Day 17 – Let a Map be your Muse
If you take a flight into DFW International airport, you’ll take I20 headed east from the Big D and within two hours you’ll come to Hwy 110 where you’ll take a right and follow the signs until you come into E Front Street in Downtown Tyler. Take another right at the light and in less than a mile you’ll turn left into the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden Complex at the corner of E. Front and Rose Park Dr. The Rose Garden Complex is the place that houses all the history of the East Texas rose industry. When I was a sophomore in college, I applied to film school which meant that I had to make a movie for submission with my application. So I went there with my video gear and the staff was more than happy to accomodate. At the time, they had over 450 varieties and many more on the way to being approved for inclusion as new species of rose.
The Rose Capital of the World was not always so hyped up about roses. In 1846, the year that Texas was accepted as a new state into the Union (a controversial decision), Tyler was founded as the Smith Couty seat. This is only 10 years after the Republic of Texas won the revolution by capturing General Santa Anna and his Mexican army. Of course, my friends from Monterrey Mexico would tell a different story. In their history classes, they were taught that Santa Anna never had the authority to surrender on behalf of the Mexican government, and accordingly, they say, Texas still belongs to them. Tyler, from its inception till the 1890’s was a thriving community, nearly on par with Houston and Austin, named after U.S. President John Tyler who supported the new Republic for statehood. Dallas Fort Worth was a cow town outpost that, it was thought, would never become anything else because they were not on a trade route. Tyler was a port city on the Sabine River making it the perfect place for a headquarters for the thriving shipping industry. And then there was also agriculture (some kind of fruit, I think). Within a few short decades, the railroads came through and bypassed Tyler in favor of the cowtown in no man’s land out west. The new rail lines took over and killed the City’s shipping business. Soon after, the agriculture industry was crippled by a blight and the city’s economy was practically ruined. By the 1920’s the city rebounded by working with the state agricultural extension office to figure out a new crop with which the farmers would rebuild their prosperity. It turns out that the region’s sandy soil is perfect for roses and that’s what the county put its resources into. Very quickly, the city was producing 80 percent of the roses sold in the U.S. (This is how Earl Campbell earned the moniker “The Tyler Rose”. (See the Video Below for a look at my first film).
Pleas excuse the the minor technical problems (The film was archived on tape).
After checking out the astounding catalogue of roses, you’ll want to tour the museum and take a gander at the $40,000 dresses worn by past rose queens during the annual Rose Parade, then push your eyes back into their sockets, jump back in the car and head east, the way you came, but don’t turn on 110. Instead follow E. Front a short distance until you get to Broadway Avenue and take a left. You’ll quickly arrive at the town square where you’ll take a right on E. Erwin street and follow the square around to the left and park. Across from the monolithic Modern courthouse (our original historical courthouse was torn down in 1955 by the county in spite of the fact that the city residents fought to keep it) on the East side of the square, you’ll see the old Arcadia Theatre. This movie and vaudeville house was build in 1925 an with its Spanish style architecture, matched up nicely with downtown’s brick roads, a historical artifact of the pre-modern era that the city chose to preserve (If only we had the old courthouse to anchor to the style of the newly restored town square….oh well). The Arcadia theatre was in operation until the 1970’s when broadcast TV had taken a significant amount of business away from the movies, and the new multiplexes started attracting folks with their more modern tech. This classic theatre is where my parents had their first date in 1972. You wouldn’t believe what movie they decided on….do you want to know? Ok….I’ll tell you….It was “Deliverance”. Ha! I’m not sure whose idea it was but I’ll bet there were some wide eyes when they got to the Sueeeeyyyy Sueeeeyyyy scene. Anyways, when I was in college the building was being used by a Pentecostal church for Sunday meetings. I was hoping that someone would restore the place back into a movie theatre, but I think its now a restaurant. After grabbing a bite to eat, jump back into the car and continue east on Front Street till you get to 155.
