A STARCK REALITY, THE GREG McCONE STORY
A Starck Reality
Greg McCone’s journey from swashbuckling pirate to GM of Dallas’ grandest club’
Interview by Paul Heckmann
Paul Heckmann: Hi Greg. Thanks so much for inviting me over.
Greg McCone: You bet. I really enjoy your interviews.
Paul Heckmann: Greg, can you tell me a little bit about your history in Dallas?
Greg McCone: I moved to Dallas in the seventh grade. I went to parochial school, St. Monica on Walnut Hill Lane, and then later Jesuit for four years and went to college at Tech and then at North Texas. I didn’t really find that I was that comfortable in that scenario, so I ended up going to work. I opened the Sears Valley View store and worked for four or five years there in commission sales. That kinda got old, their commission structure changed and I was anxious to move on.
I had a friend that worked at Steak and Ale and said, why don’t you come over here and be a waiter? At 25 years old, I was not highly interested in it because it involved wearing buckles on my shoes, puff pants and scarves and looking like an English pub guy. I did take the job and, on Day 1, I loved it. I stuck money in my pocket at the end of every day and within a week I had learned to eat my steak medium rare charred instead of well done.
Very quickly, I became a bartender at Steak and Ale and worked there in the daytime and not too long after I moved to Mariano’s at night. Mariano had opened maybe a year or two earlier but he had maybe not invented the frozen margarita mixes yet but applied a Slurpee machine to make frozen margaritas en masse.
Paul Heckmann: And that’s the one that sits in the Smithsonian?
Greg McCone: That is the one that now today sits in the Smithsonian. I’m sure it’s probably a Slurpee machine from a 7-11 somewhere.
My brother, Tom, and I were two of the bartenders and at this time, Mariano’s bar was just blowing and going. A lot of Latino business, South American, and great Latino bands. And we were serving upwards of 50-60 gallons of margarita a night. Unfortunately you have a 5 gallon machine and so you use it up and all of a sudden you’ve got 30 minutes where you don’t have anything. So, we came to the conclusion that the right choice was to have two machines.
Paul Heckmann: Sure.
Greg McCone: So, we ended up doing that. And business just exploded. But along that time, the Getty family decided to open some restaurants in Dallas and so they opened Pepe Gonzalez on Greenville Avenue, two Captain Cooks restaurants and Don the Beachcomber. I went to work as a bartender there, had a great job bartending Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night from 4:00 p.m. to midnight and I’m off the rest of the week so it was pretty comfortable. I got to play a lot of golf and enjoy life, but at a certain point, I decided to sort of jump off the top of the bartending ladder and on to the bottom of the management ladder.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, ya dummy! (laughing)
Greg McCone: One day, I was a bartender working 21 hours a week and the next day, I had 85 employees and I am working 104 hours a week for half the money.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, my gosh. That is management.
Greg McCone: Yeah. But what happens is you very quickly find out what you are made of. I guess my management expertise jumps right up because I look around and find that the main thing your employees are looking for from a manager is an answer. I’ve got this problem, what do I do about it? If you give me an answer, it is a done deal, but if you just blow me off or give me a lame answer, nothing gets done. So, if nothing else, I’ll give you an answer, no matter what the subject is. I might be wrong and I’ll know better the next time, it came down to trying to make everything work right.
And so, ultimately, what happened was I spent about eight months with that group and then took over the Bachman Lake restaurant and ran that for four years. We probably had the biggest happy hour in the city in ’76, ’77, ’78. Southwest Airlines had just started and they were all in the bar every afternoon. We had bands from South America and Vegas show bands playing and it was great fun, but about that time, I said I’m gonna go see if I can do what I do in a place that I don’t know anybody. So I left and moved to Houston and took over and ran a private nightclub down there for about two years. Houston was the home of Elan’s and they were our main competitor. Saturday Night Fever was in all the theaters and John Travolta was over at Gilley’s filming Urban Cowboy. One year later all these clubs couldn’t tear down their mirror balls fast enough to be replaced by longhorns, mechanical bulls and rope.
Abby and I had gotten married shortly after my move to Houston and I guess we missed Dallas so we moved back and I started running the restaurants at the Amfac DFW airport hotel.
After working half a dozen different places, I got involved with a group that wanted to rebuild the Ambassador Hotel downtown. I was the food and beverage director and we got to the point of everything being bought, furniture, kitchen equipment, china/glass/ silver and these guys went into bankruptcy. So, they kept me on board, paying my salary, while they tried to come out of bankruptcy and in the meantime, I started doing consulting work around the Southwest. I went to Baton Rouge and spent a couple of months down there helping set up Drusilla Seafood Restaurant, which I understand is still open today. The other employee that the owners of the hotel kept on staff through the bankruptcy was a sales director who was from California, and her cousin was a girl named Christina de Limur who was working with Blake Woodall with a new concept club, the Starck Club.
The Brewery – strangely enough the building named The Brewery was never actually a brewery during the late 1800’s. Through the efforts of the writers of ‘North Texas Beer’ (paraphrased); ‘Dallas Brewing Company existed at the present day location at 703 McKinney building around 1890. However nothing is left of the original structures once Prohibition hit, save a 50ft artesian well and a wall that was left exposed inside the Newport Restaurant. The four story building known as The Brewery was built in 1925 for Morgan Warehouse and Industrial, who was owned by the same folks behind Dallas Brewing Company. Once Newport’s and Draft Picks closed in 2011, the well was capped for liability reasons.’
This would have been around 1982 and Drew asked if I was interested in interviewing for that job and I said, I would be more than happy to and went and interviewed with Blake Woodall. He gave me the business plan and the blueprints and said, come back in a week and Philippe Starck will be here and we’ll all three sit down and go over it. So, that’s what happened. I met with Starck and Blake.
Philippe Starck has put together some magnificent structures but that doesn’t mean he knows the intricacies of a working bar.
There were some issues that I brought up about the blueprints to start. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that? There were some issues about the business plan that I brought up to Blake. How do you think you’re gonna get a $10.00 cover charge. Maybe a year later he said do you know how you got the job and I said no. He said, you’re the only person that asked me questions. The other three, four people I talked to said, yeah, I can do all these numbers. No problem. You went in and questioned how this was going to work.
Paul Heckmann: (laughing) Ha! As an old bar guy that has dealt with folks building clubs without ever having worked in one, I can imagine.
