Leonard’s Department Store: A Buy-Gone Era

It was as big as a suburban mall (before we knew what a suburban mall is). It was as well stocked as an urban shopping center (before we knew what an urban shopping center is). And it was all in a single store downtown (when we still shopped downtown).

leonard toylandIf you lived in Fort Worth—or even in a neighboring county—during the half-century from 1920 to 1970, you probably have memories of Leonard’s Department Store: of riding its subway, of passing the three street vendors on the sidewalk outside the store, of exploring the store’s seemingly endless departments, of throwing Hasbro hissy fits until your parents let you ride the Santa’s Rocket Express monorail in Toyland at Christmas. (Photo from Lauren Leonard.)

leonard 1949 cdLeonard’s called itself a “one-stop shopping center.” Hard to argue with that boast. Indeed, at Leonard’s you could buy a piano, a petticoat, or a packet of pumpkin seeds. A fur coat or a windmill. Leonard’s made its own pasta and candy. It even had its own creamery to make dairy products. It roasted its own coffee, baked its own bread, put its own Leonard’s brand on products: laundry detergent, bicycles, freezers. You could smoke a Leonard’s brand cigar while pushing a Leonard’s brand lawn mower lubricated by Leonard’s brand motor oil. The kingdom of Leonard’s contained a beauty salon, a grocery department, an auto service department, a farm department. Leonard’s even printed its own script as store currency.

The store was a master of promotion. For example, it gave newcomers to town a “welcome box” containing a city map, a loaf of bread, a pound of coffee, and an egg separator. When a child was born in Fort Worth, the store sent the parents a welcome box that contained a baby rattle and a pair of baby shoes. The store sent the child a birthday card annually for the first three years and included a coupon for a free eight-by-ten photo at the store’s studio.

leonard 1900 census

But the sprawling kingdom of commerce that we remember began humbly. Brothers John Marvin and Obadiah Paul Leonard were born in Cass County in northeast Texas. The boys were five and one years old, respectively, in 1900. Father John was a farmer, but he and wife Emma Clementine briefly operated a small general store in Linden.

leonard 1916 cd

By 1915 Marvin Leonard was in Dallas, clerking for Lee W. Gardiner in Gardiner’s salvage and grocery business for $27.50 a week. Each morning before dawn Leonard and Gardiner went to the Dallas rail yards to buy unclaimed freight to sell at a low profit margin. (Green Thomas Leonard, listed above in the 1916 Dallas city directory as a painter at Dallas Coffin Company, was the eldest brother. Green and Marvin had the same address.)

leonard passportIn 1917, after the United States entered World War I, Marvin Leonard tried to enlist in the Army, but poor vision disqualified him. Instead he joined the Red Cross and applied for a passport for England and France. But the war ended on November 11, 1918, before Leonard was sent overseas. Within days Leonard moved to Fort Worth, beyond the sales territory of his mentor, Gardiner.

In Fort Worth Leonard bought the stock of a merchant who was going out of business. A month after the war ended, John Marvin Leonard on December 14, 1918 opened his own store at 111 North Houston, west of the courthouse, taking over the space of Texas Salvage and Storage. Leonard had learned his lessons well from Lee W. Gardiner: On its first day the first Leonard’s store sold $195 ($2,900 today) in merchandise—mostly canned goods.

leonard 2 interiorsThe store originally measured just twenty-five by sixty feet. In the top photo Marvin is on the left wearing a white apron and holding a sack. In the bottom photo Marvin is on the left with hand on hip. Behind him is brother Green. (Photos from Lauren Leonard.)

leonard 1920 cdYoungest brother Obadiah Paul joined John Marvin in 1919, and the store became “Leonard Brothers.” In 1920 Marvin and Obie were living above the store. Brother Green also worked at the store but lived on Arlington Heights (Camp Bowie) Boulevard.

leonard 9-24-19This September 24, 1919 Star-Telegram ad lists the Leonard brothers among dozens of grocers selling a Quaker Oats cooker. I have enlarged listings of three merchants we still remember.

leonard classified 5-21-20This modest classified ad is from the May 21, 1920 Star-Telegram.

leonard salvage 10-19-20By October 19 the ads were bigger.

leonard prunes 1-30-21By January 30, 1921 the brothers had apparently cornered the market in California prunes.

leonard groceries 6-9-22By June 9, 1922 the store no longer advertised salvage.

second storePhoto from Down Historic Trails of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

leonards in 1920 utaThe Land of Leonard continued to expand. Looking northwest from the corner of Houston and Weatherford streets. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

leonards-toyland-1928By 1928 a Christmas ad featured Toyland with Daisy air rifles, roller skates, split reed doll cabs . . . “the nearest thing to paradise for the youngsters.”

