When a Little Red Wagon Is a Time Machine (Part 1)

The newspaper article reads like a scene from an Andy Hardy movie: Teenagers of the 1930s ride in “flivvers,” cheer as two of their friends with a friendly football rivalry settle a bet in a most public fashion, and then celebrate with a soda fountain party at the drugstore.

In November 1932 Anna Marie Tarter, a junior at Poly High School, made a bet with Jimmie Neace, a recent graduate of Central High School: If Central beat Poly in the schools’ annual football game, Anna Marie would pull Jimmie, riding in a toy wagon, down Main Street from the courthouse to the Texas & Pacific passenger station.

Central had won the game; Anna Marie had lost the bet.

On November 20, 1932 Anna Marie paid off her bet. But she had help. Two carloads of help. Under the headline “Poly High Girl Pulls Youth Down Main in Red Wagon,” the Star-Telegram wrote that Anna and Jimmie and the toy wagon were the center float of a “parade” that consisted of (1) a car loaded with teenagers in the front, (2) Anna Marie pulling Jimmie (who wore a silk top hat) perched on a “tiny camp stool” in the bed of a “small red wagon” “about two feet long” in the center, and (3) a “flivver” loaded with teenagers in the rear.

In the front car another recent Central High graduate, William Rogers, used a megaphone to provide bystanders with play-by-play commentary as the mini-parade rolled down Main Street. Those bystanders who observed Rogers closely might have noticed a few days’ growth of whiskers on his chin. Anna Marie also had made a bet with Rogers: If Central High beat Masonic Home in the two schools’ football game, she would go forgo wearing rouge, powder, and lipstick for a week. If Central lost to Masonic Home, Rogers would go without shaving for two weeks.

Central had lost; Anna Marie had won.

Participants in the Great Wagon-Draggin’ of 1932 might have resembled these Poly High School students posing with a streetcar painted in Poly school colors outside the 1922 building on Nashville Avenue. (Photo from Texas Traction Company.)

What was the world of Anna Marie Tarter and Jimmie Neace like in 1932? For starters, America was suffering through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Prohibition was still in effect.

Herbert Hoover was president; Franklin D. Roosevelt had just won the presidential election. The Worth Theater was showing A Farewell to Arms starring Gary Cooper. The Hollywood Theater was showing Air Mail starring Ralph Bellamy. Art imitated life as the song “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” was a hit for both Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee.

The Fort Worth Cats had finished in fourth place in the Texas League. Elizabeth Taylor and Johnny Cash were born.

A three-year-old Willys-Knight coupe with rumble seat was $185 at Webb-Kent Motor Company. (Frank Kent would not open his Ford dealership on Main at Lancaster until 1940.)

Fort Worth’s population was about 165,000. The city had three daily newspapers, ten railroads, 208 churches, 37,510 public school students.

The distance from the courthouse (C) to the passenger station (TP) is almost a mile—the busiest, most important mile in town at the time. Main Street was lined with dozens of buildings housing hundreds of businesses employing thousands of people. From bankers to barbers, from penthouses to flophouses.

Oh, to have seen what those teenagers saw that day in 1932: Cowtown’s Main Street of eighty-seven years ago. What has changed? What has remained the same? With the help of a city directory, old newspapers, and photographs both old and recent we can jump into that little red wagon, at least virtually, and use it as a time machine to retrace the route of that parade and reconstruct the Main Street of 1932.

This is today’s view down Main Street from the courthouse steps. From 1899 to 1931 a person standing on the steps could see the clock tower of the T&P passenger station at Main and Lancaster one mile away. Today you can see the community Christmas tree on Sundance Square at 3rd Street.

 

Weatherford Street to 3rd Street

The 1932 city directory showing addresses on Main Street.

116 Main, Koutsoubos & Voutis restaurant. As the little red wagon began rolling south from the courthouse, it passed a modest restaurant that would evolve into a memory for today’s longtime Fort Worth residents: The restaurant founded by George Koutsoubos and Gus Voutis on the corner of Main and 1st streets would become the Koutsoubos family’s Famous Hamburgers diner.

206-214, W. C. Stripling Department Store. A business in the 200 block would be familiar to many of us. (Photos from Fort Worth in Pictures, 1940.)

302, Weber Building (1885) housed the Fort Worth Socialist Party.

303, Plaza Hotel (1908). Across the street from the Weber Building was one of five hotels on Main Street that capitalist Winfield Scott built or planned.

308, Morris Building (1906) was vacant. On that lot had stood the first White Elephant Saloon.

