SPOILIN’ THE BROTH
Neighbor Grover sez the Indians were here first because they had reservations. W hen the walls came tumbling down a couple of weeks ago, severely damaging five buildings in one downtown block, those buildings brought back a flood of memories to us long-toothed natives.
Not trusting my memory to call up some of their histories, I went to my friend (heck, he’s everybody’s friend) Cliff Simms. Cliff is a native. We share a birthday, only he was born seven years earlier. He’s blessed with one of those rare computer brains that was a computer long before there were computers. He also has total recall.
Cliff has many fields of expertise: racehorse bloodlines, traditional jazz music, local family bloodlines, and Rockdale history.
So it was no surprise that Cliff clicked off some histories of those damaged buildings. You can thank Cliff for most of these facts:
Frank Haley contributed the first when it was his Mafair Department Store in the 1940s. Q.W. Joiner (Quintus Joiner) ran The Mafair after that.
The J.B. White Store chain headquartered in Jacksonville (TX) occupied the building later for many years, before moving up to the Vogel Building which is now part of the city library. You will remember John Ballard and Tom Brown as two of the J.B. White Company proprietors. John later owned and operated Ballard Carpets Etc.
Olde Tymes Friends Antiques, 117 East Cameron Avenue—This is the building with the ornate checkered brick work above its awning and transoms. It was for many years a Western Auto store, owned by E.S Dillen who later built a new, larger store which is now Snap Fitness across from Brookshire Bros. super market on West Cameron.
The old downtown Western Auto building later housed a number of businesses. Ernie Cates Jr. started the forerunner to his Texas Medical Distributors in that location before moving to much larger facilities on US 77 north. AAA Medical Oxygen Supply (now located in the old Walmart building), was formerly in that downtown building.
Cameo Insurance and Old Tymes Friends Antiques sustained the most damage from the firewall collapses and may have to be razed.
Not damaged—The vacant two-story building on the corner, which old-timers remember as a Rexall drug store for decades with Dr. T.S Barkley’s offices upstairs, was not damaged by the wall collapse.
Also undamaged was the two-story building adjacent to Olde Tymes, best remembered as Prewitt Drug Store which housed a dentist’s office upstairs and then the first Alcoa hiring office in the early 1950s. (Billy Gest of our town was the first Alcoa hire in that office.)
Switching our attention from the Cameron Avenue businesses, let’s look at the damaged buildings on Main Street, left-to-right as you look at that top photo:
Cliff’s Tavern, 218 North Main Street—This building next to the alley sustained damaged to its adjacent courtyard area. Co-owner Mark Clark retained the name after he purchased the firm from Cliff Simms who bought it in 1971.
Prior to that, the tavern was owned and operated for 17 or 18 years by Terry Daniels. Before that, H.B. Smith was the proprietor. And reaching way back, Simms recalls that the building was Morosko’s Cafe, owned and operated by August Morosko.
The courtyard area, when it was a fullfledged building, housed a small jewelry store, Mize Jewelers, and before that a liquor store owned by Tracy Longmire and Floyd Foster.
Ram Optical, 208 North Main— This building was long a women’s apparel store owned and operated by Katie Lee McCoy Wooley. It was also a women’s department store, Viv-Ray’s, owned and operated by Vivian Haddox of Milano.
O’Barr-Rost Realtors, 204 North Main—This business has relocated across Main Street to the historic and recently restored P.H. Perry Building. But the damaged 204 North Main property has quite a history, dating back to Ben Loewenstein’s Dry Goods store.
It was still operated by Mr. Loewenstein’s widow, Lena Loewenstein, in the 1940s when Linwood C. Mehaffey of Palestine, just back from World War II, purchased the building. It became the first Mehaffey’s Department Store. Mr. Mehaffey later operated a much larger store for decades at 215 East Cameron Avenue, now the site of Perry Perry Builders (in the designated Mehaffey Building).
Cliff and I realize we have left some gaps, likely omitted the names of some other businesses that occupied the spaces at various times. Be glad to make additions and amendments.