leonard 1930 cdIn 1930 the brothers bought the block two blocks south of their original location and built a store that covered the block. Leonard’s had become the dominant retailer in Fort Worth.

everybodys ad 31In 1931 the brothers opened Everybody’s Store in their former Leonard’s space on Houston Street west of the courthouse. Everybody’s would expand its space in 1948.

colonial 36Marvin Leonard was an avid golfer. So avid that he built his own course. In January 1936 his Colonial Club golf course opened.

colonial 41In 1941 Leonard persuaded the United States Golf Association to hold the U.S. Open at Colonial. Leonard sold the club and course to members in 1942.

Intermittently during the 1940s and early 1950s Leonard’s sponsored free movies in city parks and schools. The movies, which included commercials for Leonard’s, were projected from a truck.

leonard pete 46Meanwhile downtown, by 1946 few shoppers would dispute the store’s claim to offer “everything you need under one roof.” (Ad from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)

Leonard exteriorBut Fort Worth continued to grow, and so did Leonard’s. In 1948 the brothers greatly expanded their retail realm—to six city blocks. (On the right, note the Metropolitan, Cadillac, and Morris Minor.) (Photo from Lauren Leonard.)

greater leonards

By 1950 Leonard’s had become “Greater Leonard’s.” (Photo from Down Historic Trails of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.)

leonard 48 fishingThe store’s advertising also expanded. This 1948 ad was in Fort Worth Press sports editor Pop Boone’s annual fishing special section.

In 1953 Leonard’s opened its sprawling parking lot along the river where first the enclave Battercake Flats and later the barrio La Corte once stood. Shuttle buses carried shoppers to the store.

leonrads-rocket-56Just in time for Christmas 1956 the store installed its Santa’s Rocket Express monorail in Toyland.

leonards 1960

The 1960s brought more change.

In 1960 Leonard’s offered shoppers free rides on its Shopper Hopper (no audio with WFAA-TV film clip.)

The M&O subway opened in 1963. (Ad is from the 1960 city directory.)

Watch 1973 WFAA-TV film clip (with audio).

Obadiah bought brother Marvin’s interest in the store in 1965. And in 1967, one year shy of the store’s golden anniversary, Charles Tandy bought Leonard’s Department Store for $8.5 million.

The store (and its subway) continued to operate under the Leonard name until 1974, when Tandy sold the store to Dillard’s Department Stores. Later that year Dillard’s dropped the Leonard’s name.

The Leonard’s buildings were demolished in May 1979. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

The M&O subway rolled on a while, making its last run on August 30, 2002.

faces leonardsThis commemorative plaque is in the 100 block of north Houston Street at the site of the first store.

leonard marvin obitJohn Marvin Leonard died on August 26, 1970 at age seventy-five.

leonard op obitObadiah Paul Leonard died on December 25, 1987 at age eighty-nine.

The Leonard’s Department Store Museum is located at 200 Carroll Street.
Posts About Stores

This entry was posted in "Read All About It", Advertising, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Heads Above the Crowd, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

65 Responses to Leonard’s Department Store: A Buy-Gone Era

  1. Darla Jones says:

    My earliest memories of Leonard’s Dept store was the awesome toy land. I also remember shopping for groceries & lingerie with my mother, brother & little sister. My Dad would also be with us. It was a family affair. After I married many years later, my husband & I always bought Leonard brand lawn mowers. They were amazing & if needed, could be repaired @ Leonard’s!!

  2. Sharon (Junge) Brady says:

    One summer I worked as the receptionist for Leonard’s in their headquarters while the regular employee took a summer college class. Each relative was so different in personality and I have fond memories of time spent at this summer job. Obie was my favorite. One day he gave me his little pocket address book and a new one, told me to take home and transfer all information to the new little address book. He openly told everyone that he bought his coveralls from K-Mart, not a conceded bone in his body.

  3. Amber Puga says:

    Peoples will never realize how special Leonards Department Store in Downtown Fort Worth was to me in my youth.
    My mom still has my picture of me with Santa Cluse, where I went every year until Dillards destroyed Leonards.
    I wish there was a time machine and go back to Leonards’s during the ’70s.

    • hometown says:

      Leonard’s is a favorite memory of at least one generation of Cowtowners. When my mother would go downtown to shop, I’d ask her to bring me back a pet turtle from Leonard’s. She did–on the bus.

  4. Shirley Pace says:

    When did the Leonards in the 3000 block of Little York Rd in Houston TX open?

    • hometown says:

      Shirley, I’m sorry. I know nothing about any Leonard’s stores outside of Tarrant County. The Leonard’s Museum might be able to help you.

