Tag Archives: Denton Opera House

Dentoning….The Square

There is a restaurant in the courtyard of the Pentagon called “Ground Zero” ….gallows humor from the Cold War with Russia, yet named way before the atrocity of Sept. 11. Well, without the negative connotation, the Denton County Courthouse and surrounding Square is our Ground Zero. It always has been, but becomes more so each day as businesses, and more recently, residences, gravitate toward it. During the early years of Denton history, most business was either on the Square or within very close proximity to it. There really were no subdivisions then and most Dentonites lived within several blocks of the Square. The seeds of Dentoning were first planted on the courthouse lawn.

My maternal family has lived in Denton since the late ’30s. During WWII, my grandfather worked on the Square as a pharmacist at Tobin Drugs and my grandparents, mother and Aunt Helen lived on Panhandle St. My mother has many stories of she and my aunt blazing an early trail for what would become Dentoning. They used to park their bikes behind what is now J & J’s Pizza (then Tobin’s) and venture into the Square for a movie, a malted or maniacal maliciousness…….no wait, that wasn’t them. My dear grandmother was a buyer for the Boston Store in what is now Recycled Books, the gaudy, purple building on the northeast corner of the Square. Their pet, my great-grand-dog Boots, was a veteran of WWII………kind of. He was enlisted, and would have bravely represented Denton, but evidently could not be all he could be, and was returned, unused in battle. I never served in the military, but I am proud of members of my family who have. My uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, my cousin Matt retired from the army and then Boots…….well, Boots tried. I have deep roots in Denton, and love my hometown…..

Courthouse of Denton Countyi

We are very fortunate have one of the coolest Courthouses in Texas. It was built in 1896, and has served as Denton’s center ever since. Surrounding businesses have come and gone, but the courthouse is as it was the day it opened. Our Square is ripe with rumors, legend and hogwash. Of course, John B. Denton’s grave is on the courthouse lawn. How many towns have their dead namesake lying right in the middle of town? One rumor that I will investigate, because it continues to pop up in conversation occasionally, is that there are tunnels leading from the business rows on each side of the Square, back to the courthouse. Now I could confirm or dispel this rumor with a call or two, but it’ll be more fun to let it hang for a while. I’m not sure what said tunnels would have been used for, but I’m sure it would have been for nefarious purposes. I’m sure everyone has their own special memories and stories about the Square, and I’d like to hear them if they are even halfway interesting. (please send stories, ideas, blather to: Dentoning@gmail.com).

One of my Square memories, which resulted in me almost getting shot, involved a campaign visit to Denton by George McGovern’s vice-Presidential running mate, Sargent Shriver. Shriver was scheduled to speak on the lawn of the Southwest corner of the Square, and I didn’t want a ground-level view. I wasn’t really that interested in Shriver, but being a JFK assassination buff and with his connection to the Kennedy family, I decided to make the effort. With two friends in tow, I secured a viewing post above a barber shop in the section of the West side of the Square which has since burned down. We did not have official or unofficial permission to be there, we just found a very small space and settled in for the speech. The space was pretty cramped and as we waited for Sargent to arrive, the small door to the space burst open and two, black-suited guys with guns drawn entered and requested that we lay down on the floor, spread eagle. This was in 1972 and being a mere 9 years after the assassination in Dallas, evidently the Secret Service was less than pleased with our second story viewing nest. After several minutes of intense discussion, we allayed their suspicions that we might be harboring ill-will against Mr. Shriver and were released on each other’s recognizance. I’m not sure that was a good idea, but we didn’t end up in some Gulag or shot in the jailhouse basement by a fedora-topped, strip-club owner. Denton memories are the building blocks of Dentoning. They are frequently discussed during hometown outings and assist us as we……..

Enjoy Denton!

Dentoning….The Opera House, preserving history

Other than THIS:

Denton County Courthouse

What is a more iconic of Denton than THIS?

Wright Opera House  & Recycled Books

The Opera House building, which in addition to its namesake, formerly housed the Boston Store, an office supply store and now… the book Mecca of North Texas, Recycled Books, was put on the market yesterday, Aug.14th, for just over $2.5 million. Fear not……..Recycled Books is going nowhere. The ginormous book store just signed a new lease and is safe for the length of the lease. It is not known if anyone has expressed interest in the building, but I’m sure minds are spinning.

Just before the time of the last sale of the building, Recycled Books was given a long term lease assuring its occupancy for over a decade. It looks like it is here to stay this time too. The building also houses several top-floor condos, and a few smaller businesses. What might be done with the building is anyone’s guess at this time. It is at times like this that those of us who care about Denton need to make sure that our historic buildings, such as the Opera House, are preserved. In spite of the gaudy color (the result of an” in-your-face” move by a previous owner), the building is a unique, historic and important anchor for downtown Denton. I can’t imagine a new owner tearing it down, but other buildings on and near the Square are in jeopardy of being bulldozed to make room for new, GENERIC edifices…..

Barney’s Auto on East Hickory, was just sold. Barney’s owner, 90 year old Jimmy Normile wanted simply to live out his remaining days in the chair he’s occupied daily since 1959. He finally gave in to the red tape that goes hand in hand with keeping a 77 year old building in compliance with modern safety/health codes. What will happen to the brick fas├žade under the exterior stucco of Barney’s once the new owners take over? Will they preserve it or demolish it for another block of cookie cutter condos?

Just to the west of Barney’s sits Travelstead, another historically unique structure which is barely escaping the wrecking ball by putting a new roof on one of the three buildings making up the former Model T dealership and auto supply store. I might have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night, and I realize that an East Hickory St. without Barney’s and Travelstead would look too much like South Lake for my tastes. Towns like South Lake, Frisco, and McKinney come to Denton to get ideas for NEW buildings to make their towns have the feel and ambiance that we have with our EXISTING buildings. If you have a good thing, why change it?

I did a quick check on the Opera House building and could not find any historic designation. Hopefully, I have overlooked something ……..and hopefully any future owners of the building will preserve the beautiful corner of history which is such an important part of our awesome Square.

Preserve and Enjoy old Denton!