Greg McCone: As an example, these bars are gonna be marble. They’re terrazzo. They come up out of the floor. Well, if you have four bars in the house and one is 43 inches and one is 46 inches and one is 40 inches and the bartender is working on that bar on Friday and this bar on Saturday, he’s used to doing this and all of sudden he’s hitting the bar top.
Or he’s going to set his glass down and it’s 3 inches lower. They’ve all got to be the same height. You know? So, I went in and I said, I want every station in the entire house exactly this way.
Paul Heckmann: Right. And all the guns and bottles exactly the same.
Greg McCone: You know it. All of those things. Speed rail. Everything is gonna be in exactly the same order. I want you to be able to reach back and grab this and know where it’s gonna be Chivas without looking.
So, anyway, we still had about a year maybe, or a year and a half, of construction to go, and it was a long process. The 22,000 square feet of black marble, took four months to put in. Layers, grinding, grinding again, layer it, polish it, grinding again. On and on.
When we chopped through the floor into the basement, to put in the dance floor, there was an old still in the corner, which was removed but the whole time Prohibition Room was open the brick base platform was part of the decor.
And in the meantime, we’re choosing things like what uniform we’re gonna use and what the glassware is gonna be.
As an example, our wine list was, as I remember it, 33 champagnes. There was a house white wine in the well. There was a house red wine in the well. But if you wanted a wine list, you got champagne. And it had the house of Mumm and it had the house of Moet and it had the house of Taittinger.
Paul Heckmann: So, you are starting to work out the physical kinks of the club. Tell me about Blake Woodall.
Greg McCone: He had been working at Vent-A-Hood, his families company, and he had worked with them getting out of college but he and his twin brother, Blair had become investors and they had worked with Shannon at 8.0. About the time they got out of 8.0, Blake made a trip to Ibiza and had decided that he wanted to do something like the international clubs he had seen. He didn’t know Philippe Starck at the time.
When you start a project like this you have your idea of what you’re gonna do but sometimes reality and timing ultimately tell you what it is gonna be, right. You may open up to be country and western and cowboy and if, all of a sudden Latino music is hot, well, guess what you’re a Latino bar now whether you like it or not. You’re not gonna turn away the money, you know? You became what you should have become.
Same thing with the club. At the time, happy hour was the biggest thing in Dallas. Nobody went out late at night. I mean, you went out late at night but it was to see live music. Papagayo probably closed at 2:00 a.m. although Papagayo might not have even been around then, but let’s say Tango closed at 2:00 a.m.
So, he’s saying I want to do this international nightclub idea and I don’t even know if I know how to do that. He has a concept of it from the late night dance clubs he’d visited and I had a real good idea of what he was talking about because I had spent a lot of time in New York City going to those clubs. So, I know in New York, you don’t even go to a club until 11:00 p.m., 11:30 p.m., 12:00 a.m.
Anyway, they were talking about happy hour. They were putting together the food menu and I’m thinking, if this is late night, the food menu is not going to work. To be honest with you, the wheel was about to turn on happy hour anyway because I think they were about to cease being, you know, Mothers against Drunk Drivers probably had a lot to do with it. In my first management job, happy hour was two-for-one and in Houston, it was three-for-one, I mean, you’re setting people up for a problem.
Paul Heckmann: That is true. And there is nothing worse for a bar than to see a bunch of patrons drunk before the night crowd comes in.
So, at this point, you had met Philippe Starck.
Greg McCone: Yeah. I met him the second week.
Philippe was an artist from the get-go. He probably wore exactly the same clothes every single day, a tattered black sport coat, tattered black pants, and a tattered grey t-shirt.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, my gosh.
Greg McCone: So at various times, both Philippe Starck and Philippe Krootchey, the DJ that he brought us from Paris, were in town. And they were in and out pretty constantly for that, let’s say, 15 months that I was involved before the club opened while the construction was going on. I really enjoyed working with him, Philippe Starck was a great guy.
And it was interesting for me in those days because it was kind of a French connection in the Brewery building. The building was owned by a Frenchman and our next door neighbor was a French cafe called, Ceret. There was nothing open in downtown Dallas after 5pm except The Spaghetti Warehouse, and it had been open for 25 years probably alone. 1965 is when North Park opened and 1965 is when downtown Dallas cratered.
We’re building in 1983 and it’s 18 years later and we’re the only other ones there after 5:00 p.m. downtown. Just us, no one else. We’re building in a warehouse that’s decades old that’s filled with clothing bales 10′ thick and next to a railroad yard that’s switching railroad engines going back and forth, back and forth all night.
Paul Heckmann: A very, very odd location, to say the least.
Greg McCone: Unbelievable. But Starck’s attitude was even better using the back of the building instead of the front of the building because people have to really want to find out where it is. To me, this is reminiscent of the New York clubs again.
Paul Heckmann: A little bit.
Greg McCone: You got to go down this alley and across the tracks.
Paul Heckmann: If you build it, they will come.
Greg McCone: Exactly.
So, what did we agree upon? We agreed upon the design. It was happening. Blake and Philippe had their issues back and forth. Philippe might want to do this and Blake would say, ‘Well, the one foot I’m gaining is not worth $60,000.00 so we’re not doing that.’
Paul Heckmann: And then you’re telling both of them neither one of these ideas is gonna work because…
Greg McCone: Well, I am bringing up issues of concern but at the same time, I’m being hired to implement what it is they want to do. So, once I’ve said to them, I don’t know how you’re gonna get a $10.00 cover charge or how six toilets are gonna take care of 2,000 people on a Saturday night, I’ve alerted them to my concerns. Now it’s my job to figure out how to make it work.
Now, Starck’s answer was, this will be no problem. The men will use the ladies, the ladies will use the men’s and that’s exactly what happened.
And then, by virtue of that, it became a club inside of a club. So, there were people who might come in at 9:30 p.m., get a drink at the bar, go into the ladies room, sit down on the couch, start talking to some of your friends, and at 11:30 p.m., when you finished your third drink, you would leave the bathrooms, go out the front door, never having gone in the club.
Paul Heckmann: So, you are building the club after working on it for a year and a half. You are moving toward the opening in 1984. What were some of the issues that came up as you got closer to that opening?
