picture of a radio station's music library

Texas’s Oldest Radio Station: WRR-FM

Here in Dallas, we are known for many things – the State Fair, JFK’s assassination, that globe looking building called the Reunion Tower, just to name a few. But did you know that D-Town is also home to the oldest radio station in the state? WRR, occupying 101.1 on the FM dial is not only the first commercial radio station to begin transmitting in Texas, but also one of the first in the United States! Tuesday, I took a tour of their studio to gain insight into this unique piece of history.

picture of entrance to fair park
The entrance to Fair Park.

Located in Fair Park, the site of the Texas State Fair, WRR has been in operation since 1920. It didn’t start off playing music though. The City of Dallas originally instituted this station as a means to communicate with firefighters. It all started after a massive blaze in 1912 knocked out communication lines, which inhibited dispatchers from notifying fire crews about a second blaze. Wanting to prevent another lapse in public safety communications, a 50-watt station was set up, with the callsign being WRR. By 1921, this station started to offer regular programming, and it all took off from there. WRR’s studios were located in several different places around town before relocating to its current building in 1973. Today, the station is still owned by the City of Dallas and plays classical music.

exterior shot of a radio station studio
WRR’s studio.
picture of a historical marker in dallas fair park
A big marker points out WRR’s location.

Upon arriving, I met up with my tour guide, George Landis, who is the general manager of the station. Our first stop was the equipment room, where their encoders, receivers, and other gear were kept, mounted neatly on racks. Although the station has a dated history, it’s equipment looked to be modern, with features like HD Radio and other 21st-century technologies in use. It was here that George mentioned something pretty cool – WRR transmits at a whopping 100,000 watts, which is the maximum allowed by the FCC. The antenna for the station isn’t here – rather it is in Cedar Hill, which is where many radio and TV transmitters are located due to the area’s high elevation.

picture of an on air sign at a radio station

From there, we went into the main studio, where the on-air talent resides and all the sound and content are controlled.

Morning show host Barry Samsula was in, and I had a nice chat with him about how all the different things in this room work to provide the listeners with a seamless listening experience. One of the things Barry showed me was a program script, which he uses to know when to speak, what songs will be played and when, and other pertinent information. So the next time you are listening to Breakfast with Barry, you’ll know how he keeps his speaking parts on schedule!

radio program script
Barry’s program script for July 9th.

Barry explained that pretty much all the albums and tracks are now digitalized, a welcome departure from the days of records and CDs. His computer has the ability to pull up any song in the library, and he can even search by track length to find the perfect one for the segment at hand.

Speaking of CDs, the music library was where George took me next.

picture of a door sign with text words music library
This room contains enough classical music to last you a good while!

This small room contained rows and rows of nothing but CDs of classical music. From Beethoven to Gasparo Alberti, chances are it can be found here. And what if the track they want to play isn’t in this library and they need to head to Barnes and Noble to buy it? No problem, as the many blanket copyright licenses WRR holds allows them to play most albums legally.

picture of a radio station's music library

picture of a radio station's music library

When the holiday season rolls around, there is no better thing than some Christmas music on the radio, right? (I know, that can be either a true or sarcastic statement). Regardless, WRR is ready with a special section in here dedicated to Christmas music! Before this visit, I wasn’t even aware they played Christmas music during the holiday season – something I’ll have to tune in to at that time.

picture of a shelf of christmas cds
Sleigh Ride? How about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? They can be all found here.

Beyond the music library, we also walked around the rest of the station, which is made up of backup studios, producer workspaces, and admin offices upstairs. Although the building looks small on the outside(and it is), WRR seems to make good use of their space. This being the first radio station I’ve toured, I was quite impressed.

picture of a radio station hallway
The room with the window on the left used to be a news desk studio back in the day.
picture of magazine recognitions on the wall of WRR
WRR is well-known amongst the North Texas classical music community.

Finishing up my visit, I have to say this was a pretty cool experience, especially considering I have been listening to WRR on and off since I was a little kid! Seeing how all the different people and pieces of equipment come together to provide North Texas with classical music made me appreciate this piece of Dallas history even more.

Special thanks to the folks at WRR for making this post possible!

 

 

picture of a university entrance

Stephenville – Home of the Tarleton Texans

July 4th, my family and I wanted to visit someplace new, yet not stray too far so that we could make it back in time for some fireworks. As I was brainstorming places we could visit, a small town named Stephenville popped up in my mind as a good destination for this trip. Only about 110 miles away from Dallas, there was one noteworthy place right off the bat I knew we could see there – Tarleton State University. Add in that Stephenville was located in a county I have never explored before, and the deal was sealed. We decided to make it happen!

The county seat of Erath County, Stephenville is home to just under 21,000 people. It is more populated than many of its neighboring cities, such as Comanche and Mineral Wells. The city was founded in 1856, and named after settler John Stephen, who donated land for the original townsite. Although initially Stephenville was a successful settlement, Comanche tribe raids, along with the perils of the Civil War caused a decrease in population soon after. Fortunately, the town sprung back to life starting in the late 1800s as an agriculture and livestock hub, and has been thriving since.

Coming from Dallas, we took Interstate 20 to just west of Mineral Wells. There, we connected to U.S. Route 281, which took us straight into town. This portion of 281 consisted of mainly three-lane roads, and traffic flowed at a consistent 60ish miles an hour. It also had plenty of other cars, so if you are one of those folks that prefer to travel on roads that aren’t desolate(like my mom), there is nothing to worry about here. Total travel time? About two hours.