  5. They had one in houston , tx. On the corner of telephone rd. And dumble.

  6. Michelle Killinger says:

    Any information or photos of Leonard’s Department Store in El Segundo, California? When did it open? When did it close? I lived nearby in the early 60’s..

    • hometown says:

      I am not aware that the Leonard brothers of Fort Worth had any stores beyond Tarrant County.

  7. ROGER LATHAM says:

    Around 1962 or ’63 Leonard’s advertised an Ambassador 5000 fishing reel for $20. I was making $1 a hour fixing truck inner tubes for J.E. Russell Tires on N. Main. I saved my money and when I got the $20 drove my parent’s Packard to Leonards and I put my money down. One problem: the sale was over and the reel was now $25.00. I didn’t have it. I told the salesman, Rex Nelms of my problem and he told me to wait while he went to the back. When he returned he told me the manager of the sporting goods department agreed to take the $20. Oh, happy day.

  8. Barry Cram says:

    Are there any pictures or relics left from when they printed and/or coined their own money/currency?

  9. Paul Coghlan says:

    What year Did Leonards sell Bicycles,, I have a Bicycle with a Leonards Head Plate on it . its in poor condition but its all there. Its a Womans Bicycle

  10. Charles T Lee says:

    In the 50’s I carried groceries at Everbody’s. In later years I worked at Williams Tool on White Settlement Rd. and O.P. Leonard came in the store many times. He would always ask me for a discount (which I always did) and I would reply “Mr Leonard you never gave me a discount”. His reply was “Charles if I had known you back then I would have”

  11. Traci Richards says:

    My mom worked for Lenoard’s in the advertisement Dept
    In 66-74 Linda Richards

  12. Mellinda Timblin says:

    I can’t quit laughing about insipid oats.

  13. Beverly Nabors says:

    Once again, Mike, you have brought an interesting history lesson to those who read it. I lived during part of this time in Fort Worth, and was still around during the period of time when Leonard’s closed. A store such as that would be great for the people of today. One stop shopping! You should have been a history teacher because you make it so interesting! I like what you are doing now though.

  14. My father got a card from the Leonard Brothers when he was 1 year old. I wish I could attach it. My father would be 86 this year. The card is in pretty good condition.

    • hometown says:

      What a treasure! I did not know about that Leonard’s promotion but found a newspaper clip that mentioned it and have added that to the post. Thanks.

  15. judy ellis says:

    Was just in a conversation at work about the train. People calling it the Tandy train, me the Leonard brother train. That’s how I ran into this article. Thanks, What a great story.

  16. Ellen Fennell says:

    For years I thought it was an old dream but it continued to bother me. I realized it was one of my few early childhood memories. It was riding the monorail in Santa’s Toyland. I have tried to find a photo of the monorail for years. Seeing the one posted here fills in so many blanks. Would love to see more photos. Thank you so very much.

  17. Michael Lavender says:

    Does anyone remember a store on Montgomery St., I 30 where parking was on the roof of the store? I thought the name was Thunderbird. Went once as a kid and only memory was “parking on the roof is cool”.

    • hometown says:

      Gov-X department store opened in 1960 in a big building at 2501, just north of today’s Montgomery Street antiques mall. The building had parking on the roof. Ramp was on the north end of the building. Later housed Lockheed Martin, torn down about 2014.

  18. LWM says:

    Robb,

    Back around 1960 or 1961 a store called Atlantic Mills opened in the stockyards area. I believe it was originally a membership store. It was a large discount store with bare-bones decor. I think it was where Billy Bob’s is located today. The store didn’t last long and went through a series of name changes: Spartan’s, Clark’s and Treasure City were some of them if I remember correctly.

    Cheers,
    LWM

  19. Robb says:

    my parents we’re trying to think of the name of a store back in the 50’s or 60’s. they think it was a membership store like sams or costco today. it was somewhere on the south freeway. any ideas?

    • hometown says:

      Robb, the earliest such store I remember is Edison’s downtown. There was later Gov-X for government employees on the West Freeway. I cannot think of one on the South Freeway. Maybe someone else can.

  20. Terry upton says:

    My Dad came to Ft.worth in 51 out of military . Worked for Leonard bros, on the loading docks. Later became a carpet installer for Leonard bros. Use to pick up carpet on cold Springs road. Great memories downtown riding subway. My dad would cash his check on Fridays, We would eat on the subway isle, such a carnival like atmosphere. Never forget those days. Terry Upton Burleson

  21. Susan Nicholson Taylor says:

    I worked at Leonard’s Downtown Fort Worth from 1973 til 1975. Rode the subway every day. It was an awesome place to work. My dad was also employed there from 1971 and worked in Security. Great memories!