Greg McCone: Without a doubt the biggest one would have been a delay that came about because Starck had to go back to France to do the Elysee Palace, which is the French White House. They hired him to design it right in the middle of the period before we opened the club, so instead of being able to open in 1982 or 1983 as we originally wanted, it didn’t open until 1984. Starck was in France most of that period which delayed us a bunch. While there was never a hard and fast date to open, in fact, the funny line I think that Christina came up with is when the press asked when we’re going to open, we would say 90 days. Then she follows it with, we just never say 90 days from when. So, that was kind of the running joke at the time because there were a lot of unknowns when you’re renovating this really old building and you’re cutting through concrete floors 13 inches thick and structural issues and then design issues. But to be honest, almost everything other than what glasses and what liquors and what champagnes at least from a design-of-the-building standpoint, everything had been designed before I got there. It just took a year and a half to two years to implement it and put it all in place.
A few things changed from the original design in that Starck had met and hired an artist to paint a little ring around each of the columns. We did open with Duke Todd’s art but, ultimately, a fella named Dan Rizzie who was good friends with Blake, was hired to paint over the columns. Additionally another artist named John Minyard duplicated his hands in pewter molds to hold toilet paper in the stalls. After half of them were missing within a few weeks we removed them and replace them with a concrete block with a napkin on top and a roll toilet paper. They lasted throughout the club.
Now, there were issues when a place evolves and when a place becomes more than what you think it’s gonna be and it may even change what you think it’s gonna be. To give you an idea, we were open probably six months and, “were you ever in the club, Paul?
Paul Heckmann: Yes, I was.
Greg McCone: Okay. So you know the billowing curtains?
Paul Heckmann: Right.
Greg McCone: Okay. For six months, we’ve got these framing spots in the middle of every what we called a quadrant. That was the area between each of the four columns. Some of them were just the aisle around the dance floor but the outer ones were seating areas with couches and loveseats. Everything is divided by these curtains. So, for the first six months we can make a bar or we can make a circle or a square or a parallelogram and we’re shining them on the curtains and it lights up the room because that light and the light fins that were on the columns, which made the curtains shimmer, were the only real lights in the room. There was no disco lighting at all. Zero. Okay. So, after about six months, we discovered you could put slides in these things. Why do we not know this? Anyway we put a slide in, and all of a sudden, now, instead of a white line or a white circle, you’ve got Grand Canyon on the curtain, and because of the shimmering and everything, the whole room is moving. So, this opens up a world to how you’re gonna decorate.
And we’ve got our own video department making videos. David Hynds and Suzie Riddle were in charge of all video production, decorations for special parties, all of the artwork for our promotions, t shirts and other memorabilia. They were also at the forefront of the Dallas Video Festival, working with Bart Weiss and almost every other video artist in the country. You must remember that video in 1984 was VHS and Beta. The club had professional 3/4 inch decks and cameras but sound and picture quality left a lot to be desired.
In the bathrooms, there are no light fixtures but walls of light from ceiling to floor. There was only an 11-inch TV over the toilet showing videos that we make, which are nonsense videos. For an example, David would lay in the back of a pickup truck and leave Dallas and Suzie would drive to Waco and he’d take pictures of the telephone lines as they went by for 200 miles. Occasionally, you’d see a bird. Crazy, you know?
Paul Heckmann: And that’s what was in the bathrooms?
Greg McCone: As soon as you opened the door, the TV came on and that video would come on.
Paul Heckmann: Wow.
But let’s put the brakes on the bathroom talk. We are getting ahead of ourselves just a pinch. Tell me about the grand opening.
Greg McCone: Well, the opening was great. I mean, it was a full house. This ticket was $125.00 to get in. It was caviar and champagne and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. And then about 10:00 p.m., Stevie Nicks and her whole band came out and played, just like having Fleetwood Mac right in front of you.
Paul Heckmann: Amazing!
Greg McCone: And she played for maybe 40-45 minutes. Six, seven, eight songs. And then back to just partying again. At about 1:30 or 2:00 a.m., Grace Jones came out and did four or five or six songs, I guess. About a 20-minute set. Great party. Everybody dressed to the nines. Now, that, for me, follows with the party six weeks later where we brought Grace Jones back for July Fourth. And we’re still finishing some construction. The cold bar downstairs hasn’t opened yet. We probably went to almost the end of the year before we got that room open.
So, we invite Grace Jones back. It’s 102 in the daytime. And at 6:00 p.m., everybody’s working and people calling, jam-packed, full house, not even selling any more tickets. And we can’t get the air conditioners on. I’ve got 15 of them and I can’t get any of them on. So, it’s not a central issue, as far as the units, it’s got to be water coming to them, electricity. Who knows what it is? Anyway, it is what it is.
So, you open up at 9:00 p.m. and everybody starts coming in and they’re just dressed to the nines in their chiffon dresses and such, and here’s Grace Jones.
And champagne. Our champagne glasses were $7.00 a glass, crystal. Romanian crystal. Every single glass we had was crystal.
Paul Heckmann: Wow.
Greg McCone: Right. In a 22,000-foot club with marble floors.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, boy.
Greg McCone: So, everyone’s drinking champagne. And it’s hot. I’m sure people that really know Grace know she’s not gonna come on until 2:00 a.m., even if some people think she’s gonna be there at 11:00 p.m. Well, the room is getting hotter and hotter and hotter because there’s no windows. There’s no real doors either. You know? So, at some point, maybe 11:00 p.m. or something, I walked to the front door and it was probably about 98 by then and that cold air hit me and gave me a shiver. It was like opening the door to the walk-in.
And then I went into the bathrooms, we had these floor to ceiling mirrors. Water was running off them, there was water all over the floor, it’s thick and it’s sweat. The humidity in these bathrooms is so dense that this waterfall was running down the mirrors and flooding the floors. No leaks of sinks or anything, just sweat.
So, anyway Grace finally comes on, does this show. It was soooo hot. Folks were there at 2am, listening to Grace Jones inside of an oven.
And these Romanian crystal glasses. I think we broke about 800 glasses that night.
Paul Heckmann: Wow.
Greg McCone: I think I had about $5,000.00 in breakage on champagne glasses alone.
But, anyway, so there I am at 5:30 a.m. The night’s over. My worse night ever in the nightclub business. And it’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m alone. I get up on the ladder and I flip that thing on and the AC kicks right in.