Upon arriving, the first stop was the Erath County Courthouse, located in the center of the town square. Many of the courthouses in Texas have some pretty impressive architecture, and this one was no exception!

The second courthouse to be used by the county, it was built in 1892 and laid out by James Riely Gordon, who is well known for designing other courthouses in the state. On the outside lawn, there were various memorials and landmarks. I found this one to be pretty cool – a cow named “Moo-La”, perched up on a sign, noting Erath County’s involvement in the dairy industry.

picture of a cow on a sign outside the erath county courthouse
Erath County has a thriving dairy industry.

There was also a memorial honoring the veterans of the county.

picture of a military memorial outside a courthouse
This memorial lists the names of those from Erath County that gave their lives in the World Wars.

We then walked around the average-sized town square. Stephenville has a pretty traditional downtown layout, with buildings surrounding all four sides of the courthouse. One distinct feature is the remarkable architecture of some of the buildings! There is some notable small-town charm here.

picture of a downtown building
A one-of-a-kind building. Almost has a European look to it!
picture of a four pillar small building that is used by an attorney's office
Although this building was originally a bank, the architecture is very fitting for an attorney’s office as well.

On the edge of downtown was the City Hall. This building just looked bland in comparison with the ones in the town square.

picture of a two story building used as the city hall of stephenville

From there, we headed for the place most people equate with Stephenville: Tarleton State University.

picture of a university entrance
One of the gates leading into Tarleton.

Founded in 1899, Tarleton is one of eleven schools in the Texas A&M University System. With a student population of over 12,000, it offers degrees in Agriculture, Business, Engineering, and more. An NCAA Division II school, the Tarleton Texans compete in all 12 varsity sports. Up until my visit to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, I would always get it confused with Tarleton. Both schools use a purple color scheme, and are associated with at least part of the word “Stephen”.

We drove around campus first to get an idea of where we wanted to explore on foot. Many of the buildings we saw, especially the dorms, were newer than I thought. That came as a surprise, since when I Googled the school in the past, the photos I came across showed the buildings to be pretty dated.

picture of tarleton state residence hall
Many of these residence halls looked pretty new.

Judging by the color and design of the buildings, there was a striking resemblance to A&M Commerce, my father’s alma mater.

picture of a new tarleton state building

picture of the mathematics building at Tarleton
The Mathematics building.

Finally deciding to stop procrastinating our entry into the sweltering heat, we parked our car in one of the side lots and began walking around campus. The first place we came upon was the Trogdon House, home of the university president. From the historical plaque, I was a bit unsure if the head of the school still resided there, but a quick glance in the windows confirmed that someone was indeed living there.

picture of a two story house at tarleton state
Where the university president lives.

We then swung by the library.  This was one of several buildings that definitely wasn’t new. It was closed for the Independence Day holiday, but looked pretty typical inside, with a coffee shop and a lobby area to study or meet up with your group members.

picture of the exterior of a college library
Tarleton’s library.

Right next to the library was something that I hadn’t seen before – a public bike repair station! Equipped with an air pump and various tools, I could see this coming in handy and possibly saving the day when something starts going wrong.

picture of a public bicycle repair station
Now this is something pretty cool, especially since many students ride their bikes around campus.

More than just seeing the exterior of the buildings, I wanted to go inside one and take a look at the environment a Texan would be in on a day-to-day basis. Being that it was a holiday, I didn’t expect any of the buildings to be open, but nevertheless, the O. A. Grant building was, so we walked right on in.

picture of a college building

On the inside, the hallways and decorations were pretty plain and no-nonsense style. There might have been a poster or two, but for the most part, there wasn’t too much to look at.

picture of tarleton state humanities building hallway
The hallways of this building were pretty bland. However, if the instruction is good, that’s all that matters!

We checked out a few of the classrooms and lecture halls. Both seemed well-equipped and were pretty clean.

picture of a college classroom with chairs and desks
One of the classrooms.
picture of a lecture hall at tarleton
A lecture hall. Doesn’t look that big compared to some of the schools in the UT system.

Much like the rest of the building, there wasn’t anything too spectacular about them design-wise. That being said, some of the lecture halls featured a mural on the wall, which I thought was a pretty cool implementation of public art.

picture of a mural in a college lecture hall
This mural brings a bit more life into an otherwise plain and boring lecture hall.

Leaving the Grant building, we came across a statue of John Tarleton, the school’s founder, located in a fountain just off to the side. He has his pet duck, Oscar P, right next to him. Interestingly enough, no historical evidence pinpoints Mr. Tarleton ever owning a pet, and thus the actual existence of Oscar is solely a myth.  Regardless, traditions such as students calling “Hey, Oscar P!” as a symbol of school spirit have arisen, and can be heard at athletic events and seen on those purple Tarleton t-shirts.

statue of john tarleton at tarleton state
Can you spot Oscar?

Then there was the Tarleton military memorial. Dedicated to the veterans of the school, it had a unique feature – a permanent granite lectern. It was complete with a glass stand on the back as a place to put speaker notes. Definitely something I haven’t seen elsewhere.

picture of a granite lectern with a military memorial in the background
This memorial pays a nice tribute to the veterans who attended Tarleton.

