Cowtown Yoostabes, Sycamore Edition: Movies, Mobsters, and the Marlboro Monkey

Once upon a time along Sycamore Creek there yoostabe . . .

yoostabe sycamore treasure islandBeside the bridge where Sycamore Creek flows under Old Hemphill Road south of Loop 820 today is Treasure Island Flea Market.

yoostabe sycamore southside drive-inBut that Treasure Island property yoostabe the Southside Twin drive-in theater.

drive-in southside concessionIn fact, the concessions and projection building of the Southside Twin lives on as part of the flea market.

H&TC trestle berry with stacksDownstream four miles, this bridge over Sycamore Creek near Mansfield Highway yoostabe the way the Houston & Texas Central railroad got into and out of Fort Worth. The date 1906 is cut out in stencil at the top.

houston-texas-central-97The H&TC served Fort Worth under that name from 1886 to 1928. Through mergers it was absorbed into Union Pacific. Down the line are two smokestacks of an old municipal solid-waste incinerator just east of Echo Lake. The H&TC track still goes by Echo Lake, which was a reservoir of the I&GN line, just as Katy Lake was for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas line.

yoostabe sycamore play groundsDownstream from that bridge almost a mile, tucked into a curve of the creek at 3121 South Riverside Drive, this vacant land yoostabe a modest amusement park, Southside Play Grounds & Miniature Golf. Poly native son Dan Washmon remembers that one of the featured attractions of the amusement park was a monkey who smoked cigarettes. Clip is from the 1960 city directory.

yoostabe sycamore ward plazaJust to the north of the amusement park site, this long-derelict building just west of the creek on East Berry Street yoostabe Ward Plaza.

ward-plaza-59In 1959, on a front page awash in bad news, Montgomery Ward announced that it would build a shopping center at the intersection of Riverside Drive and East Berry Street right beside Sycamore Creek. To East Siders how decadent it seemed to be able to shop at Montgomery Ward without driving to the West Side!

berry-bowl-to-openIn 1958 just across the creek at the south end of Cobb Park Berry Bowl opened.

berry-bowl-fightBerry Bowl wasted little time in becoming a scene of the Poly HighPaschal High rivalry.

berry-bowl-78Bowling and beer 12 to 12.

berry pin 4Just north of the bowling alley, where Sycamore Creek flows under Old Mansfield Road, was a public swimming pool. The bowling alley has been torn down, the pool has been filled in, and nature has reclaimed the property, although for years a big neon sign shaped like a bowling pin stood beside Berry Street. Now all that remains, hidden back in the trees and briars, are the pool filters, the pump house, and a few crippled old bowling pins dreaming of a 7-10 split.

Just west of the creek where Jessamine Street ends was the brick plant of the Cobb brothers.

yoostabe sycamore crossingFarther downstream in Cobb Park, the park road that once crossed the creek at a low-water crossing has been closed for safety reasons because after a heavy rain this crossing yoostabe where a surprising number of motorists played chicken with swollen Sycamore Creek and lost—their lives.

yoostabe sycamore erena on groundFarther downstream in Cobb Park, today when you stand in the field in a bend of Sycamore Creek just north of U.S. 287, you can’t see what yoostabe there. All you can see are a couple of lights mounted on a utility pole (see inset).

yoostabe sycamore ovalBut the 1957 city directory and a 1963 aerial photo show what yoostabe here: the wooden arena of “New Cobb Park Stables riding academies.” The arena was built in 1955, abandoned in the late 1970s. The aerial photo shows pens on the south end of the arena. The bottom photo was taken a few years ago when the arena’s fence still stood.

yoostabe sycamore oval aerialEven a 2015 aerial photo still showed the footprint of the arena.

yoostabe sycamore golf landAcross Cobb Park Drive was Golf Land, a miniature golf course and driving range operated by Robert and Eva Franks. Clip is from the 1960 city directory.

yoostabe sycamore mexican hatBeside the creek on Maddox Street at the north end of Cobb Park all you see today is a field of Mexican hat wildflowers.

yoostabe sycamore house of chairsBut that field of flowers yoostabe a field of dreams: Del Murray Field. In the 1960s Del Murray Field was a showcase Little League park: scoreboard, concession stand, public address system giving the play-by-play and playing Big Band songs between innings. Real umpires, real coaches, real uniforms, real team sponsors (such as House of Chairs and L&H Drugstore), real dugouts, real bases, real bleachers full of real parents. Everything was real. And today it’s all gone. The top photo shows the view toward home plate from centerfield, where I spent many an inning praying that nothing would be hit my way.

yoostabe sycamore concession buildingIn Sycamore Park this limestone building near the creek yoostabe a concession stand.

yoostabe sycamore concession wpaIt was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936.

yoostabe sycamore consession fountainThe nearby water fountain, too, is out of service.

yoostabe sycamore golf courseNearby, where this parking lot is just off Rosedale Street, was Sycamore Grove Putting Course. In the 1960 city directory, it is the only miniature golf course listed. As I recall, appropriate for Poly, the course had a pet parrot.

yoostabe sycamore interurbanThis narrow iron bridge (1912) near Vickery Boulevard yoostabe the way the Cleburne interurban tracks crossed Sycamore Creek.

yoostabe-sycamore-water-works2Just around the bend of the creek from the interurban bridge (indicated by a blue line), just east of Sycamore Park at the intersection of East Vickery Boulevard and Ernest Street, was the waterworks of the city of Polytechnic. An artesian well was located there. The creek also served as the western city limit of Polytechnic. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

yoostabe sycamore ponyThis part of the city’s Sycamore Creek Golf Course in the 1960s yoostabe the East Side Pony League baseball field, which was almost as well outfitted as Del Murray Field.

yoostabe sycamore a brandtEach team had its photo taken at the outfield fence in front of the metal sign advertising that team’s sponsor, in this case, A. Brandt Furniture. The number “300” denotes the distance from home plate to the outfield fence. That was a long distance for boys of that age, but batters who faced me routinely exceeded it.