Paul Heckmann: Oh, no.
Greg McCone: So, there are people that will tell you that there was an assistant manager who accidentally turned all the heat on. My immediate reaction at the time was maybe somebody who is a contractor who is not getting paid fast enough or something like that. To be honest with you, I still have no idea.
But the rumor that permeated was that Grace Jones wanted the room hot as hell and said, Turn the air conditioners off. And over the years I had her five or six times and every show that we’ve done, these people say, It was so hot that night, I couldn’t even believe it. The air was only off one of those shows. But going back to the glasses, those Romanian Crystal glasses…
Paul Heckmann: The legend grows legs.
Greg McCone: Anyway there were a lot of people that said that was one of the nights that created the Starck legend.
I kinda saw things different from the inside. To me it was when we decided to open after hours, which no other clubs were doing except for Bayou Landing and the other gay clubs. There were a couple of them on Cedar Springs at the time, open until 4:00 a.m.
So, shortly after we opened, we’re doing last call at 1:40 a.m. and I discovered that the law is I can serve a drink until 2:00 a.m. But every club in town, gives it at 25 min. till 2:00 a.m. The bartenders are giving last call because they want to get it done and get started cleaning and such. Right? And so the only hitch is you’ve got to have every drink up by 2:15 a.m.
So, what I told the staff was that, starting next weekend, we’re gonna start opening after hours and we’re gonna charge $10.00 a head and we’re not gonna give a last call. We’re gonna sell a drink until 2:00 a.m. At 2:00 a.m., the bar backs come out with the bus tubs, bartenders and waitresses go around the room, pick everything up. You’ve got 12 minutes to do this in and you’re gonna have 2,200 people. Right? So, we started doing it. And the first week, I had 100 people paid after 2:00 a.m.
Well, what I told them was I want to let everybody in town at all these other clubs like Confetti and Papagayo, let them know that if you get in the door at the Starck Club before 2:00 a.m., you can get a drink. I want them racing down Central Expressway to get to my club at five minutes to 2:00 a.m. so they can get in and not have to pay the $10.00 after hours cover charge and all the other issues. Right? So, the most important part of it was we served drinks that way, which everybody got it in a short time.
Well, the first week, I had like 100 pay. The second week, we had 1,000. Right? So, I made $10,000.00 after closing, the second Saturday night we tried it. And we were giving away water. At some point, we started charging $1.00 for water after hours and we were probably charging $1.00 for a Coke or something like that. But we didn’t stop at 4:00 a.m. We kept going. And I basically said when we get less than 300 people, you can shut it down. So, it ended up being about 6 or 7:00 a.m.
After Sunday nights, you’d open the door at 8:00 a.m. on a Monday morning and 300 people would walk out in front of that club. There’s Woodall Rogers, bumper to bumper, with everybody going to start their work week. But for the Starck crowd, the sun is up and they’re all headed to after parties.
So, to me that was it, it was just weird how it created a lifestyle. Now, here’s this club that’s open until 6:00, 7:00, 8:00 a.m. Well, I’m not gonna go to my job or I’m not gonna go home and sleep. Let’s all go eat lunch. Now, let’s all go here. Okay. It’s now 6:00 p.m. Starck opens at 9:00 p.m. Let’s go shower, change clothes, and go back.
It became a four-day event, people came at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday and left at 5:00 a.m. on Monday morning. And in between, they’d go to after parties or one thing or another, but it was killing them. It was like how long can you do that? And they were all smart kids. They all figured it out. They were all eating Ecstasy and doing whatever they do. But it was addictive. If you asked them a year later, they were all in there because of the dancing and the comradery and the friends they made.
Paul: Jeez Greg. Guess you were not the favorite guy with their employers.
Greg: Ha! (laughs)
Anyway you’ve got a door list which is kinda funny because you think about a club that is maximizing on everything. If I think we’re missing $0.25 on drinks, lets go up on you know, whatever. But let’s say on a busy Friday or Saturday night, 2,800 to 3,500 people come through, 2,200 of those people were on our door list because they came in every night. They were the regulars. They come in the door and, let’s say, 70 percent to 80 percent of them the first year might have been on Ecstasy, which means they’re not drinking. Can I have water, please? Which is free. I’m giving them water in a crystal glass, letting them in free, and giving them this free to more than 50 percent of my crowd.
Now, can you imagine anybody you ever worked for at Papagayo saying, That’s cool. Don’t worry about it. They’d be going, Sounds to me like that’s $22,00.00 we didn’t get just at the door. Right?
Paul Heckmann: Knowing Duane Thompson as well as I did and speaking as one of the Managers at Papagayo, absolutely!
Greg McCone: But the people that invested in the club, they all were well off enough that this investment wasn’t gonna break them or wasn’t gonna change their lives. By the time we opened, most of the investors had gotten married and had infants and their whole lifestyles had changed. So, we open up and we open this 24-hour lifestyle and no other clubs can or want to even do that kind of a thing.
And then the evolution starts to take place. Who’s playing music? The first year, it was pretty iffy. How the front door worked was also pretty iffy because they’re trying to let in only cool people and in Dallas in 1984, there were about nine cool people. What they didn’t know is you’ve got 2,000 cool people out there that don’t know they’re cool. You’ve got to figure out how to get them into the room. So that’s what we did.
Paul Heckmann: So, who were some of the disc jockeys you had there?
Greg McCone: Okay. So, Philippe Krootchey came from Paris and he was one of Starck’s best friends and he came in and he played for about six months. He ended up leaving because he had done a music video where he starred in all the parts himself and it won the French music video of the year. So, he had to go back and accept the award and everything.
And, in the meantime, that sort of gave us the opportunity to make a change, which I felt we needed to do because he was not an American nightclub DJ. He would play the Beastie Boys but he would mix into Edith Piaf. Who knew? So, if you were having a party at your house, this is the guy you’d want playing music because he’d give you the most eclectic sound you’ve ever heard in your life. But you can only dance to three songs out of every eight because that is Philippe. Charles Aznavour is getting in the way.
So, when he left there was a fella at the club named Kerry Jagger, who was kind of a roving DJ and a good friend of Grace Jones. He was one of the important people in the development of the Starck Club, he greatly influenced what we did – and probably the person who brought Ecstasy to the club first.
