T. L. MARSALIS Creates Oak Cliff

THE CONTINUOUS need for homes to house the growing population made the opening of new real estate “additions” familiar to the town from the days of John Neely Bryan himself. In 1852, three years before Dallas was incorporated, William Caruth bought the land north of Bryan’s tract — bounded today by Ross Avenue, Lamar, McKinney and Orange Streets — and opened “Caruth’s Addition,” the first residential development beyond the half mile square village. During the Civil War period a popular neighborhood for homes grew up south of the square where the Union Station and Jefferson Hotel stand today. The next favored spot became “Cumberland Hill,” east of the Caruth Addition between Ross and McKinney. The terminal merchants who came with the railroad gave a vogue to “The Cedars” along South Ervay and Browder Streets, but at the same time fashionable homes began to line Ross Avenue beyond Cumberland Hill and east of Akard. By 1887 the town had extended not only north, east and south, it began to move west across the barrier of the Trinity and its broad seasonally flooded bottom.  In 1886, T. L. Marsalis and his associated bought 2,000 acres on a bluff west of the river which was over grown with oak trees.

Thomas L. Marsalis

Thomas L. Marsalis

The partners gave the place the obvious name of Oak Cliff, began to promote it as a residential suburb and succeeded in having a steam railway four miles long built to connect Oak Cliff with Dallas. The railway crossed the river bottoms on a high trestle which was proudly compared to the recently completed “elevated” in New York City. Originally in partnership with Marsalis was J. S. Armstrong who as well as being a partner in real estate, jointly owned a wholesale grocery business with him. A widely advertised auction of Oak Cliff lots was held and Marsalis feeling that they were selling too rapidly had some one privately bid for him against the bidders to buy back lots. Armstrong heard about this and shocked at what he considered a lack of judgment, he came to Marsalis with the ultimatum: “You take the real estate and I take the grocery business, or I take the real estate and you take the groceries. We are no longer partners.”

Armstrong had shrewdly sized up the situation, for Marsalis chose the Oak Cliff property and eventually “went broke” trying to develop it, while Armstrong a few years later bought Colonel Exall’s farm north of Dallas, which in 1907 was developed into the first unit of Highland Park by his two sons-in-law, Edgar Flippen and Hugh Prather, and became one of the most beautiful and successful cities in America. Perhaps one reason for the failure of Marsalis’ venture in Oak Cliff was that it came ahead of its time and with the consequences of the panic of 1893 to be lived through — for today Oak Cliff is one of the largest sections of suburban Dallas and for many years all the property owned by Marsalis has been completely developed.

. The panic of 1893 not only blighted Oak Cliff, it struck business and real estate development in Dallas with a force that stunned its promotion minded citizens. For one of the few times in its history, the confidence of the town in its future was shaken. But even as the effects of the depression lingered in 1894, a fresh excitement took Dallas’ attention from hard times and seemed to promise at least a momentary stimulus to its life.

In June of that year sports writers of the eastern newspapers announced that the world champion prize fight between Gentleman Jim Corbett and Fighting Bob Fitzsimmons would take place in October in Dallas, Texas. Dan A. Stuart, a leading sportsman of the town presented a certified check for $41,000 to the proper authorities and assured the principals and backers of the match that no local or state law existed to prohibit its being held.

At once Dallas began to prepare to entertain what promised to be the largest crowd of visitors in its history. Work was started on a wooden octagonal shaped arena designed to seat 53,000 people in the fair grounds, and the railroads advertised widely that they would run excursions from all parts of the country for the fight — creating a “Pullman city” on the sidings in the town so that the excursionists could conveniently live in the cars which brought them. But not all Dallas was pleased with the idea of the fight. Protests began to flow in to the governor in a rising tide until they amounted to a deluge — protests not only from Dallas but from all over the state and the nation. The objectors cited the brutality of the spectacle and the objectionable gambling which accompanied it. The popular cry against the contest rose until it amounted to a frenzy and reached such a pitch that a few weeks before it was to take place, Governor Culbertson bowed to political expediency and called a special session of the Texas legislature to pass an Iron clad” law to prevent “this affront to the moral sense and enlightened progress of Texas.” The legislature passed the law and the prize fight was moved to New Orleans, while the forces which had raised the protest proclaimed Culbertson a hero and called him “the young Christian governor.” That there was some difference of opinion and a feeling that the whole violent agitation was in the nature of hysteria can be gleaned from the dry words in the editorial which appeared in the Dallas News on the action of the legislature: “Affairs of similar character, though between less celebrated competitors have for years been a commonplace in Texas without causing sensational paroxysms of concern in executive, legislative and judicial circles.”

The march of national events began to make itself felt more and more in Dallas. In 1897 the town was introduced to Edison’s newest invention the Vitascope and saw moving photographs of a Mexican duel, a hanging, a lynching, a fire rescue and Niagara Falls pouring down its waters. The Spanish American War found Dallas ready to do its share. On the night of February 27, 1898, following the news of the sinking of the Maine, more than woo outraged patriots met in the City Hall at Commerce and Akard to “resolve” the country into war. Several companies, among them the Trezevant Rifles, the Dallas Zouaves and the Dallas Cavalry entrained from Dallas to fight the war and when the first contingent of soldiers left — a company of 175 — a crowd of 25,000 citizens was on hand to send them off. On this occasion an insight was given into the somewhat confused loyalties of Texans who had known six flags during their history. At the station the band of volunteers departing to fight in the United States army was presented with a Texas flag by the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy and everyone accepted it as a proper and even inspired gesture.

Courtesy The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John William Rogers.  Image courtesy Legacies Magazine, Fall 2007 edition.  Information of Oak Cliff’s Stevie Ray Vaughan can be found here.