  22. June says:

    My husband & I are from the south plains of Texas. We married in Nov. 1971 & went to Ft. Worth on our honeymoon. We were broke of course. We had no decent towels so we went to Leonard’s and bought a set of towels. Being from a small Texas town we were like the hillbillies gone to the big city. We were so awed by that huge store! Tho we had no money we had a wonderful time browsing.

    • hometown says:

      June, you and your husband weren’t alone. Because Fort Worth was the nearest big city for many folks to the west and south and north, Leonard’s indeed was a shopping Mecca.

  23. Mary Jo Hightower says:

    My mother, Violet Mae Wolfry, was an assistant buyer for Leonard’s Dept store in Houston Texas somewhere between 1955 and 1957. She brought me from Manhattan NY to Houston and then was unable to care for me and met a sales lady name Vertie Cardwell and told her that she was looking for a family to take care of me, thus I was adopted to a Floyd and Bennie Hightower . . . I am trying to find my birth mother Violet Mae Wolfry. If you have any information PLEASE contact me at 281-235-2080 or mjhigh2003@gmail.com.

  24. Larry Hardin says:

    I am a African American, when I was eight years old my grandmother and I went to Leonard Brothers Department Store.In those days of segregation it was a water fountain that read white and one colored.I didn’t know I was colored,so I went to one fountain to the other trying to compare them. When I step up to the white fountain a big white security man picked me up from behind and slammed me to the floor.I was really hurt, but it hurt my grandmother more, all she could do was cry.That was my experience at Leonard Brothers.

    • Eric Martin says:

      I am so sorry that you experienced that, Mr. Hardin. In God’s eyes, there is only ONE race – the human race and He loves us all equally!

  25. Carson Day says:

    I’m 68 will turn 69 in April, was looking at this site and seen the monorail in toy land. I use to ride that while mom shopped, What a flood of memories it brought back. Thank you for publishing these pictures of the GOOD OLD DAY’S, was some of my best memories

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Carson. I’m just two years behind you. I think Leonard’s is a universal fond memory for our generation. My mother did not drive and would take the bus downtown from Poly to shop at Leonard’s. I’d ask her to bring me back a pet turtle from the Leonard’s pet shop. And she would.

  26. Pingback: Downtown Ft Worth…a few years ago | Stevesellsdfw's Blog

  27. Jane Leatherman Van Praag says:

    I’d love to know the name of Leonard’s specialty candy that came in a black-topped gift box with the name written across it in silver, as my memory from childhood recalls. Each milk- or dark-chocolate piece was crammed with chopped pecans, covering a white gooey center that reminded me of Seven-Minute Icing, about the size of a child’s fist. Best in the world! I’d also like to know if somebody bought the rights to make this confection once Leonards’ Department Store was sold, so I could purchase some now!
    Thank you,
    Jane

  28. Charles Lee says:

    As a kid in the ’50s I worked at Everybody’s owned by the Leonards for 50 cents an hour. Years later while working at Williams Tool O. P. Leonard would come in the store. He always brought a big sack of pecans to give us. He would always ask me, “Where is my discount?” I would always reply, “Mr. Leonard, you never gave me a discount.” His reply, “If I had known you then I would have.” He always got his discount.

  29. Wayne Pricer says:

    This is a real jewel. While attending Paschal High School in 1942 and 1943 I worked in Leonard’s fruit and vegetable department. Worked after school and fourteen hours on Saturday. Pay was 25 cents per hour.
    God bless the Leonard brothers.

  30. John Green says:

    I was a superintendent for Olshan Demolishing Company (formerly of Dallas), and directed the demolition of the last ‘two’ of Leonard Brothers buildings..one being “Everybody’s” Dept. Store. O.P. Leonard had retired, and was living at Pecan Plantation, and would often come visit and watch the demolition process. I once asked him, “Mr. Leonard, I know you and your family were pioneers in Fort Worth…does it bother you to see these buildings being torn down…to which he replied…”Oh, hell no, Charlie Tandy paid me through the nose for those a long time ago…. RIP Mr. Leonard,
    I’m glad I got to know you!

  31. Juanita Stripling says:

    My husband, Gerald Stripling, worked at Leonards Dept. Store from 1967-1974 as a buyer for several departments. He loved it there….said it was the most unique retail store you could ever see. Said the employees were as unique as the store and just as individual and loyal. He had wonderful stories from his time at Leonards.