Kerry Jagger – DJ
I started DJ’ng in 1975. Within a few years I was running around the country opening new clubs including coming back to Dallas for the Village Station and Old Plantation in Dallas.
I was working in New York and became good friends with Grace Jones and her sound man, Terry Friedman. He was really a one man band, did everything for her from sound & lighting to booking.
So Grace does opening night at Starck and after that Greg was talking to Terry and mentioned the DJ that had contracted with, Philippe Krootchey had returned to France as a record of his was going Top 10. So the next day I get a call just as I was about to open a new club in NYC. Terry says, ‘You need to get back to Dallas right away. There’s a new club here that needs you, get your records, get on the plane and get back here!’
So I did. And let me tell you, I was so impressed with one thing and it wasn’t the club, it was Greg McCone. He was very in tune with the whole vibe and wanted to make sure everything worked. I wasn’t used to Club Managers being so involved, I told him, ‘You are not only the best manager I ever met in the club business, you are the only manager I met in the club business!’ He makes it look so effortless, I love him.
So I worked there for about six months or so. And then I kinda conned Rick Squillante into going there. I told him my throat hurt and I couldn’t DJ and asked him to fill in for me. And that was that.
And then there was the ecstasy! A friend of mine in NYC put me on to it. It was a hot product in the city then, but not so much outside of the city. I brought it back to Dallas and the bartenders loved it. It was all still legal back then.
I gotta say this, I loved my time at Starck, but for the marble and stars and glitter and stuff, that club never would have succeeded without Greg McCone. He made it so that every time I went into that club, it was just like the first time. I loved it!
He had a friend in San Antonio he wanted to bring up, Rick Squillante. Rick started playing music no one had ever heard before. I didn’t even know what to call it. I kind of called it euro-tech or something at first. But it was things like Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Pet Shop Boys, and Sade.
All those sounds that came out of Europe, kind of like the British revolution in the early 60s.
We were listening to the Beach Boys and Evelyn Champagne King and all of a sudden, boom, you’re hit with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and the other 27 bands that came over.
So, it was the same thing. All this music hit and Rick was was not the kind of DJ who would mix and overmix. I was used to DJs who would lay Rod Stewart over something else and let it run for two minutes. And then come out of this and go into that. He wasn’t doing that at all. He was playing the absolute next perfect record, one right after the other.
Paul Heckmann: And all of a sudden you went from Viva la France to Dance, Dance, Dance!
Greg McCone: Exactly. They’re all dance tunes and people, by the thousands, are screaming and running to the dance floor because of Rick.
Now, there’s another issue that happened. We had been open about eight months, I guess it was the beginning of 1985. We held probably 1,800 people on a Saturday night, I but during the week, it might have 300 or 400 people. So, you had fairly nice nights on those nights but no real volume. And it had a lot to do with how do you dress. The French woman at the door, is she gonna let me in? I don’t want to be embarrassed. Who wants to pay $10.00? All those issues.
My roommate at the time was John Baker at KZEW told me about some openings at ‘Stars’. And I heard the operator laughing when I asked for ‘Stars’ phone number, she corrected me.
So I went down to the interview and I guess they saw something they liked as I didnt have any bar experience. They hired me as a barback. And that started a 36 year run in the bar business. A total of 7 different jobs, but the Starck Club was by far the most fun.
I loved working for Greg. He was so tolerant, as long as we got our job done. Blake was partying, the bartenders were partying, the waitresses were partying, the Salvadorian busboys were partying – and Greg was our rock, he kept his shit together. You could always depend on him to be there for you.
When Starck Club closed, Deviate opened and I worked for them, then Metronome – all under the umbrella of Starck, same location. Then I went to the Hard Rock, then Trees before heading off to Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
If I had to tell you one thing about Greg? That would be that The Starck Club would have never been the club we knew without him. He was the one that made it what it was. And that even after all these years, we are still best of friends.
One of the things we originally decided upon as a group was we don’t advertise. We don’t buy newspaper ads, magazine ads, anything else. And we are gonna be found by people by word of mouth. There is not gonna be a sign out front that says Starck Club. There never was. There was a canopy on the most distinctive front door you’ve ever seen but we didn’t have a sign. Anyway, so we’re not really doing anything to promote the club and some people are intimidated by it.
Well, in February of 1985, which we’d been open nine or ten months, KAFM Radio came to Teresa La Barbera, our PR person, and said, We have a band called Boyfriend. A local band, they just redid a Beach Boys song. We want to do a party with that band on a Monday night. We’ll bring you a couple thousand people. We’ll give you 60 or 70 radio spots. And these guys want to release this song at your club.
I have always been democratic with everybody in all of our meetings, what the group decides is what we do. I had an eight-person management meeting and a seven-person marketing meeting on Wednesday and Thursday every week. So, the group as always, decided no, we do not advertise on the radio, we don’t do newspaper ads or any of that stuff. I just said, you know, this is gonna be one time when I totally overrule you.
My thinking is that, if we get 2,000 people in this room on a Monday night, it doesn’t affect anybody that goes to the Starck Club because no one would think to come down on a Monday night. What I’m hoping is that, of those 2,000 people, 300 or 400 choose to come back the next weekend because they saw the room, they were in there, they heard the music. And if I do get 300 to come back, they’re gonna bring somebody. So that’s 600 people. So, right there, if my idea works, you’re gonna double your Saturday night to triple your Saturday night crowd in one week’s time, two week’s time.
So, we did it, everybody hated it, but exactly what I said would happen, did happen.
So at the point we’re only open 20 hours a week for liquor and I’m letting half the people in free. We did $80,000.00-some in February and in the next six months, we went $135,000.00, $175,000.00, $210,000.00, $260,000.00, $310,000.00 to $350,000.00. So, we went from $80,000.00 to $350,000.00 in seven months.
Because all of a sudden, I go to the front door people, you’ve been trying to let only the cool people in and you’ve been telling Roger Staubach he can’t come in. You wouldn’t let Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in. So we’re keeping all these people out. What I want you to do is let everyone who is appropriately dressed, in terms of our theme, let everyone in and throw out the idiots. We didn’t even have security. So, the group of people that began the Starck Legend, that 1,500 to 2,000 regulars, started coming four days a week and staying all night.
Rick was the DJ for the meat of the period that the Starck Club became ‘The Starck Club’. Other clubs started doing Starck Music Night on Monday nights. Because they didn’t know what to call that music either.
