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Where Are Our Wits?
Explore even more extraordinary signage...
The signage and statues illustrated in Frances Yllana's Columns magazine article, At Our Wit’s End, have a rich history and fanbase. Some inspire more “water-cooler-worthy” and “did-you-know…” chatter:
Centennial Liquors / Stemmons Highway and Walnut Hill Lane
The Centennial Liquors' 38-foot tall Big Tex homage was originally built in 1958 for the Big D Value Mart, which got the State Fair's permission to use Big Tex's character. When the mart closed in 1962, Centennial Liquors bought the sign and changed the lettering. In 1985, the sign was destroyed by heavy winds, and rebuilt. In 1993, the sign was moved to the Stemmons location, which closed in 2012. After the property was sold in 2015, the booze-swindling Big Tex was sold to the State Fair of Texas, and is now on display at Fair Park during the fair. If you can't wait for September, check out the Hulu the pilot of AMC's "Halt & Catch Fire." AMC paid for the sign's restoration in 2013 for filming, with the owner's permission. More detail on that part of the statue's history here.
“Sonny the Steer” at Charco Broiler Steak / Jefferson Ave, Oak Cliff
Charco Broiler Steak has been at its current location, 413 W Jefferson Blvd in Oak Cliff, since 1963. "Sonny the Steer" is located on the restaurant's roof, and is one of many fiberglass bull statues you can find across the country, as beacons for the sirloins they serve in the restaurants they're calling you into. For more bull, check out the pages of rich history of these statues and the many breeds produced at http://www.roadarch.com/critters/bulls2.html or visit the restaurant yourself here.
“Tango Frogs” at Taco Cabana / Lower Greenville Ave.
The three frogs now installed at the Taco Cabana on lower Greenville, were originally installed on the roof of the Tango Club in Dallas (thus, the name "Tango Frogs"). There were originally six ten feet tall frogs, produced in 1983 by Bob "Daddy-O" Wade. Made of urethane and steel, they violated Dallas' sign regulations because of their size and placement, but Dallas rallied to keep them. Since the Tango Club's closing in 1984, the six frogs have tangoed across multiple locations after being sold at auction, from the Carl's Corner truck stop an hour south of Dallas to Chuy's, to Houston, TX and even Nashville, TN. In 2014, three of the frogs were reunited to the original rooftop location which now houses the Taco Cabana. Photo via http://www.roadarch.com/critters/reptile.html
Mercantile National Bank Weather Tower / Downtown Dallas, Main St.
The Mercantile National Bank Building was completed in 1942, and the weather tower above it makes it more than just a historic landmark in downtown Dallas. It's actually a weather beacon. The clock tower, which replaced an illuminated tower built for KERA radio broadcasts in 1958, is a 115-foot-tall ornamental spire with four twenty-foot clocks. LED lights replaced the clocks' original neon in 2007. When the temperatures are predicted to rise, the white light rings flash upward, and they flash downward when expected to fall. The star at the top glows green when weather is predicted to be fair and red when the forecast is inclement.
Beef House Restaurant / Garland, TX
Beef House Restaurant has been a Garland area staple for decades. Besides all the wit it serves with the signage, it also offers characteristic Southern fare 24/7 as a classic, no-frills diner. Visit the restaurant yourself at 3110 Saturn Rd #103 Garland, TX 75041, and check out the collection of photos of this and other great vintage signs here.
Reddy Kilowatt / Power & Light (DP&L) Substation
Reddy Kilowatt was the corporate spokesman for electricity generation in the United States and other countries for over seven decades. Reddy's first appearance was in March 1926 in an advertisement in The Birmingham News for the Alabama Power Company, and was the brainchild of Ashton B. Collins, Sr., who believed the best way to win new customers—especially the frugal and skeptical farmers and small business owners in rural America—was to give electricity a more human face. Even though virtually all major cities and towns in North America were powered by electricity in the mid-20's, almost 90 percent of farms in the United States were still without access to electric service. The Reddy near you is located at Dallas Power & Light (DP&L) Substation converted to a home. Check out more of Reddy's—and electricity’s—rise via Wikipedia or the ReddyKilowatt.org fan page.
Ready to explore?
For more detail and images of the signage and statues illustrated in the Wit feature, visit the Dallas detail of the Roadside Architecture site, where you can find hundreds of pages of signage and statues from across the country. Additionally, explore the Society for Commercial Archaeology photo gallery at www.sca-roadside.org/sca-photo-gallery. Established in 1977, SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape.
Are we losing our wit and sense of humor as we strip signs and neighborhoods of their playfulness? Frances Yllana explores this and much more in At Our Wit's End.
We asked a handful of Dallasites what memories they held of memorable signage past and present. Read their responses here.