At the north edge of the golf course the creek flows under the Texas & Pacific bridge.

In 1876 the erection of a bridge at that crossing was one of the final challenges facing railroad workers as they laid track west from Eagle Ford in Dallas County to Fort Worth.

yoostabe sycamore fw twinEast of Riverside Drive and north of Lancaster Avenue, to the left of a bend in the creek you can still see the concentric curved parking ramps of the east screen of the Fort Worth Twin drive-in theater. I have indicated the location of the screen with a blue line.

yoostabe sycamore meadowbrookmeadowbrook screenAnd, just to the north, where Sycamore Creek yoosta flow into the Trinity River before the flood-control measures of the 1950s and 1960s, was the Meadowbrook drive-in theater. Hmmm. That’s three drive-in theaters located along Sycamore Creek. (Once Upon a Passion Pit: Ghosts of Drive-Ins Past)

yoostabe sycamore racetrackBut wait! Sleepy little Sycamore Creek has one more tale to tell. Before passionate young hearts raced at the Meadowbrook drive-in theater, something else raced on that real estate located at the juncture of Sycamore Creek and the Trinity River: stock cars. This 1952 aerial shows that the future drive-in theater site was occupied by Riverside Speedway, a quarter-mile oval dirt track of the Texas Stock Car Racing Association.

riverside-drive-speedway-49“Thrills. Spills, Chills.” The track, which opened in 1949, was managed by J. W. Jenkins, head of the racing association.

Jenkins would soon give the speedway crowd one more thrill:

sycamore-mickey-cohen2Out in California mobster Mickey Cohen (once romantically linked with Candy Barr, top photo) had paid $16,000 ($162,000 today) for a bulletproof 1950 Cadillac (memo to Frank Kent). Then Cohen was told he could not drive the car in California because he had neglected to get a permit from the California Highway Patrol to operate an armored vehicle. But heck, Cohen didn’t need a car where he was going: to federal prison for tax evasion. (In 1961 Cohen again went to federal prison for tax evasion—this time to Alcatraz.) (Photos from Wikipedia; clip from the Los Angeles Herald-Express.)

cohen-sells-caddyIn 1951 Jenkins and his racing association paid $12,000 ($108,000 today) to Cohen for the bulletproof Cadillac.

cohen-caddy-at-speedwayJenkins displayed the car at the Riverside Speedway. He had even offered Cohen a $500 bonus if Cohen would drive the Caddy around the track for a paying crowd.

The speedway did not last long. In the summer of 1953 the Meadowbrook drive-in theater replaced it.

cohen-classifiedThe racing association also was short-lived, and in 1955 this classified ad appeared in the Star-Telegram. Today Cohen’s Kryptonite Caddy is bouncing bullets in a museum in New Zealand.

Whew. From Treasure Island to Alcatraz Island. Thus ends a tour of Cowtown yoostabes along ten miles of Sycamore Creek.

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11 Responses to Cowtown Yoostabes, Sycamore Edition: Movies, Mobsters, and the Marlboro Monkey

  1. Linda says:

    Love the drive-in. Meadowbrook. They used to have 1.00 carload night. We would stuff as many as we could in the car. Have movie of us as kids in 50s riding the rides in Forest Park. Went to Poly High in the 60s. My hometown. Enjoyed reading this. Thank you

  2. Ann Bastable says:

    Fished in the creek with my dad and sister near the old pedestrian bridge; played in Sycamore Park (broke my collar bone falling from the top of the slide); later square danced on the concrete stage; saw demo derbies at Riverside Speedway….fun family memories- thanks, again.

    • hometown says:

      Caught crawdads and turtles, played baseball and miniature golf and tennis, learned to drive, went to the drive-in theaters, modeled with clay dug from the cliffs, etc.: Generations grew up along that creek.

  3. Mellinda Timblin says:

    The Mexican Hat Wildflower photo is one of your best. Alas, all my paints and other art producing necessities are locked in a storage unit.

  4. Eric T says:

    The last drive-in theater that I went to in Texas was the Meadowbrook. I also went to both the Fort Worth & Southside Twin drive-ins in my youth.

    At the Fort Worth Twin I saw everything from a Peanuts movie to Shaft’s Big Score.

  5. Priscilla Kennedy says:

    This is great, Mike. Thanks so much for sharing. Treasure Island, I haven’t thought about that place in many years. How I wish the drive-ins were still here. I had lots of memories of Friday & Saturday nights at the drive-in.
    I have to go back now and read every single word. Thanks again.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Priscilla. It was fun to piece together that yoostabe tour of Sycamore Creek.

  6. Chesley Sanders says:

    I spent a lot of fun time at the amusement park on Riverside, especially the little train that circled it and at the shooting gallery. We used to get inner tubes that Ward’s threw away, patch them up and make rafts that we would float down Sycamore Creek on to the dry weather crossing. Thanks again for bringing back some great memories!

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