They called it Starck music. And then the music changed. Of course, Rick, as soon as it was on the radio, he’d break the record. For Rock Me, Amadeus four weeks earlier, he put it on and 2,000 people would almost kill each other running to the dance floor. So, we went probably three and a half years with Rick, and then Go-Go Mike DuPriest came to us.
And that was right about the time that Chicago house music was starting to come out. So, Mike DuPriest picked up on it and that’s where he got back into the mixing and the overlays and much more of a funkier, R&B, sort of bassist to the music as opposed to the Euro-tech synthesizer sound. Rick had more of an effect on the early Starck crowd where Mike DuPriest had more of an effect over DJs and a lot of the people who are now the heart and soul of EDM.
Paul Heckmann: Sure.
Greg McCone: And as important as Rick was to the club and to the sound that he created and was nationally and internationally known for, we had to change the sound. We had to evolve. We had to really stay ahead of the game and it was time. And as hard as it was to make that move, you know, just how do you get rid of Mickey Mantle?
Paul Heckmann: The issue with trendy clubs. They have to stay on the cutting edge
Greg McCone: So, we did. And we got another year or two out of Mike DuPriest and all that. But the entire time we were open, had a distinctive sound from all the other clubs which really made everything that much easier for us.
Paul Heckmann: So, tell me about the Edwige.
Greg McCone: Edwige Belmore was Philippe’s other best friend. He had offered Krootchey and Edwige jobs. She came up in France. Edwige was a friend of Andy Warhol, on the cover of a magazine with him. She had worked for Fabrice Emaer at La Palace in Paris, who told her, “This is your home, invite in who you want. She was also known as the ‘Queen of Punk’.
And she goes on to say, ‘You know, you don’t always want people in in a certain way. Some people are good for some nights, some people are good for other nights. But you don’t want a bad element. I once turned away the King of Sweden. You don’t want certain people in your club’.
But then she went to New York. More modeling, working the door at Studio 54, and she’s an artist and a performance artist. Does a lot of cabaret kind of stuff.
She passed away about four or five years ago. So many of the key players are gone. Mike DuPriest bought a vintage Corvette and was killed in a car wreck in northern New York State somewhere. Rick took his life. He’d been a rep A&R guy for Atlantic Records, I think, for a long time. And Krootchey died of liver failure or something. All the main characters have pretty much gone. Bob, who took over the door from Edwige and ran it for me all those years, died of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Paul Heckmann: But you’re still here.
Greg McCone: Yeah. But it’s like a junkyard dog though, it’s getting harder and harder to get around. I told my wife about two weeks ago, I said, You know, no matter where I am anymore, like sitting at my desk and I’ll stand up to go do something, and the first 15 steps are like, ugh. And once I get about 15, 16, I’m standing up straight and then everything’s fine.
Paul Heckmann: I’m with ya brother. But nobody wants to hear our medical history. Plus you and I already have several hours of tape. Why add another week or two? (wink, wink, nod, nod)
So, you are three years in and the craziness kind of starts, doesn’t it? The Ecstasy, the bathrooms, the crazy. Tell me about the bathrooms a little more. You spoke of them a little bit, about the videos.
Greg McCone: Exactly. I think, to a certain extent, I operated a lot by faith but also sometimes wearing blinders. I don’t want to look over there because I might have to deal with something I don’t want to deal with. To be honest with you, the entire situation in the bathrooms, club, everything was handled so maturely by all these kids, it is stunning to look back at.
And just to give you an example, I had no security for two years. We didn’t even turn the lights up to pick up the glasses at 2:00 a.m. Everybody came out from behind the bar and went through the room and, if they walk by you, you put your glass in the bus tub. You didn’t go, Come back in a minute.
The development of the entire artistic side of the club, which was fostered by the hairdressers and the art gallery owners and the really hip, cool people in Dallas, was the beginning of the mingling of all these actors and rock stars and the clientele from the club. That their friends are going, Hey, you’re going to a gay club. You go, What do I care? It’s a cool place. So, you started getting that mingling together of these different lifestyles.
And because the club was so big, you could easily get into your own groups if that’s what you wanted. But everybody just became homogenized together. And so if there was a guy going, Man, look at the queer, someone would go up and go, Hey, man, you can’t do that here. No pretense, no nothing. It was never any problem. Until about two years in, about the time Dallas Alley opened up. Fifteen clubs in the same place? All of a sudden, when that happened we weren’t the only people in downtown anymore.
Deep Ellum started to come along a little bit. Russell Hobbs was doing Theater Gallery and the Prophet Bar with Jeff Lyles. But we were the only ones in the West End. All of a sudden, you’ve got pickup trucks with guys throwing beer cans out the window and everything, going to Foggy Bottoms or whatever the names of all those clubs were. So, we’re not down there alone anymore. And some of those people are skimming off and coming into the club and so all of a sudden, now you’re up there with the bus tub and the guy is going, No, come back.
My first reaction was turning the lights up, to let everyone know you’ve got 15 minutes now. And then it just became time that I had to get a security guy. So, I first had a guy that was actually a Marine and was there in the bombing of the barracks in Beirut. He worked for me for a short time, but he was tougher than I wanted him to be. He would pick you up and put you against the wall and say shut the… well, you know.
So, I hired the guy that was in charge of security for Neiman’s downtown, Frank Ramirez. And so he handled it so well most of the time, he’d go into that room and if there were any issues, he would go, Hey, man, can I talk to you for a second? The guy would come over here, talking, having some issues with some people and he’d keep walking. And all of a sudden, he and the guy are standing on the front porch talking and Frank would say, “Well, look, we want you to come back another time”, and he’d go inside and close the door and the guy was left like, What the f*** just happened?
So, we had that. But, really, everybody took care of everybody else and looked out for everybody else. And here we are, 35 years later, and these kids are talking I don’t even know how many websites there are that are playing the same music back and forth and all.
Paul Heckmann: So, tell me a little bit about the stars that used to come in. I know Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Thomas Hayden Church. Tell me a little bit about some of the other folks that came in.
Greg McCone: Thomas Hayden Church did come in as did the ‘Dallas’ folk. From opening night we had folks like Donna Mills and of course, all the people performing like Stevie Nix and Grace Jones and Waddy Wachtel, the guitar player, and of course Dallas society.
