel was just west of Taylor Street, now covered by the TCC/Radio Shack campus. (Photos from Leonard’s Museum.)

 

Archival footage from Channel 5.sub into tunnel 14The subway and its five-thousand-car parking lot were a big deal for Fort Worth. The two local newspapers were full of ads and articles in the days surrounding the opening of the subway on February 15.

sub 14 spreadsub 14 carsub icky 14The opening of the subway coincided with the opening of the expanded and renovated Leonard’s Department Store. Slam Bang Theater, with Icky Twerp and one or more associates, originated from Leonard’s during the formal openings.

sub carpet 14Leonard’s didn’t miss a marketing trick. It carpeted the subway cars and station platform with Bigelow carpet as a “torture test” and held a Bigelow carpet sale.

sub 15 photo bricks

subway-full-page-1963sub 15 opensLeonard family members rode on the first subway car into the new “Home Store.”

sub3 santa on frontThe Santa subway. (Photo from Leonard’s Museum.)

But in 1967 Tandy Corporation (owner of Radio Shack) bought the department store, which Marvin Leonard had opened in 1918. The store and subway continued to operate under the Leonard’s name until 1974, when Tandy sold the store to Dillard’s Department Stores. Tandy demolished Leonard’s in 1974 to build Tandy Center.

subway 78But even with its namesake department store gone, the subway continued to roll. In 1978 a man and woman were married where they had first seen each other—on the subway.

In 2001 Radio Shack (Tandy) sold Tandy Center to PNL Companies. The next year Radio Shack built a new headquarters on the site of the Ripley Arnold public-housing complex and part of the old Leonard’s parking lot.

Marvin Leonard, who also founded Colonial Country Club in 1936 and helped to bring the U.S. Open to Colonial in 1941 and the Colonial National Invitational beginning in 1946, died in 1970 at age seventy-five. Obie died in 1987 at age eighty-nine.

The M&O subway made its last run on August 30, 2002.

Until recently this passenger underpass remained beneath the track right-of-way. The underpass has been filled in.

subway shed railsBut the parking lot retains some relics of the M&O line. The subway line’s car maintenance shed and yard remain. Rails still run to the shed and yard.

subway shed signThe shed has been repurposed as a venue for special events.

And two of the subway’s four open-faced stations remain. The heaters still hang from the ceiling.

Each of the two surviving stations has a short section of subway track in front of it.

End of the line, everybody off.

Or transfer to

Cowtown Underground (Part 2): The Fate of the M&O Rolling Stock

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8 Responses to Cowtown Underground (Part 1): “All Aboard” the M&O Subway

  1. Angela thomas(Garcia-Nevarez) says:

    I GREW UP ON THE M&O SUBWAY WHILE LIVING IN THE HOUSING UNITS THAT SURROUNDED BELKNAP, HENDERSON, PEACH, AND IT’S GONE. MY DAUGHTER TOOK ME PAST THERE, AND IT’S GONE. SO LONG.

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