With that, we jumped back in the car and briefly visited one last stop – the Stephenville Clark Regional Airport. A general aviation field with one runway, it is pretty well-known amongst pilots due to its close proximity to Hard Eight BBQ, a supposedly awesome place for some Texas grub. When we drove thru the restaurant parking lot, it was pretty packed, and the lines were fairly long. If you are a meat eater, be sure to check this place out when in town – it’s got to be popular for a reason! (As a vegetarian, I am only limited to the sides.) We skipped eating here since I had already tried this place out in 2014, and didn’t find those mashed potatoes and yams impressive enough to warrant the wait.

Departing the airport, we headed back to Dallas. The traffic was fairly light, and we made good time coming back into the metroplex. For some reason, the journey home on all of these trips always feels quicker than the journey coming out. Although there just isn’t much to see or do in Stephenville, it is a great place for experiencing a bit of cool architecture in the town square, or trying to debunk the myth of Oscar the duck at Tarleton!

 

 

picture of an old, large, and abandoned hotel

A Mini Trip to Mineral Wells

Saturday afternoon, the family and I decided to all pile in the car and go visit a small town, Mineral Wells, located about 80 miles west of Dallas. I was going to fly there initially earlier that day, but a mechanical problem forced me to turn back. Not a problem – we as a family love road trips, even in this sweltering summer heat!

With a population of close to 15,000, Mineral Wells is one of those places that had a boom and bust story as a crucial part of its history. In 1880, a family that had settled in the area had a well drilled for a water source. Although the water that came from it tasted a bit funky, the family discovered that their bodies were feeling better after drinking it. The news of this went viral, and people from all over came to try out the magic waters for themselves. This uptick in people led to Mineral Wells being officially founded as a city in 1881. Much like what happened with the city of Marlin, the prosperity eventually came to a halt starting in the 30s. First, it was the Great Depression, followed by the FDA beginning to closely monitor medical advertising. The final nail in the coffin came in the form of advances in medical care, waning the interest in natural cures.

The drive into Mineral Wells was pretty smooth, except for a brief traffic jam on the way. Google Maps said the drive would be around an hour and a half, but we found that number to be closer to the two-hour mark.

picture of a small town street
Arriving in town.

Upon arriving, we went to the place where the mineral water was: Crazy Water. You may be thinking “what a strange name!”, and a strange name it surely is.

picture of an old building in mineral wells with a well outside
Crazy Water’s home base.

Of course, there is a story behind it. Right after the city was founded, numerous wells were drilled across town. One, in particular, had a woman that was suffering from dementia hanging around it all day, drinking the water. Before long, people noticed that she wasn’t as crazy as she used to be! When the news broke, even more people came to this bustling small town. From there, a company was born. Crazy Water is the sole mineral water company here that survived the downfall of this industry, and today is the only place in town where mineral water tapped straight from the well may be obtained.

a historical marker
The historical marker for Crazy Water.

Although it was almost closing time for this tiny store, there was a constant stream of foot traffic! Some people were bringing in their five-gallon bottles for a refill, while others stopped by just to purchase bottled water. One thing that stood out to me was that their service was nothing spectacular. No one came up to us to provide an introduction, or even really greeted us for that matter. Regardless, we looked around and saw the bottles of water on the shelf, which is what we came for.

picture of bottled water on bookshelf
There were four varieties to choose from. Their prices were reasonable.
water for sale in cooler
They also had water in a cooler, which we bought from. Didn’t seem too cold, though.

In addition to their main offering, this place also sold other mineral water infused items, such as soap and facial toner.

soap and other facial items for sale

We decided to buy their #3 variety, which we were told was the original flavor. Upon drinking it, it simply tasted different. Definitely felt saltier for one, but its something that one would have to try for themselves. One of the more notable special ingredients is lithium, something used in mood stabilizing medications to this date.

small sign talking about chemical makeup of the mineral water for sale
Different varieties of their water yield different amounts of minerals.

Walking around the exterior of the building, there was a little picnic/event area. Too hot to be doing anything out there right now, but during the spring or fall, it could be a nice place to relax and enjoy some of that crazy water.

picnic area behind a water store
I wouldn’t be surprised if there was live music here from time to time. It would be a great gathering spot.

Out of all the things I could possibly see here, a working well wasn’t one of them. I saw a suspicious looking shed..in fact, I saw two. I believe the wells are kept in there. I can’t imagine them being too far away.

picture of a red brick building with a mineral water sign
Hmm..what’s that green shed for?

There was also a cool Route 66-like landmark of a water jug that I got my touristy photo op at.

With us feeling a little bit less CRAZY hot, we took off for our next stop: the 14 story abandoned Baker Hotel, about five minutes away. The history of the Baker is just as notable as that of the town it sits in. Opening in 1929, it was designed as a resort-style hotel. Its target clientele were people coming from all over the world that wanted to experience the mineral waters for themselves. Many famous people passed thru its doors, including Will Rogers, The Three Stooges, and even Bonnie and Clyde!

picture of an old, large, and abandoned hotel
Once an iconic place to stay and get mineral water spa treatments.

When the mineral water frenzy died out, so did the Baker..slowly. The hotel stayed open until 1972, when it finally shut its doors. Today, it is just as much of a tourist attraction as Crazy Water, perhaps even surpassing them. I had heard of the Baker numerous times, watching YouTube urban explorers like The Proper People check out the hotel. As someone that is into urban exploration myself, I had to see this place firsthand.

side shot of the baker hotel.
This side entrance was probably used as a loading dock or parking entrance of some sort.