You know who the congressmen and the senators are because they’re all frequenting it. That first eight months that we were not busy monetarily and numbers, we threw tons of great parties and had crystal charity ball and this, that, and the other. And so we had some great parties and were exposed to the top lineage of Dallas society. Everybody loved it. We were getting probably more magazine articles written about us in the first year, when we really had not become the Starck Club yet, so we were getting our props. But we weren’t living up to them in terms of what our expectations were, you know.
Well, when it finally did kick in, the tiger is running and you’re just hanging onto his tail. And you’re busy enough where you’re always trying to look a little bit ahead, how do I keep this happening? But at the same time, you’re dealing with the speed and the intensity of everything that is going on.
So, you’ve got Prince Rainier, Princess Christine and Princess Stephanie coming in for the night and Stephanie and Rob Lowe break up in the Cold Bar, or Prince is coming in with his entourage. Then you go downstairs to the cold bar and Jack Nicholson and his buddy, Lou Adler are there, you do nothing. The guy is getting a drink at the bar.
My attitude always with the famous people was to treat them like they’re normal folk and then reverse that and treat everybody that’s a regular in the club like they’re Jack Nicholson, because, in fact, that’s really what Jack Nicholson wants. He wants to be treated like a normal person. He doesn’t want people fawning over him. He’s had that his whole life.
So that’s what it was. And every one of them is the same. I sat around my office and had Dee Dee Ramone sing his whole album to Christina and I. I walk in one night and Led Zeppelin is in my bar. Two of them are in the bar drinking Heineken’s and Robert Plant is playing in concert, and when he got through, he comes to Starck and meets them. It’s like, how cool is that?
Paul Heckmann: Oh, that is really something. Some great memories.
Greg McCone: And then there were the other acts and events. Eartha Kitt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Village People, Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Nelson Riddle. All kinds of acts that had nothing to do with disco or dancing. I remember the sax player for Nelson Riddle’s orchestra, they were setting up on the stage and the dance floor is down here and he’s sitting right there. The guy next to him was about to sit down. And so I’m walking by I hear him say, man, whoever booked this gig is gonna lose their job. (grins)
We could do so many things with it. I had a girl that I closed on one Sunday for her. She brought in 14 Salvador Dali paintings. Salvador Dali paintings in huge, ornate frames and set them up around the whole club. Her family had this Gala Series after she had died or something.
But we would do the theme parties. The first theme party we ever threw was suburban. We brought in metal racks and put Cheerios and canned goods and toilet paper throughout the club. And we put a plastic pool outside on the deck and a barbecue pit and made hot dogs and hamburgers and Pepsi’s and stuff like that. Everybody dressed in their favorite neighborhood barbecue stuff.
Homecoming. I get 2,000 people for Homecoming. I guarantee you 1,800 of those people would have never gonna to their high school Homecoming, but coming to the Starck Club for Homecoming, they’ve got mums and ribbons and bows and they’re dressing in letter sweaters. And we put together a band of employees only called the Starck Academy Band. Now that was fun.
Paul Heckmann: So, you’ve gone through from 1984 to about 1987 or so. And then when did things start to go South?
Greg McCone: That’s kind of where I was going into with the Dallas Alley thing. In rapid succession, we were raided in August of 1986 but nothing really transpired until the middle of ’87, right, so with the legalities and all, in rapid fire in 1987, we then had to deal with the ‘no dance’ issue and all that, Dallas Alley opened up, the drinking age went from 19 to 21, and the Texas economy went right into the tubes
Paul Heckmann: Tell me about the ‘no dance’ requirement.
Greg McCone: The ‘no dance’ was just our reaction to the police saying we’re gonna suspend your dance permit for two weeks. They were under the understanding or the belief that the TABC would suspend our liquor license or even take it away. I’m not sure what their thought process was. But the TABC didn’t. We did get fined $10,000.00 and we paid them. Well, Blake and I had a Dallas officer that had been working at our club for two years.
We had gone downtown after the raid but before any of the ramifications came about and said, We’re not really exactly sure what you expect us to be doing. The people who take Ecstasy in the club here, or any other drug, if you have a problem with them, come into the club and bust them. Take them. You see a guy dealing, arrest him. Take him out. Yes, we are somewhat permissive but we are not, and we never were, allowing people to do lines of cocaine on the tables.
You hear people talking all the time about Ecstasy on the bars in jars. None of that happened. In fact, after hearing this over and over, about a year ago, I talked to the bar manager. I said, hey, I keep being asked this question. Please refresh for me. Did we ever have Ecstasy out on the bars in jars? He went, Absolutely not.
Paul Heckmann: Once these stories get started, sometimes they take on a life of their own.
Greg McCone: They may have it in their cash drawer. But the point is, for those first two years, it was legal so it wasn’t even an issue of doing something illegal. Blake and I had been approached by manufacturers in Chicago that said, you know, you can sell this in your club. We’ll sell it to you for $5.00 or $6.00 or $7.00, you get $20.00 retail. Blake goes, man, that’s incredible. What do you think about this? I said, Blake, I’m not even allowed to give a guy an aspirin if he has a headache. How am I gonna sell Ecstasy.
So the deal was we went to the police and said ‘We expect you to do your job, and we don’t feel that we’ve done anything wrong. There’s not a nickel of that money that’s ever gone onto the Starck Club balance sheet or even off the sheet, and you’re trying to hold us up as the distributor to the entire United States because we were one of the first places people started doing it’.
Their response was, There’s really not anything we can do to help you.
So we are saying, ‘What do you mean there’s nothing you can do?’
Them, ‘Well, we just can’t. They pulled our Dallas police officers out of the parking lot.
And I said, That’s cool, I’ve got Sheriff’s deputies that work too, so the Police officer in front of me picks up the phone and calls the Sheriff. Now you don’t have Sheriff’s deputies either.
So, they were just trying to keep us in a position of getting us in bigger troubled. The raid was 36 people. Two employees, both waiters, had prior indictments from three or four months earlier and they indicted them because they had come into the club and bought from them. I wont say that the other 34 people, none of them were arrested for drugs, but I would say that 90 percent of them were arrested for public intoxication even though they weren’t. They just didn’t move fast enough when a cop said, you go sit over there, or they jerked their arm away or anything like that, the cops would go, You’re under arrest for public intoxication. There was a manager of a club in Deep Ellum that came in the club and got arrested walking in the door. So, all of these stories about the raid are embellished because it’s the Starck Club.