Take a right on 155, follow it until it turns into Troup Hwy and then pull over. There’s a Michael’s Arts and Crafts store somewhere around there (You brought your smart phone with GPS right?). Google the location and stop in for a quick stroll down through the prime arts and crafts store. Locate boy oriented isle. It’s the one stocked with nothing but model rockets, cars, and airplanes. This is where I used to buy all of my afore mentioned models as a kid…including an AH-64 Apache helicopter, a model car of some sort (it was too hard so I chunked it and can’t remember the make/model), and a Big Bertha model rocket (That sucker takes a D engine!). Purchase the model rocket of your choice, one engine (only one), and an ignition switch (the ones with the key are the coolest). Then get back into the car and head north (left) on Troup Hwy. Follow it around as it curves left to Broadway Ave. Take a left on Broadway and after less than a mile, you’ll come to Amhurst drive. Take a left and this will put you in the Green Acres neighborhood. This is my old hood where I probably rode a couple thousand miles on my bike in elementary school. After a few blocks, you’ll come to Pollard Park, one of my biking destinations. Here I used to fly kites and shoot off model rockets on the weekend, or just bum around when I was bored. You can park on the street and walk over into the park. Head straight to the middle, just in case. If you made a good choice at Michael’s, then you bought a sleek rocket that takes at least a C engine. That means it will blast so high that you probably won’t be getting it back (hence the single engine purchase). Set up your rocket on the flattest surface you can and wire that puppy up. Stand back, start rolling on your phone’s video camera and get ready for blast off. Make sure you do the T minus 10 countdown and then hit the ignition. Whoooooooo….Look at that sucker go! While enjoying every last bit of that adrenaline rush, you can watch the rocket float slowly down, down, over, over some remote area of the neighborhood, into somebody’s back yard. That’s a free rocket for some lucky kid. Now get back onto the road and head back down Amhurst till you get to Fry Avenue and take a left.
After a couple blocks you’ll get to Andy Woods Elementery School where I spent 5 years learning how to draw Ant Lions and run foot races. In the 4th and 5th grade, I place first and second (respectively) in the annual root race. The second year I was beat out by Steven Sikes. The school that you’ll see is not the original Woods Elementary. The old school was torn down sometime around 2010(ish). It’s a shame because it was a cool school with lots of style. There was a 4th grade annex that was an octagon with eight classes around the outside and a 9th room in the middle, separated from each of the classes by a rolling divider. It wa sort of built into a dugout on one side of the school yard, surrounded by red brick walls (red brick is sort of Tyler’s thing because between the wide swaths of sandy soil are deep pockets of red clay). The 9th room of the annex was the computer lab where we spent an hour every Friday on original Macintosh computers playing learning games…that is, if you didn’t get into trouble (I spent my share of Friday’s sitting out computer time. I blame this faulty disciplinary logic for my lack of math skills). When planning the new school, I think the deal was that the district was supposed to preserve this unique set of classrooms when they built the new building, but when I drove by last I think it was gone….oh well). There’s no need to get out, but being in the place will help you imagine the old single story school with its red brick accents and mid century architecture. As you cruise a full circuit around the school, you’ll drive past the various intersections transversed by crosswalks. One year I got to be on the crossing guard squad before and after school (this was an exclusive honor. I wore my orange vest with pride and carried my crossing guard flag like it was made of gold).
After soaking in the nostalgia, jump back on Amherst and head East over to Jan Avenue. Take a left on Jan and go all the way to the top of the hill then turn the car around. This was my favorite place to ride my bike because its a pretty steep hill that goes on forever. It was a massive pain to get to the top because the last part gets super steep and there’s no car dropping you off when your 8. But once I got to the top it was all down hill from there (Pardon the Pun). Now head down the hill and imagine you’re eight years old on a bike without a care in the world because its Saturday and you don’t have any homework to do and you have a whole day to just explore and have fun…maybe ride over to the park or down to the Green Acres Baptist Church family life center for a game of ping pong and a couple rounds of Castlevania. Then there’s still daylight enough to meet up with your buddy who lives a couple blocks a way. No doubt, he’s still grinding away at the latest level of Kid Icarus on his Nintendo and you want to stop in to be sure he’s making progress (You beat the last level and gave him the code, so now the ball is in his court).
It’s been a pretty full day and you’re probably getting hungry so It’s time to get back on Broadway and take it down to Loop 323 where you’ll take a right. If you’ve never had Tex-Mex before, then you’ll have a pleasant surprise when you roll into Mercado’s, a few miles down on the left. It’s an old school enchilada joint that’s been around ever since I can remember. There are a lot more choices these day but this one has alway been a staple. It’s not the healthiest food on the planet but, man, its good. If you want to stay the night, there are several B&B’s in town; a few in the historical district which is close to the square. That’s convenient if you want to check out a movie at the renovated Liberty theatre (near the Arcadia) before turning in for the night.
I hope you enjoyed your tour. Thanks for stopping by and have a safe trip back.