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The Future of North Texas Toll Road Debt and 9 Other Things We Learned from Curious Texas in 2019

North Texas is a weird and wonderful place. Last year, hundreds of Texans asked Curious Texas questions about their community and the great state of Texas.

Curious Texas is an ongoing project of The Dallas Morning News which invites you to join our reporting process. The idea is simple: you have questions, and our journalists are trained to track down the answers.

From Southern candy traditions to exploring parts of Dallas history, here are the top 10 curious Texas questions asked by readers in 2019.

Old Dallas police cars are stored in the old Hensley Field. (Vernon Bryant/staff photographer)

Reader Mark Blake noticed hundreds of cars sitting on the runways and taxiways of the former Dallas Naval Station, also known as Hensley Field. The station has been closed for 21 years and has served as a storage facility for the City of Dallas for the past 16 years.

Nina Pham’s dog was kept there after the nurse contracted Ebola in 2014. The Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee was stored there in a plywood and plexiglass crate after it was removed from Lee Park in 2017. Curious Texas discovered that more than 1,000 out-of-service vehicles were parked there in March.

The city had hoped to turn Hensley Field into something more than a storage facility, but much of the land was found to be toxic. The news reported in May Dallas view Hensley Field as a zone of opportunity. At the time, the Town Hall’s Planning & Urbanism department began looking for firms to draw up a plan for the former naval air base.

Charlie Villasana once owned this home at 2814 Harry Hines Blvd.  (Tom Fox/staff photographer)
Charlie Villasana once owned this home at 2814 Harry Hines Blvd. (Tom Fox/staff photographer)(Tom Fox / personal photographer)

While driving on Dallas North Tollway, Samuel Scott noticed that, unlike most developments along Harry Hines Boulevard, there was a small white house across from Pike Park. Scott asked Curious Texas: What’s the story behind the house?

The house was built in 1940 and belonged to Charlie Villasana, one of the last landowners in the little Mexico of Dallas. It was purchased by Harwood International in April and its plans are still unknown.

The house has seen many parts of Dallas history, including community gatherings in Pike Park after the Santos Rodriguez murder and the development of the city’s Victory Park and Uptown neighborhoods.

The Little Mexico Village apartments in Dallas were built in the early 1940s to replace...
The Little Mexico Village apartments in Dallas were built in the early 1940s to replace cabins in the area. (Shaban Athuman / personal photographer)

Adding to the history of the neighborhood are the Little Mexico Village apartments on the northern border of downtown Dallas. Mateo Perez wondered why the apartments were there, especially since they contrasted so dramatically with the high-rise buildings and bars in the neighborhood.

Before being called “Little Mexico”, the neighborhood was a Jewish community called “Little Jerusalem”. It began to change in the 1920s during the Mexican Revolution when Hispanic families began moving to the area. The apartments were built in 1942 to replace the cabins in the area. The project is owned and operated by the Dallas Housing Authority, which provides affordable housing for low-income families in North Texas.

The City of Dallas has designated this waterfall a "extremely significant sign."
The City of Dallas has designated this waterfall as “an extremely significant sign.”(Louis DeLuca / personal photographer)

Former Curious Texas reporter Elvia Limón has often wondered about the story behind the giant billboard cascading over Stemmons Freeway, north of downtown. The billboard was designed by Tracy-Locke and built in 1962 for the Pearl Brewing Co. of San Antonio. At 45 feet tall, it has been hailed as the “the largest beer brand in the United States” at the time.

The billboard usually advertises beer or cigarettes, and is also the location for parties and engagement photos. The city of Dallas called the billboard an “extraordinarily significant sign” in 2007, and it was renovated a year later. The updated waterfall billboard was joined by The Alexan – a luxury apartment complex – in 2017.

The North Texas Transportation Authority owes some $9.3 billion in bonds, with a projection...
The North Texas Transportation Authority owes some $9.3 billion in bonds, with an expected repayment date of 2052, an agency spokesperson said.(Vernon Bryant / staff photographer)

Toll roads have existed in North Texas since the opening in 1957 of the Dallas Fort Worth Tollway, better known as Interstate 30. We learned that the tollway became free in 1977 , so Mike Hernandez asked Curious Texas when the remaining toll roads in North Texas would be paid for.