Walking around the perimeter of the property, it was both super cool and somewhat sad at the same time. A lot of the windows were busted out, and graffiti was painted on many walls.

side shot of the baker hotel with overgrown weeds
Overgrown weeds fit into the picture perfectly, along with the peeling paint and weathered bricks.

As I came up the front stairs, I noticed that there had been new signs posted up covering the front doors- something that I hadn’t seen from the YouTube videos of this place. Two of the signs had a viewing area, allowing people to see into the lobby!

lobby of Baker Hotel

lobby of abandoned Baker Hotel

I could imagine this hotel in its heyday – guests coming and going, live music playing in the lobby, and the mineral water spa packed full of people. Today, it just stands empty and abandoned, like a reminder of the city’s past.

bridge at an old abandoned hotel with overgrown weeds
This little bridge led to the pool and volleyball areas.
inside of an old abandoned hotel
Not sure what this room was for. Since it led to an exterior door, maybe as a side entrance lobby?

If everything goes according to plan, this hotel won’t be sitting like this into the future. A proposal has been announced for a renovation and re-opening of the Baker as a hotel, complete with mineral water spas. The developers have already put up signs on the downstairs windows, talking about the history of the hotel and the city, and redevelopment plans.

sign of the history of the baker hotel

signs in front of an old hotel

There was also a big no trespassing sign, in addition to the other warnings spray painted onto the boards covering the windows. Needless to say, the owners have made their statement clear that they do not want any unauthorized folks in here.

No Trespassing Sign at Baker Hotel
With a sign like this, it will be hard to fight a trespassing charge.

Staying outside, you still can see a lot of the hotel, since not all of the windows are completely boarded up. There are plenty of places where you can peep in, and see into this piece of history without getting in trouble.

picture of boarded up windows at an abandoned hotel
Maybe some of those windows weren’t completely boarded up on purpose, as to allow people to peer in.

If you are like me, and enjoy looking at abandoned buildings, plan on spending a minimum of 30 minutes here. We didn’t stay too long checking everything out because of the intense heat, but a trip here when it’s cooler could mean quite a bit more time spent looking at the architecture. A pair of binoculars wouldn’t be a bad idea for looking in, all while refraining from getting a ticket for trespassing.

picture of a storage room at an abandoned hotel.
Some sort of storage room with a pretty antique blower contraption.

Although it would have been nice to see some of the other attractions in town, such as the National Vietnam War Museum, we had to get going back home since this was a pretty impromptu trip.

picture of old historic post office
The US Post Office just down the street from the Baker. I have seen this design someplace else- just can’t remember where. Got that historic charm to it!

If the chance ever comes around to explore the inside of the Baker legally, it’s an opportunity I’ll take in a heartbeat! Regardless, if and when the hotel does reopen, I will surely return and see what some TLC has done to this landmark. Since I’m already there, a stop to Crazy Water would probably also be in order. Off to the next place!

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light rail trains in a maintenance facility

Behind the Scenes of DART Light Rail

Dallas Area Rapid Transit(DART) – a complete public transportation system serving 13 cities in the North Texas area. Strolling down the streets of the Metroplex, it is pretty likely that you will come across a DART bus, light rail vehicle(LRV), or paratransit van. Although everyone has their personal preference, I like the light rail system out of all the options that DART offers. It’s an amazing setup if you think about it- 30.1 million passenger trips in 2017, run on 93 miles worth of tracks. But what goes on behind the scenes to ensure that your train comes on time and takes you where you need to be? I decided to find out Thursday afternoon, with a visit to the DART Central Rail Operations Facility. This is one of two places where the LRV fleet is maintained and kept in optimum condition.

a sign of a public transportation maintenance facility
The fun is about to begin!

Arriving at the facility, I met up with my tour guide, Brad Bayer, who is the shop manager. Brad is a veteran at this – he has been doing light rail maintenance since DART started light rail service in 1996! We started our tour on the main shop floor, where he first took me to a machine with grates on it.

a wheel truing machine for light rail vehicles
The wheel truing machine.

This contraption is nothing other than the wheel truing machine, which ensures that the “roundness” of the many wheels onboard the LRV are adequate. Computers in this sophisticated device can remove any defects as needed with precision to maintain safety.

Right behind the wheel truing machine were tracks – four of them. Having all these tracks ensures that maintenance can be performed simultaneously on multiple LRVs.

light rail cars under repair
Multiple tracks mean the work here never stops. This is a 24/7 operation!

IMG_3786.JPG

Huge screw jacks are able to lift an entire LRV effortlessly! I was quite surprised that the system isn’t hydraulic based.

photo of a light rail screw jack in retracted position
These metal “grates” extend upwards to lift the whole LRV up in the air.
picture of a dart light rail vehicle on jacks
From here, mechanics can perform necessary repairs to the undercarriage area.

You may be wondering – where do all the wheels go for service? There is a special section in the shop for them. Some are here to be overhauled, while others are undergoing various repairs. All of them are being serviced by trained mechanics, who work diligently to ensure the proper functionality of these crucial pieces of equipment.

wheels of a light rail vehicle in a shop

One of the questions I had was whether the LRVs are all-wheel drive. The answer from Brad? Nope! In a typical setup, there are two end cab units, which provide thrust, with a center car in between. Think of this as two locomotives pushing the train cars in between. End cab wheels have a huge “power cable” connected to them, which provide electricity to propel them forwards and backwards.

industrial size power cord for light rail vehicle
How’s that for a power adapter?

