Exploring history first-hand and seeing places that are long forgotten is one of my favorite pastimes. This summer, I partnered up with Beth Schon from the lifestyle blog WiseMommies and set out to explore Downtown Dallas and the many notable buildings that make up the cityscape. One of the most notable places we checked out was the Titche-Goettinger building, located at the corner of Elm and St. Paul. The former location of one of the most well-known department stores in Dallas, the name might sound completely foreign, or it just may bring back fond memories.
Founded in 1902 by Edward Titche and Max Goettinger, this department store sold everything from apparel to housewares to fine china. This building wasn’t their original location- it was actually their third! The business started off on the corner of Elm and Murphy. In just two years time, they had outgrown their current location, and the store moved to their second location off Main Street. By 1928, Titche’s had outgrown that, so they moved into their flagship store. Eventually, Dillard’s took over the company in 1987. The building was not included in the sale and was closed not too long after. It sat abandoned until 1997, when developers renovated the inside and converted it into loft-style apartments.
Arriving, we met up with Stephanie Tutt, the assistant manager of the leasing office who offered to show us around. The first place Stephanie showed us was one of the apartments on the second floor.
One cool thing about here was that many historical aspects of the building have been preserved, even after the extensive renovation! In this particular unit, that cylinder-shaped thing is actually an old rolling door unit dating back to the days of the department store.
A vintage fire protection device of some kind hung from the wall. Maybe a fire pump?
Architectural features, such as the support beams and an exposed brick wall, were all original to the building and part of the design.
Stephanie explained that there are over 50 unique floor plans, all different in some way due to the historical nature of the building. At a 98% occupancy rate, the residents seem to like it here!
Just outside the apartment was a door that said “Fitting Room.” It piqued my curiosity, and we went in to take a look.
It turned out that room was the community gym. Not sure if back in the day of Titche’s it served as a fitting room, but nevertheless it seemed to have been repurposed well. Much like the unit we just toured, there was a lot of exposed brick and beams, all original to the building.
Back down on the first floor, Stephanie showed us probably one of the coolest things in the building: an antique Otis elevator that hadn’t be removed.
In those days, there wasn’t air conditioning, so there was a fan to keep the air inside (somewhat) circulated.
The listing of the many departments in the store was still on the wall.
On top of the elevator bank was the Titche-Goettinger crest. Just looking at it conveyed thoughts of a simpler time, when going to shop at a department store was an experience on its own.
The crest was one of many artifacts that remained in the building and are on display. A plaque marking this place as a World War II blood donor center was in the leasing office.
This was one of the original door handles, complete with the store’s initials.
In the lobby were various floor plans of the original store. Not sure if these were originals, but they were done pretty well(from an amateur’s perspective), and depicted the different rooms and departments of this huge store.
Something else Beth and I came across was one of the store account books. In a glass case close to the center of the lobby, it was cool to see what folks used to keep track of purchases and returns before the days of the computer.
What did customers who used to visit this elegant department store have to say about it? Click here to read a testimonial over at Beth’s blog WiseMommies, as well as learn about the importance of knowing the past and understanding one’s history!
In conclusion, although I had heard about Titche’s in the past, I never knew it had such an expansive storefront until now. Almost all of these buildings in the downtown area have an interesting past, and it was cool to learn about the history behind this otherwise unassuming old structure.
After a whole day of exploring Atlanta, I was ready to go do the other half of my trip bright and early the next morning: the State of Alabama. I chose to visit its most populous city, Birmingham. The combination of history and it being the most populated city in the state made it a no-brainer when it came to selecting a place to visit.
Coming from ATL, Google Maps said it would take me around two hours. Driving west on I-20 went pretty smoothly except for a few construction spots here and there. I entered the city limits two hours later, ahead of schedule and ready to explore everything Birmingham had to offer.
The first stop was the Thomas Jefferson Tower, a formerly abandoned hotel turned luxury apartments. Built in 1929, this 19-story building was considered to be one of the best hotels in Alabama. Famous people like Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover stayed here, and it made a name for itself until its doors were shut in 1983 amid a decline in business. After sitting abandoned for many years, it was finally renovated in 2015 and made into apartments.
One super cool thing about this place is an airship mounting mast on the roof! Something that is almost never seen these days, it was put there during the days of the hotel, when airships were thought to be the future of travel.
Ashley Brannen with the management office was gracious enough to show me around. We first toured a vacant unit, and I could tell the construction folks did a great job of renovating this place. They kept the original flooring and windows, while adding modern-day features such as fire protection and high-speed internet wall jacks.
