Downtown Wichita Falls, Texas, in the mid 1940’s was a bustling metropolis for a boy of 7 just away from the farm and ranch community where he was born. My father, a cook and cowboy by trade, had just started as one of the first cooks for the Casa Manana restaurant in 1947. He moved us to an apartment on Ohio Street, right across from the Gem Theater, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s here that we would stay for the next three years. The Gem Theater became a magic palace for a young mind. But it had to share that distinction with the rest of the magic that was Wichita Falls. I attended San Jacinto and Carrigan elementary schools, as well as Reagan Junior High, and belonged to the Boys Club on 6th Street. Please join, and share your stories and pictures through a Guest Blog, of early Wichita Falls - or your home town. Contact me at or leave a comment. We could use old pictures of movie houses, drive-in theaters, and other nostalgic pictures related to our youths.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Time Of Heroes

I was born in Seymour on Friday morning, July 26, 1940. Dr. Foy delivered me at my grandmother’s house about 5 AM. At the end of the school year in 1947, we moved to Wichita Falls. My dad had rented asmall apartment above a bar on Ohio Street, across from the Gem Theater, between 7th & 8th Streets. We would live here for the next three years.
Downtown Wichita Falls was my playground. I ran barefoot along Ohio, Indiana, 7th and 8th. If you've never stepped on a burning cigar or cigarette in bare feet, you've never lived! It's an experience you'll never forget! I would visit the Train Depot when passenger trains came in, and was fascinated by soldiers in uniform returning from Europe, with pretty patches on their shoulders, stripes on their arms, and medals on their uniform jackets. I listened to their stories about places I had never heard of: Germany, France, Spain, England. It was like another world to me. The Depot was just around the comer from where we lived.
An Army & Navy Surplus store was on the comer of 7th and Ohio, and I loved to roam through the place for hours, looking at all the neat stuff!! There were things in there I wanted so badly. Weird gas masks, and empty brass cartridges! There were uniforms from every branch of service. Web belts, holsters. Knives, medals, and patches!
The police department was further up Ohio Street, and I stopped in there when I had a chance. Inside the door was a large frame of pictures hung on the wall. Who the pictures were of, I'll never know. I often wonder if they moved those pictures to the new location? I would sure like to look at it again.
Down 7th Street, between Ohio and Indiana, was a meat market. It was a small place, and had a cow's head hovering over the sidewalk above the door. Gosh, how many times did my mother send me to that meat market?!? I wish I could remember the name of the market.
Further down 7th Street was a magazine exchange, where they sold used pulps and comic books. This was the first time I had ever seen comic books! Comics or pulps were priced the same. Those with covers and in good condition cost a nickel. Coverless or bad condition copies were two for a nickel Oh, I loved those Bat Man and Superman comic books! I bet I held the first issues in my hand at one time, bought for a nickel at that old store. However, I never bought a pulp. Heck, I never paid them much attention at the time. Those comic books were what I was interested in. One day, I ended up with a whole quarter to spend, and bought ten comics in bad shape, stuck them inside my shirt and walked down Indiana to Kress's, where I looked through their new comic books. To my horror, when I started to leave, the woman at the counter stopped me and they pulled those comics from my shirt, thinking I had stolen them! Thankfully, it didn't take them but a minute to determine these were all second hand comic books, and let me go, but with a warning not to bring other merchandise into Kress's in the future. Believe me, I learned my lesson, and never repeated that act!
Ah, Kress's Department Store. Of all the five and dime stores downtown, I liked that store best! I loved to look through the toys and comics. I had the run of the town, and l always ended up at Kress's at some point during the day. That's where most of the "Man on the Street" people usually stood also. A "Man on the Street' being either a man with a radio mike, interviewing people. Or a man with a camera, taking pictures, and handing out cards, inviting you to come to their studio for a setting. Gosh, those were the days! It was always fun to see a radio personality interviewing someone. I even got my picture taken once outside Kress's.
The Miller Drugstore was on the comer of 8th and Ohio. The door was set back a ways; with a pillar out front, allowing a shade for the doorway. Being set back, the door actually faced both directions, and you could enter from 8th or Ohio. As you entered, on the immediate left, below a long window, was a rack of pulps and comic books. But these were new, and cost a full dime each. But it didn't stop me from looking at them. And here, I got my first real view of the Bloody Pulps. Those wonderful old action covers, whether western, science fiction or super hero titles. I especially loved the science fiction covers, but didn't have any idea what they were. Just that the covers were... fantastic, amazing, thrilling, wonderful! Straight ahead was a counter for ice cream and sodas, with stools in front, and I think the medicine window was to the far right of the counter. In the middle of the floor were a number of small tables. The chairs were actually attached to the tabletops in some way, and swung out when you wanted to sit down, and folded inward when you left. There were either two or three chairs per table. I don't really recall, but I do remember they were tiny tables. I took my first girlfriend there for an ice cream once. Our parents gave us some change and laughed as we went on our first date. We were 7 or so years old at the time. Her name was Dottie Ann Martin. I'll never forget. I eventually married a Martin girl, though she wasn't related to Dottie.