Paul Heckmann: So, one of the rumors that I have heard for years is how the floor was littered with drugs from heroin to coke to you name it. Tell me the about when the club was busted.
Greg McCone: I’ve got the indictment and the lab report from the police. We have 274 Ecstasy tablets 7 joints, some Ritalin and 3-4 grams of cocaine. If you took those 274 Ecstasy pills and threw them in the air, it would land within 10 feet in every direction. I’ve got 22,000 square feet. Right? I was flying in from Puerto Rico the night of the raid. Christina called me in the next morning. So about 6:30 a.m., I’m down in the front and meeting with the press including AP, UPI. And they’re saying the police said the drugs were so thick, the police dogs were tripping on them. Well, that became the main quote on the front page of every major paper in the United States that day. ‘Starck Club Raided, Drugs so Thick, Police Dogs Tripping on Them’.
Paul Heckmann: Which embellished the Starck Club image again, good or bad
Greg McCone: Well, and it did. But not in a way we would have liked. When you’re fighting and you’re trying to get H.L. Hunt’s and Meyerson’s and whoever and all their kids and grandkids into your club, all of sudden, there’s a stigma. And to be honest with you, there is a lot of people in this town that think the only reason the raid even happened was because all these parents along Turtle Creek were mad about their kids putting eye makeup on and dressing like sissies around hairdressers and hanging out at the Starck Club. ‘We need to do something about this’.
There was a club on Harry Hines two nights earlier that had a quarter of a million dollars in cocaine in the bust but you didn’t hear about them. So, the ‘No Dance’ promotion came about because we were sitting there with the police in a subsequent meeting and they said, ‘Okay, we’ve agreed to give you a two-week suspension of your dance license. When do you plan on closing?’
And we said, ‘We don’t plan on closing, we’re just not gonna dance. So, that’s when they said, ‘We’re gonna be the first people in the door every night. If we so much as see someone tapping their foot, we’re gonna take away your dance permit.’ So, that’s where we said, ‘Okay, we get 20 regulars and we get them t-shirts with No Dance Police, and we did eight parties, which would have been the eight nights we were open. And then we brought in Karen Findley.
Karen Findley is the performance artist out of New York City that usually does her act buck naked. She gets No. 10 cans of candied yams and makes believe she’s having diarrhea. It’s all kinda filthy, but it’s her way of exposing misogyny, rape and abuses of all kind. I brought her in, I brought My Sin in from San Francisco. I brought in Patsy Cline and the Memphis G-Spots, which was a drag show.
Bob Amaro, the door manager, wrote lyrics to a Little Stevie song, ‘Why Can’t I Play Sun City?’ Do you remember that song? Little Stevie from Springsteen’s E-Street band. The guy with the bandanna. Suzie Riddle took on the role of Director.
And it turned out that the Dallas Ballet and the Las Colinas Communications Complex and all these people donated studio time and the ballet said, ‘When do you want us there?’ And so about 60 of us all went out and did the recording of the music and then the next Sunday, the last night of the no dance was the video release party, where we released ‘Why Can’t I Dance at the Starck Club?’. It played on all three network 10pm news shows that night. So, that was the end of no dance.
Paul Heckmann: And there went 1987.
Greg McCone: Right.
Paul Heckmann: Okay. How much longer did Starck Club operate after that?
Greg McCone: Two more years.
Paul Heckmann: Two more years after that. Tell me.
Greg McCone: The Texas economy just really wasn’t coming back. All those buildings downtown failed. The savings and loans crisis had hit and all these like Blue Bonnet and Sunbelt and all the rest of them were failing. It was not really an atmosphere that you wanted to run a club like Starck. And depending on what you’re after, you have to understand that there are cycles. You can’t have the Great Gatsby for 60 years. You know? Most of those people died Year 10.
So, it just was no longer conducive to our style of club and we decided that we were going to close with Grace Jones and sublease the club.
I was also talking to Don Furrh from Million Dollar Saloon about taking the club space over. He came down and met with Blake and I about turning the Starck Club into the Billion Dollar Saloon, and then he gets shot and killed two nights later at his house. His daughter took over the Million Dollar Saloon and ran it until they closed, whenever that was. Ten years ago, probably. But Gold Club came and talked to us about that space as well. The Billion Dollar Saloon would have been a great idea.
And so we subleased the club to the group you may remember, called Heartthrob.
So this is ’89, Okay, they come in, pay us rent and we vacated. I started working with Don Nedler on opening the Lizard Lounge and looking for a location for it.
Paul Heckmann: And that one I know well, I used to run the Gold Club at 2424 Swiss. My best friend worked there with me, Gene Cook.
Greg McCone: I didn’t know that.
Paul Heckmann: Yep, my last job in clubs
Greg McCone: I was one of your customers! I spent a lot of time there before it was the Gold Club too when it was Empire.
Paul Heckmann: Well, it was really interesting, but that is a story for another time.
Greg, this has been so much fun working with you the past few months, you are one smart guy, but even more important, perceptive – you didn’t stay in the box that we tend to get into, in the bar business.
So I think the last question will be, ‘If you had to summarize Starck in a couple of paragraphs, what would that summary be?’
Greg McCone: My entire philosophy about the club was it had nothing to do with any other nightclubs. So, I didn’t really look at it like I had competition, because as it turned out, I really didn’t. We were doing things that no one else had ever tried to do. From the very beginning my philosophy was that Philippe Starck has given us a blank canvas. This is a museum. These curtains are blank, the walls are blank, the music has yet to be chosen. We can make this room whatever we want it to be. You can take that museum and still make it anything you want it to be.
And I consider myself fortunate to have worked and lived with some of the most talented people in Dallas, I might have been the head of the ship but everyone had a voice.
It was truly a temporary refuge for all who understood what we were trying to do. But the most credit for the success of The Starck Club goes to the folks we saw everyday, the regulars at our “Theater of Life”. I love those guys, they are what made the club a legend.
Paul Heckmann: Thank you sir. But most of all, thank you Abby for loaning me Greg the last three months as we worked on this project, and putting up with all of our our cackling and crowing. I am returning him, slightly tarnished, moderately bent, but for the most part, only slightly the worse for wear!
And on that note, it is time to end this one, and so we shall.
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