Just as important as the wheels is air conditioning! Being that this is Texas, it would be unbearably hot even just a few minutes without some cold air. The roof-mounted air conditioning units onboard the LRVs are serviced here as well. Quite a few of them were seen in the shop, undergoing repairs or preventative maintenance.

disassembled light rail air conditioning units with mechanics nearby
These machines keep everyone onboard cool in the blazing Texas heat.

Right next to it, the thing that makes the whole car come to life was laying there: a pantograph. What’s that? A pantograph is what connects the car up to the overhead high-voltage lines, giving the car electrical power. DART LRVs are environmentally-friendly, as they do not use any kind of fossil fuels and run solely via electricity.

a light rail pantograph on a shop table
This is what keeps everything going.

From there, Brad and I hopped onboard an LRV to check out its driver cab. Having sat close to the first row many times when I rode DART, it was pretty cool to be able to go behind the door and explore all its controls!

man sitting in light rail operator seat
Surely if I can fly a plane I can drive this with no problem. All aboard, y’all!

The LRV has some pretty advanced features in its “cockpit”. One of the systems that passengers like myself are sure to appreciate is automatic train protection, or ATP for short. The ATP system is designed to ensure that the LRV doesn’t go over a maximum speed, or get too close to other trains. Should the system detect either of those conditions, the whole train will automatically slow down or even come to a complete stop if necessary to prevent a conflict.

kinkisharyo light rail operator panel

Brad also explained how the throttle worked. There are three power levels, P1-P3, along with three braking levels, B1-B3, that can be selected. When the driver pushes the throttle up, the train accelerates at the selected speed setting. The opposite is true for slowing this bad boy down.

kinkisharyo light rail operator throttle

Other controls include buttons to sound the horn and gong, open and close the doors, and operate the headlights.

kinkisharyo light rail operator panel
You can do everything from opening and closing the door to blowing the whistle here.

Two-way radios keep the driver in constant communication with train dispatch.

picture of a harris two way radio in a light rail vehicle
The operator’s button to key up the radio is actually a foot pedal located down on the left side!

The last stop was to the LRV car wash facility. I came across it as I first arrived, and knew that I wanted to see what a ginormous car wash looked like.

picture of a light rail car wash in a rail yard
Even light rail cars need a wash.

Brad explained the system worked using a series of laser beams. When an LRV enters and is situated in the proper place within the wash tunnel, indicators tell the crew that the wash cycle is about to commence. At the end, big dryers quickly remove all the water from the exterior. While the system is closed during periods of extremely cold weather, it is usually open. Trains that stay here overnight are run thru, ensuring that passengers the next day are greeted with a clean and shiny LRV!

picture of a light rail car wash tunnel with rail tracks
The whole process seemed very streamlined and efficient. It has to be, simply due to the number of LRVs passing thru here.

In conclusion, having seen what it takes to keep the light rail system in working order, I am even more thankful for the men and women that work tirelessly to ensure that service runs smoothly. Dallas has one of the best rapid transit systems in the nation, and it simply wouldn’t be possible without all of the support personnel and maintenance facilities that DART employs.

Special thanks to the folks at DART for making this tour possible!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Places to Visit in Dallas: The Perot Museum of Nature and Science

In hot summers like these, everyone(myself included!) is looking for somewhere to hang out that is both air-conditioned and has fun stuff to do. One such place exists, and it’s definitely way cooler than the mall. That spot is the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, located close to the downtown area.

huge gray square-shaped building
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The building just screams “come inside and explore!”

Learning about the many ways in which science has shaped our world isn’t new to me, as my parents always took me to various museums growing up. One of my favorite museums in Dallas was The Science Place, located in Fair Park. The Science Place always had cool exhibits, and a whole afternoon passed by fast checking out all the interesting artifacts and having fun with the interactive demos.

The Science Place closed in 2012, and the Perot Museum was its replacement. With 4 stories and 180,000 square feet of space, it quickly became a top spot for individuals and families alike to visit. I went back to my roots and checked out the Perot Wednesday afternoon, and I have to say…it was awesome!

Arriving, I could already see tons of people, many of whom had brought their children for an afternoon’s worth of relaxation and learning. A few field trips were also going on.

dinosaur skeleton on display in lobby of perot museum
A dinosaur on display in the main lobby.

I started off my journey on the second floor. The first stop was the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall, which featured tons of exhibits themed around Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics(STEM).

kids and people exploring a science museum
This place was packed with people playing with all sorts of interactive demos!
picture of a board with facts on it about the technology industry of North Texas
North Texas played a crucial role in the development of technology.

One thing I immediately noticed was how many hands-on exhibits there were. Even if science isn’t something that strikes you as exciting, you are bound to find a fun activity.

pressure regulator demo with displays and interactive activity
Every wondered how the many systems of a bus work? Find the answer here.

Plenty of staff members were around to make sure that everyone stayed safe. At the center of it all was an activity station, where kids could build different structures, all the while learning about things like gears and pulleys.

children and families building things at a museum
Museum staff manned the activity station and helped visitors have fun, all while learning.

Just next to it was the Being Human Hall. This area was one that I found to be super interesting and informative, since the exhibit is about us homo sapiens!

picture of a museum exhibit hall talking about human history

The designers did a great job of combining interactive activities, explanations, and artifacts.

wall containing facts about human beings in a museum

At the forefront of technology these days is virtual reality, and the Perot makes use of it! There was a VR experience corner, which played a clip that put me in the caves of South Africa, on a mission to dig up ancient human remains.

man with a virtual reality headset on
The potential of VR is limitless! I like how the Perot chose to incorporate this into their exhibits.