  32. Linda Thompson says:

    Born and raised in Fort Worth and the subway was always something I looked forward to when our family would go to shop at Leonards. I used to be so mesermerized with the reversible train (driver at each end of train). Wished I had heard of museum a few months ago when I was in Fort Worth. Thank for the great memories. I can still smell the roasted nuts when you would get off the train car.

  33. Earlene Hancock Niblett says:

    What wonderful memories of Leonard’s growing up in a little town north of Fort Worth. Traveled to Fort Worth for all our needs. Loved the parking, made it easy on us country folks, first parking and riding the bus to the store and then later the subway. Christmas was the best. The Toy Land was a wonderful place to bring the children for a ride around the ceiling. Lunch in the cafeteria was must. Checking out the bargains on the aisles leading into the store. My friend tells the best story, his parents were adopting a little girl from an orphan home and the home did not like the children picked up at home because it may the other children sad to realize they still had not been choose so they ask this couple from out of town if they ever came to downtown Fort Worth and if so where they usual go? They told them the Leonard’s Farm Store. The home told them they would like to meet them there with the child. The couple agreed. They always teased the good natured little girl that they got her at a farm store. Which had been amusing and brought chuckles to lots of people. Lots of uses for Leonard’s and the list goes on and on. What. Wonder place with millions of memories for our family. Looking forward to visiting the museum.

  34. Jim Van Sickle says:

    My mother and dad worked for Leonard’s for over 20+ years.
    My dad was the manager of the shoe repair department and mom assisted.

  35. Sharon says:

    My dad lives just a few miles from linden,tx. In cass county.

  36. My grandmother worked at Leonards for years in the “foundations” department. I grew up in that store and have such fond memories of her fellow employees: Mrs. Lawson, Kay, Bill Bailey, “Aunt” Maggie Anderson, George Cloud just to name a few. It was like a family…what a magical place.

  37. Jo anderson says:

    I moved to Fort Worth in 1984. The tea room was a pleasure I quickly found. I worked downtown and went at least once a week. The plates were delicious. I do remember that all of the waitresses were older ladies and had worked for the Leonard’s Tea Room for many years. A very nice memory!

  38. Jack Duggins says:

    A wonderful family,have done so much for Ft Worth Tx!

  39. Jypsycat says:

    All of my childhood photos with Santa were taken in ‘Toyland’ in the Leonard’s basement. We were in awe when the subway was built, and would purposely park in the downward parking lot so we ‘ride the subway’. My mother would go to Leonard’s, and Montgomery Wards on West 7th, to put my school clothes on layaway, retrieving them shortly before school started (so I wouldn’t wear them without her knowledge and trash them before school even started). My brother worked after school and on weekends as a ‘bagger’ at Buddy’s, which was the name Leonard’s attached to their grocery store (as I recall it anyway). After I graduated from college I came back to Fort Worth and worked at Leonard’s in the ‘Ladies Ready-to-Wear’ department. My wedding dress and veil was purchased at Leonard’s with my 25% discount. Such great memories! Thanks so much for reminding me!

  40. As an out-of-state (Oregon) student at TCU I bought my first cowboy hat at Leonard’s in 1957. I wore it til sometime in the 70’s when my friends forced it from me and buried it in some unknown (to me) location.

  41. Rebecca Brooks/Rushing/Graham/Hunter says:

    Leonard’s was my first memory of shopping, I lived in All Church Home for Children in Ft. Worth during the 70’s and our sponsers would come and take us shopping,it was a treat to go shopping during christmas and Easter. Leonards is the reason I love fashion and it’s my passion today. Leonard’s was bought out by Dillards. I’m so glad Dillards is still around.

  42. Charles Mencke says:

    Thank you Mike, what wonderful memories. Each and every Saturday, we’d walk to the bus stop and head down to Leonard’s Dept. Store for a day of shopping. Every though we had a car, we’d always ride the bus downtown. Sometimes, it would just be my dad and I, which I thought was very special. Leonard’s was magical especially for a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. I remember during Easter, there would be chicks for sale. Leonard’s had everything!

    At the end of our shopping day, we’d always head over to the grocery area and get a custard before getting back on the bus for home! I remember the legless man blind man singing by the gray bus benches, such fond memories.

    Christmas, incredible at Leonard’s, Toyland was not to be miss as well as a ride on the Santa Express. It was such a treat.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Charles. Your memories are also my memories. And when my mother “went to town” on her own on the bus, I always asked her to bring me back a turtle from the Leonard’s pet department. She always did.

  43. camilla reid says:

    Great memories !!!!!!!!!!!! thank you…..

    • hometown says:

      Camilla: You’re welcome. All of us kids fondly remember Leonard’s and Toyland.

Leave a Reply to Larry Hardin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *