Tag Archives: Historic

Dentoning….Urban Spelunking

Denton is our stage. And the stage is constantly changing. Buildings come and buildings go. Thankfully many buildings of old Denton are still with us and add to Dentoning as we know it. Hopefully, the ones with true historic value will be preserved for future generations of Dentoning Dentonites.

One building that most of Denton drives by on a regular basis but few have probably ever been in, is the Monroe Pearson Building on East Oak St. The Monroe Pearson Building is a huge warehouse which was built in three phases, beginning in the 1890s to be used primarily as a grocery portal. At the time, the population of Denton was centered closely around the Square. There were numerous grocery stores on the Square and in the surrounding blocks. The Monroe Pearson Building supplied those early mom and pop groceries, subsequently becoming a general warehouse as the years passed.

Denton historic building

M-P grocery warehouse

For years, the building has been empty, except for a small fan business in the east end of it in recent years. Having sat basically fallow for many years, the building was purchased as of late, with the plan to turn it into apartments or condos. This plan changed, and now other plans are being discussed. With the “multi-modal” station (city-speak for train/bus station) close by, this is the perfect area for residential units with the commuter in mind. I’m not sure though how brisk the market is for true commuters, but it is cool that Denton is beginning to return to the central area after having migrated to the outlying, peripheral areas of Idiot’s Hill, Southridge and Hog Valley in the ’50s and 60s.

Inside Monroe Pearson building

Slide for moving product from 2nd floor.

Monroe Pearson building freezer door

Freezer door

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to do some “spelunking” in the Monroe Pearson Building. It was being gutted and my friend, Steve Yount, spent many days harvesting old wood from the interior. The building has a special attraction for Steve. His father, Bill Yount, who died in 1980, worked out of the building for years. Steve used to spend much time in the building as a child, “helping” his dad. The look on Steve’s face when he first entered the building was priceless. You could see his childhood and memories of his dad sweep across his soul. There was a sudden gush of stories, followed by “Oh my god”s and “it’s still here”s…….The building was empty, yet completely full for Steve.

Interior

A look through time. The 3 phases of the Monroe Pearson building.

Monroe Pearson interior

Dilapidation

I was unable to help with the wood salvation due to an injury,…….good timing, huh? Steve, his wife Karen and son David though, spent many hours inside the Monroe Pearson building prying old wood from walls, floors, ceilings and anything else nailed down over the weekend. I went by several times to supervise and took the pictures you see here.

Exterior

Window

Conveyor belt system for stocking of Monroe Pearson building

Conveyor belt system for stocking of Monroe Pearson building

In places, it really did feel cave-like. Most of the structure seems sound, but there were areas where the floor had caved in and the ceiling shows daylight. At one point during the work, Steve heard Karen calling him to come quick. Thinking she may have stepped on a nail, fallen through the floor or had discovered an unknown room, Steve ran to her side. When he got to her side, she said “Did you write this?”. Looking up, he saw “Bill Yount” penciled onto the wall in 6 inch letters. Bill was Steve’s dad, the graffiti must have been added to the wall decades ago. Though the vandalism of the wall was probably not a good example for little Steve, big Steve was elated. The autograph was the only non-product related writing they found on any of the walls, so it was one of those strange cases of the right person being at the right place at exactly the right time. Had anyone else found it, it would be at the City dump by now, but Steve now has a part of his dad on the mantel.

Bill Yount

Bill Yount, former employee

Interior

Gateway to history

Exterior door to Monroe Pearson building

Once the building is stripped of anything of value, the engineers will come in and decide what can be used and what cannot. I can’t imagine much more than the brick shell being used, but even that is better than demolition and building anew. As opposed to the Fry Street fiasco, I love the historic aspects of Denton being made an integral part of new development whenever possible. I mean that way, we don’t have to learn a bunch of new places and things with which to enjoy Dentoning. I’m all about simplicity. I’m not sure what the exact plans are for the Monroe Pearson building, but if they were me, we’d have it as a multi-use building, with ground floor retail and living space above. But hey, that’s just me. The stage of Denton continues to change, and with it, our opportunities to…………..Enjoy Denton!!

Dentoning….Culinary Internationalization

As I told my brother the other day, Denton changes every day. And it always changes for the better! Denton has always had a great selection of restaurants, but it just scored big in the international catagory with the opening of Viet Bites. This new Vietnamese restaurant opened a few months ago at 702 S. Elm Street in the old Tom and Joe’s building. Gone are the old jukebox equipped booths and smoke patinaed walls. The old building that so many Dentonites remember from back in the day, now has a bright, clean, modern look. And the food…..

Viet Bites

Viet Bites

The food is a style from central Viet Nam, specifically the town of Dalat, from where the owners of Viet Bites, James and Victoria Trinh, hail. After leaving Viet Nam, the Trinh’s settled in Houston (I didn’t ask why, but expressed my condolences). Recently, the couple decided to open a restaurant to showcase their love of cooking , and the cuisine of their home country. James quit his corporate job and their first thought was to relocate to Dallas. Denton relatives encouraged them to check out Denton also, they did, fell in love with our great town and WE won over Dallas! The food at Denton’s newest restaurant is fresh, fast and financially frugal.They start things out with a bowl of rice chips which is a nice change from the corn chips of our ever-present Tex-Mex fare. Viet Bites boasts egg/spring rolls, pho (pronounced “fuh” not FO), noodle bowls, sandwiches and rice entrees. The Crème Brûlée is the best in Denton…..no Texas, ….. no, the best I’ve ever had.

International food

Appetizer at Viet Bites

Viet Bites is a refreshing new addition to the dining scene of Denton. The owners are extremely nice and extremely happy to now live in our great city. The servers are very attentive and the food incredible! My sons and I eat Vietnamese food whenever given the chance. When my youngest, Connor, was just learning to speak, he inevitably said “Bee Bee Bees!!!” (“Vietnamese” in young Connor-speak”) when asked where he wanted to eat out.

Connor, we now have a great Bee Bee Bees place right here in Denton!!!

Dentoning….We Do of Walnut Street

The idea isn’t new. Improving Walnut Street (the street behind Ever’s Hardware on the Square) has been discussed, planned and mapped for years. What IS new is a potential way to get it done. There’s a reason it’s lain fallow for years, I’m not sure exactly what that reason is, but I’m thinking it probably has something to do with money. But, there are ways to minimize that…….

Half block south of square

Walnut St. looking East

Walnut St. stretches between Locust St. and Elm St. just behind the south side of the Square. It’s really more of an alley than a street, and with the hodge podge of dumpsters, transformer boxes, trash and filth, looks more like parts of New York City than Denton, Texas. I wouldn’t call it blighted, but I almost would. There is definitely room for improvement.

South of Denton Square

Walnut St/Alley looking West

I discussed this idea in an earlier blog, but recently many of the business owners on that side of the Square and from other areas nearby, met to talk about and judge interest in, the concept of closing Walnut St. to create a pedestrian-only park-like plaza. There are different ideas as to what the final plan would look like, but this was simply a meeting to get the pulse of those whose businesses would be impacted. At the end of the meeting, with a show of hands, there was a unanimous vote of YES.

Closing off a street that has been around for 100+ years doesn’t happen over night and without obstacles to overcome. But everyone at that meeting decided is was a plan worth pursuing. A suggestion was made to have 2-3 special events, closing off the street for “trial runs”. Other cities around the world have made such changes, so there ARE ways to get around the obstacles. This concept would require disruptive thinking and planning on the part of the business owners, property owners, the community and the City. There are ways around almost anything and if we as the Denton Community say we want it, it can happen.

For the most part, I think the RE DO of Walnut St. can become a WE DO of Walnut Street. In the earlier blog about this subject, I mentioned crowd sourcing, where materials, ideas and labor would be volunteered and a couple of days of community work, frivolity, and TRUE dentoning could change the…….OK, blighted alley …….of Walnut St. into a shady, grassy, tree-lined pedestrian area with benches, restaurant patios, play areas for the kids, flower boxes, street artists and buskers.

Would you rather have this?:

Walnut St.

Walnut St.

Or this?:

Plans

Example of ped area

Just think, in addition to the grassy lawn of our courthouse Square, we would then have a pleasant, shady oasis to stroll, sit, shop and loiter and just a half block off our town center. There are, of course, questions about the loss of parking, relocation of dumpsters, how grease traps would be serviced and how deliveries would be made. This is where the disruptive thinking comes in. Just because it hasn’t been done in Denton does not mean it CAN’T be done in Denton. Denton has all the talent and expertise needed to visualize, plan, and implement the project, and to overcome any NOs that are encountered.

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Examples of what could be……

There are already plans in the works for a more centralized way for deliveries to be made around the Square. Several ideas were also batted around at the meeting which could potentially address trash collection, service of grease traps and other potential stumbling blocks that came to mind. This is merely the idea phase of the WE DO of Walnut St. All of this would take input from the businesses, the City and us……..the citizens of Denton. SO…….what do you think? Would you be willing to offer ideas, volunteer to work, volunteer materials,……make this happen? The business owners would foot the bill for the expenses directly related to their operations, but the fun part would be up to us!

For now, please let me know what you think of this “urban renewal” project., and send any ideas, pros/cons, whatever to:

dentoning@gmail.com

If we want it, it will happen………or something like that.

Enjoy Denton!

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 fasçade 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!