Old Red Museum
100 South Houston St.
It’s hard to believe Dallas once deemed its nineteenth century courthouse an “eyesore.” True, the courthouse turned museum looks more like a Disney World castle on steroids than anything at home on the Texas prairies. Built of bright red sandstone, capped by a ninety-foot clock tower, surrounded by enough turrets to turn McMansion dwellers green with envy, it flaunts its distinctiveness.
Does the 1890’s Romanesque style of the building nicknamed “Old Red” clash with the austere façade of the Kennedy memorial next door? With the pioneer Bryan log cabin across the street? With the warehouses of the nearby Sixth Floor Museum building and neighboring West End? That’s its charm.
Although outdated as a courthouse, Old Red’s fans reinvented it in the twenty-first century’s first decade as a museum of Dallas County history. Inside, its second floor galleries trace the story of this piece of land from prehistory through the present.
There’s plenty of serious stuff, but the quirky bits fascinated me most on a recent visit. Things like a letter from the Confederate government refusing to pay a ferry owner for her work on the grounds of “funds not available.” A cautionary note for victims of current succession fever?
Then there's a Ku Klux Klan mask reputed to belong to a local, although unnamed minister. The notebook of interviews with witnesses to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Aftermath footage of the ambush death of Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
I loved the interactive touch screens, which included the Dallas Morning News front page coverage of Bonnie and Clyde’s death scene illustrating this post. (But if you’re visiting with small children, you’ll want to steer them away from film of the death car.)
Currently, only the first two floors of Old Red are open to the public. However, a guided tour of all four floors is available, generally at 2 p.m., and included in the general admission price ($8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-16). Call 214-757-1949 to verify tour times.
You can pay an additional $2 for nearby parking, or walk, as I did, from one of the nearby DART stations -- West End or Union Station. Old Red is open daily from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. It’s closed Thanksgiving Day but open the Friday after Thanksgiving. For additional information, group reservations and Sunday discounts, see www.oldred.org/.