RAILROAD REMOVED FROM PACIFIC AVENUE
Robert Wilonsky for Dallas Observer: I received an intriguing phone call from preservation expert, author and activist Virginia McAlester, who told me about the great railroad “Spike-Pulling Ceremony” that took place at the corner of Pacific, Live Oak and St. Paul in 1921.
You know that image of the golden spike ceremony on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory? Think: the opposite of that.
Virginia’s grandfather, William R. Harris — a lawyer, co-founder of Thompson & Knight and the man who successfully prosecuted Pa Ferguson at his impeachment trial — helped negotiate the deal that got the Texas and Pacific Railway tracks removed from Pacific Avenue.
Getting rail traffic removed from Pacific was one of the few concrete products of the Kessler Plan, Dallas’s first comprehensive city-wide plan devised by George E. Kessler. Long freight trains rumbling down Pacific were a threat to the lives and health of citizens, Kessler told civic leaders in 1911. Rail lines “at grade” — where cars must wait in order to cross the tracks — were also cutting off growth of the downtown, he said.
Most of the Kessler plan was ditched by a civic leadership in Dallas that wasn’t interested in parks and broad boulevards. But getting the trains off Pacific was one battle they were willing to take on.
It took 10 years. Virginia’s grandfather was a lead negotiator with the railroads. When an agreement was finally struck, civic leaders held a grand spike-pulling ceremony and parade. One account said, “The gala included a parade featuring a mock up railroad locomotive, bands, fireworks, speeches and motion pictures.”
Photo: Pacific Ave. about 1920 courtesy Dallas Municipal Library. Article courtesy Dallas Observer, April 30, 2008. Note: Robert Wilonsky is no longer with the Dallas Observer. He now a journalist with the Dallas Morning News.