When we come across a preservation success story like the Eagle Ford School, we take heart that Dallas is regaining its historic soul. There’s honestly not enough champagne to drown our sorrows over the homes and buildings we’ve seen recklessly torn down.
But, today we are celebrating the imminent granting of landmark status to the Eagle Ford School. So, we are going to regale you with some tales that include Model Ts, a legendary train robber, and the notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde.
There is much that is historically significant about this little schoolhouse built in 1923 atop Chalk Hill Road in West Dallas. To give you an idea, the application for landmark status is 28 pages long. It was written by preservationist architect Marcel Quimby who summarized the importance of the school beautifully:
While the community of Eagle Ford is now part of the City of Dallas, its early history as a cattle shipping point, agricultural background, and its cement plants (which were among the largest in Texas), and the community’s combination of Mexican American and Anglo heritage is remarkable. The Eagle Ford School is associated with the historic communities of Eagle Ford, Arcadia, and the ‘company town’ of the Trinity Portland Cement Company — whose children attended the school.
Eagle Ford School remains as the only physical reminder of these communities in what is now the City of Dallas. It is rare that an almost 100-year-old building in a rural setting still retains such strong, diverse associations today. It is also thought that this is the only remaining school building in Dallas whose students included children who grew up and lived in a ‘company town.’ This community, most especially the workers of the Trinity Portland Cement Company, helped to shape and build the City of Dallas we know today.
Guiding this imposing gothic revival building out of a desperate state of disrepair took some serious serendipity and a dedicated team effort.
Over the years, former Eagle Ford students would stop by and check in on the state of their old elementary school. Those students were determined to save the building where they forged lifelong friendships. Many are also committed preservationists who are members of the Dallas Mexican American Historical League.
Rosemary Hinojosa, a former student who is a board member of the DMAHL, has lovely memories of her elementary years at Eagle Ford.
“I started school there in 1956 as a first grader. There was no cafeteria. We brought our lunch and a mason glass jar full of milk. We had an old-time soda machine fridge to keep it cold. The only hot meal was on Thanksgiving when it was brought over from the Gabe P. Allen School, a few miles away. There was a merry-go-round in front of the school on the right-hand side that was our only play equipment. You will see an entrance marked girls and one marked boys. By the time we attended, all the children entered through the front door.”
“We decided that the building was too important to lose,” former student Albert Valtierra said. “You have to be careful with preservation. If the owner of a building does not want it landmarked and finds out someone is proposing it, he is liable to tear it down overnight.”
The Colorful History of Chalk Hill
The Eagle Ford School had been through a few owners that had no interest in the lengthy process of applying for landmark status. And, let’s face it — not that long ago, Chalk Hill is where stolen cars were dumped. The little schoolhouse was regularly used for target practice. The windows had been removed and bricked over and the flooring ripped out.
Randy Dumse was drawn to the dramatic façade. He didn’t need more than a bare-bones warehouse space for his microprocessor business. Along with a serviceable workspace, Dumse gained some colorful stories about the old Eagle Ford School.
The owner before Dumse is said to have found Bonnie Parker’s report card in the basement. He was confident that both Bonnie and her future partner in crime, Clyde Barrow, attended grade school here. The card was lost, but this story rings true as we know Parker’s grandparents lived in Eagle Ford. A few years ago, an aunt of hers stopped by wanting to see Bonnie’s old school.
Chalk Hill was a rough neighborhood when Dumse purchased the school, and it had been since the turn of the century. Dumse was told about outlaw and train robber Sam Bass hanging out in the area back in the 1900s. “There are unsubstantiated rumors of a treasure he buried nearby,” Dumse said.
On a lighter note, the former safecracker Dumse hired to work on the interior of the Eagle Ford school had a great story. If you had a new Model A or T automobile, you’d take it out to Chalk Hill. If you could make it up the hill without shifting gears, it was considered a good car.
Dumse sold the school building to Larry Moser, and that’s where we find a bit of serendipity. Moser saw the cell tower on the property and thought if he could turn the building into usable space, he’d have a pretty good investment.
“I didn’t know anything about the history of the Eagle Ford School when I bought it,” Moser said. “As we started cleaning it up to rent out as a storage facility, people started showing up and telling us a bit about the school. It was interesting because our family has been in Dallas for many years. My great grandfather came from Switzerland in 1874 and rode the train until it stopped. That stop was the city of Eagle Ford, Texas.”
Serendipity of Ownership
As luck would have it, the Perot family bought the land around the Eagle Ford School and began building warehouses. Amazon is building a 2 million-square-foot warehouse nearby. The upside of this is more visibility and more security in the area.
Increased security, stable neighbors, and keen local interest made it clear the school should be preserved. It was also evident it should become a place the community could use again.
“We had a reunion at the school building, and about 30 former students showed up with their friends and families,” Moser said. It became clear an event space was the right incarnation for the building.
One of the sweetest stories about the Eagle Ford school happened recently. Henry Martinez had attended the grade school. As the Landmark Committee was visiting recently, a cavalcade of cars came by.
“It was a funeral procession for Henry,” Moser said. “They stopped the procession in front of the school. We lowered our flag. It was quite a moving moment for those in the procession, and me. Henry was in his 90s and used to come by almost every week and check out the progress.”
There are so many more stories we could tell you about this beautiful little schoolhouse. But, the best thing you can do is see it, have an event there, and help the community support the new life of this historic building.
On August 14, when the final signature hits the landmark paperwork, we’ll lift another glass to those that fight to preserve our history.
The Moser family has done an outstanding job of reinventing the school as an event center called, of course, The Schoolhouse. This significant part of the West Dallas community’s past is now ready to be an important part of its future.
Eagle Ford School is officially a landmark!
Karen Eubank is the owner of Eubank Staging and Design. She has been an award-winning professional home stager and writer for over 25 years. Karen teaches the popular Staging to Sell class and is the creator of the online course, The Beginners Guide to Buying Wholesale. Her love of dogs, international travel, champagne, and historic homes knows no bounds. Her father was a spy, so she keeps secrets very well! Find Karen at www.eubankstaging.com