It is no longer a statewide practice to deem roads toll free after they have been paid for, says the North Texas Transportation Authority on its website. An agency spokesperson said the NTTA owed about $9.3 billion in bonds and the payment date was 2052.

Sixty percent of the tolls collected on the roads are used to repay obligations, 23% are used for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the roads and 17% are reinvested in system expansion and projects. Current projects include expanding the Bush Toll Highway and the addition of a fourth lane to the Sam Rayburn Toll.

Dallas did not become a permanent settlement until 1841.
Dallas did not become a permanent settlement until 1841. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

As a city that is not near a port and does not act as an entrance to a mountain pass, Jared Weadon asked Curious Texas: Why does the city of Dallas exist?

Dallas did not become a permanent settlement until 1841. John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas, heard of uninhabited lands called the Three Forks of Trinity, which we now know as North Texas. He went to see the area for himself before persuading other families to settle along the east bank of the Trinity River.

There were instances of horse and property theft in the early days of Dallas. And the city was flooded in 1849, 1854 and 1866 causing great destruction to the city and leaving many people homeless.

A rail transit system kept Dallas from becoming another ghost town. The push for a rail system in Dallas led to the construction of Union Station in 1916and at its peak, more than 100 trains per day and 250,000 passengers per month passed through the terminal.

Hot Dr Pepper got its start in the 1960s, according to The News archives.
Hot Dr Pepper got its start in the 1960s, according to The News archives. (File photo 2018 / Vernon Bryant)

An anonymous reader asked Curious Texas about the history of hot Dr Pepper, an alleged Southern tradition.

Hot Dr Pepper got its start in the 1960s, according to The news’ archives. Someone has suggested that soda could be heated in a pot and served on winter days, but the person behind this idea is unknown.

Some believe the origin of the hot drink was a marketing ploy, while others claim it was prescribed as a children’s version of a toddy. Regardless of its origin, the drink has been a North Texas staple for decades. According to The news’ archives.

It's the 10th anniversary of the demolition of Reunion Arena.
It’s the 10th anniversary of the demolition of Reunion Arena. (File Photo/Staff)

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Reunion Arena. The venue was home to the Dallas Stars, Dallas Mavericks and the now defunct Dallas Desperados arena football team.

A reader named Katrina texted us asking why the well-known venue had closed.

The Dallas City Council began considering La Reunion’s closure in the early 2000s after financial reports showed it was losing millions in revenue. The decline was due to the 2001 opening of the American Airlines Center about a mile to the north.

Council members voted to close the arena in the summer of 2008 after years of financial loss. Its roof officially came down in November 2009.

The Dallas Country Club membership process is not widely known.
The Dallas Country Club membership process is not widely known.(Lynda M. Gonzalez / Staff Photographer)

The Dallas Country Club is known as a playground for some of the city’s elite. Although the club is located in a densely populated area, its membership process is not widely known.

The club declined to comment on the size of its waiting list or explain its membership process, citing the club’s status as a private entity. But in our reporting, we discovered that a black man named Kneeland Youngblood waited 13 years to become a member.

avid golfer magazine ranked Dallas Country Club eighth on its 2019 list of the best private country clubs in D-FW, concluding that “what makes it great” is its exclusive membership. Brook Hollow Golf Club, another Dallas mainstay, was also on the list. The magazine says the wait for Brook Hollow membership can be more than a decade.

Bobbie Wygant, shown with actor/comedian Jerry Lewis, was a longtime famed journalist for...
Bobbie Wygant, shown with actor/comedian Jerry Lewis, was a longtime famed reporter for KXAS-TV (NBC5), formerly known as WBAP-TV.(Excerpt from the book Talking to the Stars / Courtesy of Bobbie Wygant)

Wayne Johnson of Dallas noted that KXAS-TV (NBC5) was known as WBAP-TV decades ago before the Federal Communications Commission forced it to change its call letters. Meanwhile, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) continues to have a call sign beginning with a W. Johnson asked Curious Texas for an explanation.

In 1921, the federal government began assigning call signs beginning with a K to western stations and a W to eastern ones. At that time, the border placed Texas on the east side.

The Mississippi River did not become the divide between Stations K and W until two years later. Stations that were created before the change were allowed to keep their old call signs.