A handheld remote was given to me, so that I could interact with what was being shown on the VR headset. Although there was a 10 minute or so wait, it was worth it. If you are bringing the kids, they will surely be talking about it for a few hours afterward!

The Discovering Life hall was equally as fun. Here, you can learn about everything from the stages of life, to the different ecosystems that make up Texas.

museum exhibit at perot museum

As a visual learner, I really liked their dioramas representing the different ecosystems. They were realistic and well put together!

museum diorama of an ecosystem

museum diorama of an ecosystem

From there, I headed to the fourth floor. Walking thru the hallways, I couldn’t help but notice the uniqueness of the building’s design.  Each architectural feature had a purpose behind it, which was explained by plaques on the walls.

interior design of a science museum
The Perot has a one-of-a-kind design, both inside and out!
escalator with a dinosaur at the very top
Uh oh..what’s that at the top?

Immediately greeted by a darkened room with a star-painted wall, I knew this was the section talking about space and our solar system.

museum exhibit hall
The lighting and environment were very fitting for the topic at hand.

This area had fewer hands-on activities compared to the other exhibits, but there was still plenty of stuff to keep me engaged. In the middle was a close-to-wraparound movie, titled Journey Through The Solar System. It gave stunning visuals of the different planets, galaxies, and more.

movie area in a museum
Of course, this wasn’t as good as a planetarium, but it does the job well!

On the other side was the T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall. For those of y’all that have been to the now-closed Dallas Museum of Natural History, and seen its many fossils, this is the place you definitely want to see. Complete displays of different pre-historic creatures are on exhibit, ranging from a mammoth to a humongous Tyrannosaurus rex!

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A trip back in time, about 20,000 years back to be exact.

Various other dinosaur skulls and remains are here, which gave people the chance to see life in that era for themselves.

dinosaur skulls on display in a museum

Right above the Life Then and Now Hall was the mezzanine level, which contained another small exhibit – the Rose Hall of Birds. Here, you can learn about the animals that soar in the skies, from pre-historic all the way to present-day.

bird exhibit at science museum

As a pilot, this exhibit naturally drew me in. There were well-written yet not boring explanations of how a bird’s body is designed to allow it to soar thru the sky. Additionally, interactive displays allow visitors to design their own flying creature.

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Some cool info I would have otherwise never known!

Upon getting done, I went down to the lower level floor(really the basement), where I came across the Sports Hall. Just as the name suggests, it was themed around the many roles that science play into athletics.

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Plenty of fun activities here to burn off some energy.

This entire area consisted of almost all interactive exhibits of an athletic nature, making it a great spot for kids and adults alike after an hour or two upstairs. Some of the cool things here include creating your own slow-motion video, and a timed run against various animals!

picture of families at a timed run demo in a museum

On the other side of the lower level was the Moody Family Children’s Museum. For those with young kids, this is a great place for them to play in an indoor playground, pretend shop in a miniature grocery store, and watch employees do hands-on demos.

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A well put together place designed specifically for the young folks.

The theme of science didn’t go away though! Pretty much everything here had some sort of educational value. There were also terrariums housing little creatures such as a tarantula and a rat snake.

three terrariums containing creatures

Finished with my visit, I came across a cafe on the way out. Their restaurant looked like a typical office-style cafeteria, which was a welcome addition from the days of The Science Place. Back then, it was just a little sandwich shop with barely enough seating.

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A great place to grab lunch or just a snack after a few hours of exploring!

Right across from the cafe was the museum gift shop. Also much larger than what The Science Place had, it sold t-shirts, mugs, and other souvenirs. I didn’t step in, but the store looked pretty organized from the outside.

a museum gift shop with various souvenirs for sale
This would be a great place to take home something that will remind you of your visit here.

After seeing everything, I have to say that as far as museums go in the Dallas area, this is one of the top places to visit. With all those exhibit halls to see, and interactive activities to do, it sure made for a great afternoon! No matter if you are interested in seeing a T. Rex for yourself, or just want to relax and learn about what we humans are made up of, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has something for everyone!

side building shot of the perot museum in dallas
A great visit here!

 

 

 

white historic house and town hall

City Government in a House: A Tour of Addison’s Town Hall

Summer – a time much enjoyed(and needed!) by all of us school employees. Although I work summer school this month, my workday ends right around noon. This leaves me a good chunk of the afternoon to explore and see new places. One of the things I’ve been doing as of late is clearing things off my “want to see but haven’t gotten around to see” list. Monday, I headed to a place in my own city that I pass by often but have never explored: the Addison Town Hall.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself “what is there to see in a town hall anyway?”. After all, the majority of city halls in the area are nothing more than modern-style office buildings housing different city departments. The average resident usually has little to no need or interest to visit one, except maybe to partake in a council meeting, or to get a business permit. However, Addison has it slightly different. Forget about the departments inside, just look at that design!

Of course, there is a story behind it. This building was originally a house. As old as it appears to be, it was actually built in 1939. J.B. McEntire, a prominent oil and gas attorney in the area, bought seventy acres of land, of which he used eight to built this house. Named the Stonegate Hall for a stone gate entrance on the main road, he and his wife lived in a place that was described by an architect as “the best example of how a house should be built.” Some of the notable features included foundation piers that extended deep into the solid rock, and six pillars that gave the house an antique look.