310, Conn Building (1906) was vacant.

315, Knights of Pythias building (1902) housed Renfro’s drugstore no 1.

316, Western Union Building (1931). Main Street had at least four art deco buildings in 1932.

We have reached the intersection of Main and 3rd streets, where in 1925 Will and Tommie Dearing were killed in a gun battle with police officer A. C. Maclin.

 

3rd Street to 7th Street

406, Northern Texas Traction Company Building (c. 1902), designed by L. B. Weinman.

408-416, Westbrook Hotel (1910). E-shaped and seven stories tall, for years it was one of Fort Worth’s largest hotels. (Photo from Fort Worth in Pictures, 1940.)

411 1/2, Brantley Draughon Business College.

As the teenagers rolled down Main from 4th Street to 8th Street, their parade was often in shadows. In 1932 Main Street had a modest “canyon” from 4th Street to 8th Street formed by what were then skyscrapers.

500-502, Burk Burnett Building (1914). On the southwest corner of the intersection of Main and 4th streets was the first skyscraper (twelve stories), named for cattleman/capitalist Samuel Burk Burnett. (Each of the larger office buildings on Main Street, such as the Burk Burnett Building, contained dozens of tenants. I have deleted the vast majority of those tenants from these city directory listings.)

506-508, Jarvis Building (c. 1884), named for capitalist James Jones Jarvis, housed a hat cleaner, physician, bricklayers union, and clothier. Some elements of the building’s front are cast iron.

510-514, Sinclair Building (1930). Another art deco classic at sixteen stories. Designed by Wiley Clarkson.

515, Shamrock Building (c. 1900). In 1932 it housed a trunk company.

600-602, Scott-Harrold Building (1895), built by Winfield Scott and E. B. Harrold, stretched from Main to Houston street with entrances on both streets. The Main side of the building was vacant in 1932, but by 1933 it housed a Cox’s department store, shown in this 1946 photo. Among its other tenants through the years were a sanitarium, telegraphy school, Texas Cattle Raisers Association, Walgreen’s, and Lerner Shop. The building was severely remodeled before 1946, its Victorian façade, like that of the City National Bank Building (1885) at 315 Houston Street, iced with a layer of stucco. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

601-607, Blackstone Hotel (1929), art deco and twenty-three stories, housed radio station WBAP.

604, Bond Clothes was on the lot where the art deco Kress Building would be built in 1936.

608, Winfree Building (1890) was the second home of the White Elephant Saloon when Winfield Scott owned the building. In 1932 it housed a shoe company and Sinclair Eat Shop.

610, Peters brothers James and Thomas operated a cleaning shop on Main in addition to their shop on Houston Street.

611 1/2, Paramount Ball Room charged $1 a couple or a nickel a dance.

612-614, Fort Worth Club Building (1915) also housed Haltom’s jewelry store. The building would not become the Ashton Hotel until 2001.

704B, Martha Washington Candy Company.

708-714, Fort Worth National Bank Building. Built in 1921 as the twenty-four-story Farmers and Mechanics National Bank Building. F&M was absorbed by Fort Worth National Bank in 1927. Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt was president of Fort Worth National for forty-six years.

Across the street was a lost art deco beauty: the nineteen-story Trinity Life Building, designed by Wyatt Hedrick. It had opened in 1930 as the Aviation Building, home of American Airlines. Today’s glass UMB Bank Building was built on the site of the Aviation Building and the Palace Theater. In 1908 Byers Opera House had been built at the corner of East 7th and Commerce streets to present live performances. In 1919 the opera house was converted into a theater designed to show motion pictures and became the Palace Theater, the first of the three theaters on 7th Street’s Show Row. (Photo from Fort Worth in Pictures, 1940.)

When Anna Marie Tarter and Jimmie Neace and their entourage reached the intersection of Main and 7th Street, with its Fort Worth National Bank and Trinity Life buildings, the parade was about halfway along its one-mile route. At this point, the Star-Telegram wrote, Anna Marie, who was pulling the little red wagon carrying Jimmie by a rope attached to the wagon’s handle, suddenly gave the rope a hard tug, dumping Jimmie from his red wagon onto the red bricks of Main Street to the delight of all (except Jimmie).

As Jimmie picks himself up off the bricks and dusts off his embarrassment, 7th Street is a good place for us to pause, maybe duck into Renfro’s drugstore no. 4 in the Aviation Building for a malt at the “beautiful 40-foot Liquid Carbonic Soda Fountain.”

When a Little Red Wagon Is a Time Machine (Part 2)

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