Ah, but none of these places, as exciting as they may have been, were the true wonders of downtown Wichita Falls. That honor goes to the many theaters scattered about the city at the time. As already mentioned, the Gem Theater was directly across the street from the apartment where we lived. Around the corner, on 7m, close to Indiana, was the Ritz. This theater changed names several times while I lived in the area, but I remember it as the Ritz. On the corner of Indiana and 7th was the Tower Theater, and down the street, towards the corner of Indiana and 8th was another theater, named the Texan; it came and went with the rising tide. J.C. Penney's Department Store was next door, and I remember at one time they had a type of peep show, where you looked into an enclosure at a pair of feminine legs wearing leg stockings. They were advertising the leg stockings, of course. However, I think some dirty old men would often stand there staring at those legs. Later in life, I often wondered if they were real, or if it was a mannequin in the enclosure.
Still on Indiana, between 8th and 9th, the State Theater was one of the more expensive of the movie houses, as was the Wichita Theater another block up Indiana, and around the block, where the Strand was located. These were the ones a poor kid avoided. I think the State, Wichita, and Strand cost 25 cents. The Texan was a little less expensive at 12 cents. The Tower cost a whole dime, while the Ritz and Gem were both nine cents. A quarter would get you a candy bar, popcorn, soda, and a double feature movie.
What you got at the cheaper palaces on Saturday were double features, a cartoon, and a serial, and the box office was open until closing time. You could go in during the middle of a movie and stay as long as you wished. There were days when I would spend all day in the picture show, watching the movies over and over again. Especially on Saturday mornings, you got a double feature of westerns (Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash LaRue, Hopalong Cassidy, or Durango Kid), The Bowery Boys, or jungle movies like Tarzan and Jungle Jim, and other action flicks. Gosh, those were the days!
And the serials, how great those things were! Twelve or fifteen chapters, one chapter per week, each chapter somewhere around fifteen minutes long, and each one ending in a cliffhanger, insuring you would return to that theater next week to see how the hero or heroine escaped from some death defying action the week before. Sure enough, each week, someone was bound to drive off a cliff, or be knocked out in a house burning to the ground. You just knew the hero was going to die. But next week, miraculously he or she would escape - until the end of the current chapter, when another death trap popped up to snare our luckless hero!
In 1948, I think I watched the ultimate serial for an 8 year-old boy. Superman. For fifteen chapters, one week at a time, I thrilled to my comic book hero on the movie screen. I didn't think it could ever get any better than that! I remember the day of the final chapter, as we got up to leave the theater, and we walked into the lobby and stared in awe at the giant posters plastered all over the theater. The next serial, beginning next Saturday, was Bat Man! Oh my, there they were, pictures of one of the greatest of the comic book super heroes, even more fantastic than Superman. Bat Man and Robin would be showing at the Tower Theater next week!
Either I forgot, didn't have the money to go to the Tower, or found westerns at the Gem Theater more interesting. Eight year-old boys sometimes forgot the important things in life! Whatever the case, I didn't see the Bat Man serial that year. In fact, I wouldn't see it until twenty years later, when I was waiting for a plane to take this Army soldier overseas. Stuck at an AF flight line in Northern California, waiting for our plane, we watched an all night TV station playing that Bat Man serial! I finally got to watch my hero in that exciting cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it wasn't the same as watching Superman in the Tower Theater. I would never be 8 years old again.
Those were simple times, and although we were poor, a young boy of eight could still find heroes in everyday places. Whether they were returning soldiers wearing uniforms covered with medals, or comic books at the magazine exchange, or even a fifteen chapter serial at the Tower Theater. Perhaps we can never go back, except in our memories, but I am glad I was young in a period of such fascinating times!


  1. Lash LaRue! I love him. He retired to a small town near me--Gaffney, SC--and I got to meet him in the early 80s and shake his hand. What a thrill!
    Love your blog,

  2. Gail Sweetie! I met Lash LaRue around 1950, when he and Fuzzy St John came to the Memorial Auditorium in Wichita Falls. I will post a piece about that in a week or so. My dad was in the hospital at the time, and Lash and Fuzzy visited all the patients at the hospital before the evening's show.