Top o’ Hill Terrace: War Waged with Bets and Bibles (Part 2)

In 1956, with both generals who had fought the War of the Terrace (see Part 1) dead, the victorious forces of J. Frank Norris occupied the territory of the vanquished forces of Fred Browning:

Bible Baptist Seminary bought Top o’ Hill Terrace to serve as its new campus.

Naturally the seminary made sweeping changes. Most notably, Beulah Adams Marshall’s original teahouse was demolished to make way for the seminary’s administration/student union building.

The seminary also demolished the two-story building that once housed the Terrace brothel, although the seminary used the building as a women’s dorm for a while.

But elements of Fred Browning’s Top o’ Hill Terrace survive at the campus, which today is Arlington Baptist University:

On the north side of Division Street, how many motorists pass this gateway of iron and sandstone without knowing the story behind it?

This marker tells that story.

The guardhouse.

Guardhouse detail.

Gate detail.

At the top o’ the hill stood the casino.

The defining feature of the Terrace’s architecture was its sandstone masonry. The sandstone is native and is similar to the sandstone prominent at three nearby places: Rose Hill Cemetery, the house and commercial building of gangster O. D. Stevens, and the estate of Paul Waples.

The tea garden.

Another view of the tea garden.

The tea garden’s gazebo.

Gazebo detail.

Tiled roof of the gazebo.

The stable of Fred Browning’s Thoroughbred horse Royal Ford.

Water trough outside the stable.

The main stable.

The swimming pool, now enclosed.

Visitors walking into the casino’s escape tunnel from the outside.

Inside the escape tunnel.

The outlet of the escape tunnel is near the hilltop’s western bluff. Another tunnel connected the main stable to the casino building. University officials suspect that more tunnels and hidden rooms exist.

The Terrace hilltop overlooks the valley of Village Creek. During the heyday of the Terrace the land to the west would have been more open country.

After purchasing the Terrace, leaders of Bible Baptist Seminary distanced the school from the compound’s iniquitous past. They refused to preserve anything associated with Top o’ Hill Terrace. In fact, they discarded much of it.

Only later, led by Vickie Bryant, wife of the school’s then-president David Bryant, did the school begin to reframe the narrative: The school’s purchase and conversion of a gambling casino into a Baptist college were a victory—of good over evil.

Bryant began collecting and displaying Terrace artifacts. She began recording oral histories of people who had visited or worked at the Terrace.

Today in the administration building, Terrace memorabilia is displayed in glass cases beside Bibles and photos of the college’s founders: photographs, a stool that a slot machine gambler sat on, two roulette wheels of polished wood, a spiked dog collar, some poker chips bearing the monogram “FB” (casino owner Fred Browning), a prostitute’s black velvet Neiman Marcus cape.

People remain fascinated by Top o’ Hill Terrace, making the Baptist university one of Arlington’s most popular tourist destinations.

Bryant conducts tours six days a week. She co-authored a book about Top o’ Hill Terrace. The college maintains a Top o’ Hill Terrace website.

Bryant said of her campaign to preserve the history of the Terrace: “Back in the ’30s and ’40s Dr. Norris fought this place with everything he had. This way, people can see what God’s done with the property.”

Geraldine Mills of Arlington’s Fielder House Museum said she admires Bryant’s persistence in collecting artifacts from Top o’ Hill Terrace.

“She ties all that history together, and you’re able to see the good-versus-evil struggle that there was.”

Today as visitors enter the campus they pass a larger-than-life statue of the general himself, J. Frank Norris, whose presence reminds visitors of his prediction of 1933:

One day we will storm this stronghold of vice and occupy it.

(Thanks to Vickie Bryant for her help.)

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2 Responses to Top o’ Hill Terrace: War Waged with Bets and Bibles (Part 2)

  1. Chris Bellomy says:

    If good is Klan backer J. Frank Norris, then I shudder to imagine evil.

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