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The back side of the house opens up to a nice yard area.

Unfortunately, Mr. McEntire passed away just two years after moving in. His wife lived here until 1967, after which the place became vacant. In the late 70s, the town expressed interest in the decaying house, and a thirty-year lease was signed. The rent? Just $1 a year. Eventually, the town purchased the home in 2000 for 1.3 million.

Today, the building is surrounded by businesses, and is actually located in the back of a restaurant square! Upon arriving, I was immediately greeted by a gorgeous chandelier and spiral staircase. This sight wasn’t exactly foreign to me, as I had been in here before once or twice as a young kid tagging along with Mom. Since Addison doesn’t have its own library, citizens had to stop by in order to get a card for the Dallas Public Library system. Mom would come here to get the application so that we could utilize their resources.

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This sight isn’t something you see in most government buildings.

My tour guide was Karla Horton, with the City Manager’s Office. We started off on the first floor. Checking out the east wing first, she brought me to a room with a fireplace in it. Originally the dining room, it is now used for impromptu meetings by the city council.

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This place felt more like a home than a city hall!

Although this structure is historic, the technology in use inside is quite advanced. In this room, I came across teleconferencing devices, cameras, and other modern-day equipment. All these tools ensure that the employees and elected officials that work or convene here have what it takes to get the job done.

We then headed over to the west side. One of the first things Karla pointed out was a room with a staircase, now used as the office of the director of human resources.

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The HR Director’s office. Note the now closed off stairwell formerly used by the servants.

Karla said that this stairwell was mainly used by servants back in the days of the McEntire family. Having this auxiliary means of going between floors for the housekeeping staff was paramount, so that they wouldn’t disturb the many parties that would go on in the front foyer.

Another place that I found to be pretty neat was the kitchen, located right down the hall. Considered super small by today’s standards, it serves as a staff break room. The interior design made me feel like I had been whisked back in time to much simpler days. I could imagine how much time the servants must have spent in here, preparing food of all kinds for the family.

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A super small kitchen that has lots of old house charm.

Just then, Karla remembered me telling her that I was an Addison resident, and gave me a free book detailing the history of the town! #awesome

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As the tour was going on, there were people working all around us in cubicles and various different rooms. It was peaceful, and felt like an overall good environment to spend eight hours of your day in. That is, unless you are a city council member. These top-level folks all have their own full-time endeavors outside of their elected positions, and only convene during meetings. Speaking of the city council, the council chambers was where we headed to next.

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Addison’s council chambers.

Having only seen this room on some of the town’s social media photos, the chambers were much smaller than I initially thought. The layout was super simple: several rows of seats for the audience, a lectern for citizens voicing their opinion, and of course places for the mayor and council members to sit.

Of course, I had to chill in the mayor’s seat and snag a photo.

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Just call me Mayor Eric Men.

What’s interesting is that this room used to be the garage! Housing three cars, there are almost no signs of its prior use except for a side door, which presumably went outside. If Karla hadn’t pointed it out to me, it would have never occurred that this was where the McEntire family’s cars were parked.

After a few minutes of looking at the many photos outside the chambers of the mayor and his staff over the years, we went back to the foyer and up the spiral staircase to see the second floor.

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This chandelier was acquired from France.

The first room we looked at was a conference room. Karla wasn’t sure what purpose this space had in its previous life, but nevertheless it had been preserved in its historic state pretty well, judging from the interior upkeep. Looking at the molding surrounding the ceiling, I could tell that this design was not modern or even semi-modern.

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From there, we headed down the hallway to the workspace I wanted to see the most: the mayor’s office.

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Mayor Chow’s office.

With views overlooking the creek and the green backyard space outside, Mayor Joe Chow has a peaceful and quiet place to run this town of just over 13,000. I marveled at how tidy his desk was, and how neat his office was in general. A china cabinet sat off to the side, displaying many of his artifacts. Karla mentioned that this area used to be the main bedroom. However, one typical feature wasn’t present – a bathroom. The closest one is actually down the hall.

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Plentiful amounts of green space outside.

On our way back downstairs, we passed by the City Secretary and the City Manager’s office, both rooms on the smaller side of the scale, but still fully usable spaces. On the other side of the second floor, there were other offices, but Karla indicated to me that they were in a conference, so we opted not to disturb them.

My tour concluded back where I entered, in the foyer. Although I have always been pretty fascinated with government, touring a city hall wasn’t something that really struck me as super interesting. That is, until the thought crossed my brain that the town I live in had a uniquely designed one that had yet to be seen. Combine a historic residence with a working city hall, topped off with an excellent tour guide, and it made for an enjoyable afternoon!

If you happen to be passing by on Belt Line Road and have a few minutes to spare, I would highly recommend stopping by to take a look. There are no gates or fences, so you are able to go around to the back of the house. With all that lush green scenery, it would be a great spot for photo shoots, or even just a nice place to take a stroll. Addison is mainly known for its expansive selection of hotels and restaurants, but its town hall is equally as awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plano’s Forgotten Mall

The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex- one of the most mall-dense areas in the country. From upscale NorthPark to the nearly demolished Valley View, shopping centers can be seen everywhere here in town. In Plano, when a typical person thinks of a mall, places like Willow Bend, possibly Collin Creek come to mind. However, there is one spot that has long been forgotten, but stands close to a bustling highway intersection – Plano Market Square Mall. I decided to head there to explore it a few days ago.