Many of the doors in the hallways were original to the hotel as well.
On the second floor, Ashley showed me the ballroom, which served the same purpose back when the hotel was open. Weddings and parties are held here, and it provided for a great community space.
Wrapping things up in the lobby, I couldn’t help but notice the grandeur of the interior fixtures spared from removal. I especially loved the antique mail drop!
Old, historic structures are always a favorite of mine to explore, and this was one well-preserved building saved from the wrecking ball. Speaking of history, my next stop dealt with the dark side of this town: racial discrimination and violence. The 16th Street Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American church a few miles away, was the site of a horrific bombing in 1963 that killed 4 young girls and injured many more.
Both the downstairs basement area and the sanctuary were open for the public to see. The basement contained various artifacts belonging to the church, and also pictures that depicted the time of segregation in Birmingham.
Upstairs, I got a glimpse into the place where service has been held for decades and decades. Their sanctuary was well-designed, and featured a big pipe organ and numerous stained glass windows.
On the side of the building outside was a memorial to the four girls killed. It was located in the exact spot where the bombing took place.
The bombing of this church was just one of many sad days in the struggle for equality between races. After lunch, I further continued on my exploration of civil rights history with a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Founded in 1992, this museum is right next to the 16th Street Baptist Church. Rooms and rooms of artifacts and tangible exhibits clearly give the visitor an idea of the struggles faced by African-Americans back in the day.
Additionally, plenty of photos provided great insight into these ugly years in our nation’s history. Here, I also learned why Birmingham was labeled “Bombingham” for so long.
Must-see things here include fragments from the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the jail cell in which MLK penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, and a replica bus that was used in the Freedom Rides.
After spending over two hours here taking in everything, it was off to Kelly Ingram Park, right across the street. Not just any ordinary green space, this was the park where many marches were conducted during the Civil Rights Movement.
It was here that policemen armed with fire hoses and attack dogs mowed down children protesting for equal rights, and statues spread out across the park depict that.
These days, it is a pretty peaceful park where people can come to see these and other statues, hang out, and learn about the role this place had in history. One thing to watch out for though – there are some loiters here. None of the ones that approached me were aggressive, but do keep an eye out.
Seeing the jail cell at the Civil Rights Institute made me wonder – was that Birmingham police station where MLK was taken to still open? I knew that there was a historical marker of some sort there, and thus swung by the Birmingham City Jail to take a look.
There wasn’t much to see here. Yes, there indeed was a plaque, but the building where Dr. King was held has since been closed. The present-day jail sat right next door. Peering into the old lobby, it was run down and abandoned. Weeds were all around the doorway, signs of a building falling into decay.
After all this exploring, I was about ready to have dinner! Being that I was in Alabama, I just had to devour some good ole’ country cooking. Upon the recommendation from someone at a local hotel, I went to Niki’s West, a restaurant serving predominately steak and seafood.
As a vegetarian, there were many sides I could get from the cafeteria line. I opted for mashed potatoes, corn, and yams, with cornbread on the side.
Those veggies were delicious! They weren’t too salty, all the while still having noticeable flavor. Just some nice comfort food. Manager Dianne provided some insight into the history of this place. Niki’s West opened in 1957 as a truck stop-type joint, serving barbeque and the currently offered cuisine. As business grew, the restaurant expanded to its current size, and today has a steady stream of customers of all ages coming to enjoy a good meal!
The last place I saw in the Yellowhammer State after dinner was theUniversity of Alabama-Birmingham. A four-year state institution, it is located right next to the city’s hospital district. The campus reminded me of UT Arlington, as both of these schools are set within an urban environment, and have buildings lining major streets.
I walked thru both their business and engineering school buildings, and it looked to be on the older side of things. There was a new business building that was under construction, but the current facility looked pretty dated.
They do have a cool mascot though!
A few sculptures dotted the lawn as I trekked thru campus. I guess this would be a wheel, outside the engineering building.
I only saw about half of the school, since the clouds were beginning to darken and I could smell moisture in the air. This brought an end to a whole day’s worth of exploring Alabama, a state that I thoroughly enjoyed seeing.
In conclusion, although negative stereotypes are heard whenever this state’s name is mentioned, the people here have been very friendly and helpful. This falls in line with the hospitality the south is known for. America is so expansive, containing many regions and cultures, that it would be worth your time to explore this Deep South state and see all that it has to offer. I know that I will be back in Alabama sometime to explore another town!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to their main offering, this place also sold other mineral water infused items, such as soap and facial toner.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!