Opened in the 70s, the mall served the middle-income families of the then-growing city. With three hallways, there was plenty of tenant space. It contained stores like T.J. Maxx, a rug shop, and various other retailers. A Garden Ridge served as its sole anchor store. I remember as a kid, my mother and I checked this place out. At that time(going back years in my long-term memory), there was a constant stream of foot traffic. Unfortunately, when new shopping centers sprouted in the area, such as the Allen Premium Outlets and Willow Bend, business started to steadily go down.

Plano Market Square Mall first came back into my memory as I was watching urban exploration videos on YouTube. I just so happened to come by a clip talking about this mall, and thought to myself that this place would be pretty cool to check out. Before going there, I did some research, and Google told me that an antique store was still open inside.

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One of the three entrances to Plano Market Square Mall.

Upon arriving on the property, I first circled the place by car. Except for the parking lot on the side housing the antique store, which had some cars, there wasn’t anyone else to be seen at any of the other two entrances.

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Where I parked my car and went in.

Inside, there were quite a few people shopping at the only store left, Plano Antique Mall. However, the rest of the mall was eerily quiet, and not a living soul was in sight.

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The wing housing Plano Antique Mall, the only store still open here.

Vandalism has been an issue here, and thus the portion of the mall beyond the antique store was closed off. Thanks to the nice folks at Plano Antique Mall, I was able to gain access to see this piece of local history.

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The mall is shaped in a T configuration, with the former At Home space in the middle.

Once in the closed area, I started checking out the stores in the main hallway, one by one. The first space I came upon was a closed aquarium store. Whoever rented this place didn’t really care for cleaning it up, as fish food was scattered in piles on the floor.

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Hmm…

There was also an abandoned 75% Off Books. One of the stores I used to frequent as a kid, it was the place where Mom purchased a lot of books for me. Although we didn’t shop at this location, the layout seemed more or less the same. Rows and rows of tables were set up, complete with throws on them, but the books(and customers) were gone. I could just imagine how vibrant it must have been back in the day, when business was bustling.

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The now vacant 75% Off Books.

Coming to the end of the main hallway, I saw this giant gummy ball machine. Like the empty stores around it, this thing just sat there collecting dust.

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As I walked down one of the side exit hallways, I came across a few standalone booths, with empty display cases. This one looked like it belonged to a cell phone shop.

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There were about two to three of these standalone shops here.

Remember phone cards? That sounds like something from the 2000s. I came across an old phone card dispensing machine, which didn’t appear to be working. Not sure how long this machine has been there. I guess if you didn’t want to use Skype, you could save 70% on calling anyone, in any city, in any state, in any country, in the world.

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The machine was plugged in, but pressing the buttons yielded no response at all.

The exit at the end was locked, which made sense, since they didn’t want anyone in this area.

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Standing at the end of one of the side hallways, looking towards the Garden Ridge space. Those lights are sure unique.

I then headed for the former spot of Garden Ridge, which was renamed to At Home prior to closing. It was located in the center of the mall, between the two side exit hallways. As I looked in this huge space, it was a sad reminder of better days.

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The sole anchor store of the mall.
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This space was occupied by Garden Ridge(later At Home) for many years, which sold home decor.

Heading towards the other hallway, I saw something pretty cool – a vintage photobooth machine! From the looks of it, the thing hadn’t been working for some time. The controls were all broken, and the privacy curtain long gone.

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This looked like something usually seen in Japan or Taiwan!

Many kids must have come up to it, pounding on the controls and pressing the buttons, for management put up a sign telling everyone that this was not a video game.

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Right behind the photobooth was an area formerly containing kiddie rides. All the machines have since been removed, leaving only the equipment mat sitting there.

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Walking back towards Plano Antique Mall, I explored the stores on the other side of the hallway. There was an Asian artifact shop, which was packed full of stuff, but the grille was pulled down and nobody was in sight. This kind of reminded me of some of the stores I saw when at Valley View.

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I saw vases, furniture, and other Oriental items in there, displayed nicely.

Not too far from it, was a gold and precious metals store. Except for a few display cases, there was nothing left in there.

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Just next to Plano Antique Mall was a former beauty school. It was completely gutted, with no equipment remaining inside at all.

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This looked like a pretty good space for a beauty school – a big space, located close to the highway, and plenty of potential clients living in the area.

From there, I started checking out Plano Antique Mall.

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As far as antique shops go, this was one neat and tidy place. Talking with Geralyn, one of the assistant managers, she told me that they have been open for over 23 years. There are around 150 vendors here, who bring in a steady stream of customers.

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This place was jam-packed full of stuff. I came across everything from an old laptop computer to pieces of furniture.

I love coming to antique shops, because you never know what you are going to find. From old radios to vintage aircraft models, every trip is a definite encounter with some cool stuff that the average millennial has never seen before.

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A Band-Aid tin container from the 60s. Too bad they don’t package them like this anymore.

Although this place seemed to have more antique craft and decorative items, there were also plentiful amounts of CDs and records for sale as well.

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I saw many records, movie posters, and other vintage media for sale.

Closing out my visit, I asked Geralyn about plans for redevelopment. She told me that nothing has been set in stone as of yet. I believe that this place has great potential; with some major renovations and new tenants, it can serve as a local hub for shopping, dining, and more.

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This place has definitely seen better days.

Regardless of what eventually happens, I hope Plano Antique Mall sticks around, so that people can continue to enjoy the artifacts of the past!