Louann’s – Part 1
by Paul Heckmann, Executive Director, Memories Inc. A 501c3
Back at the time of the Texas Centennial in 1936, Lou Bovis was running the Falstaff Tavern in the English Village. When the event closed, he and his second wife Ann purchased both the English Village and The Globe Theater. The Globe was a replica of the same one where Shakespeare’s first plays were shown. He renamed it the English Village Music Hall where folks could come see live theatrical performances year round. Originally it had old wooden benches to replicate the Shakespearean days, but by 1939 those were long gone and tables and chairs replaced them to make it more of a theater-restaurant.
There was a third partner, Anton “Marty” Martinkus, Ann’s brother. Career Army Cavalry man who served under then Major George Patton at Fort Sheridan. Marty joined the Bovis crew about the time of the Centennial. He went back into the Army in 1942 during WWII, serving in the Pacific including the beachhead assault at Leyte. He was discharged in 1945 and came directly back to work.
The English Village was quite the popular place hosting both celebrities like Bob Hope – and the Clemson/Boston College Cotton Bowl football teams. You never knew you might run into there.
He also brought in big dance bands like the Tone Poet, Leonard Keller, which would set the stage for a much bigger future club, with much bigger bands.
By the mid-30s, they had outgrown it and wanted a place they could expand and grow the business. Longtime friend Mabel Caruth had a some land ‘way out of town’, far up the ‘Richardson Pike’ and suggested they take a looksee. Lou and Ann fell in love with the area and staked out a claim at the corner of Lovers and Greenville, opening Louann’s in early 1940. It was a massive club sitting on a 5 acre plot with seating for some 3,600 and standing room for many more.
From the big band sounds of Harry James, Guy Lombardo or Lawrence Welk to the rock and roll of Jeff Beck or maybe Jimmy Vaughan and the Chessmen, it’s said that the ghosts of one of the biggest clubs Dallas has ever seen can still be heard around that corner…
Tony is the eldest son of Lou and Ann Bovis
Paul: Tony, your dad sounds like an interesting guy – can you tell me a little about him?
Tony: He passed away two days before my 6th birthday, so I didn’t know him that well. I guess a lot of what I know about him came from my Mom. He did a lot of traveling in his job as an insurance salesman. He had dual citizenship in the US and England. Had a great love for all things England.
Dad ran a little English pub in the 1936 Texas Centennial there, right across the street from where the automobile building in the part that they called the English Village
Paul: And your Mom, Ann?
Tony: She was a pilot at one time. Flew planes out of Mustang Airport which was a few miles up from Louann’s. Dad made her quit flying, said it was too dangerous.
She was pretty good mom. Really took good care of all of us. I think we all worked at Louann’s at one time or another and she could be pretty tough on us and the folks that worked there. She was big on saying ‘you have to please your customer, not do what you want to do.’ So the bands had to play what the crowds wanted to hear, not what they felt like playing.
Paul: And your brothers and sisters?
Tony: I had two brothers, Lou Jr. and Phil. Lou was the musician, played the keyboards in bands. Phil was a carpenter, did a lot of work around the club. I also have a sister Chelle. We’re the last two of the kids.
Paul: What can you tell me about the creation of Louann’s?
Tony: It really grew out of the “English Village” and Dad’s wanting to expand. The crowd got so big there that he couldn’t get them all inside and there wasn’t enough room to grow. Big lines up front, it was a very popular place. I think they sold it before they opened Louann’s in 1940.
He really wanted something in the wide open spaces where he could be forever. Dad’s idea of a neighbor was was that ‘you kinda knew which direction they were in but you couldn’t stand on your front porch and see them’.
I’m sure you remember Mabel Caruth from the Caruth Lumber company. She and her husband, Will, owned a lot of the property in the Lovers/Greenville area. The area where Northpark sits today also all belonged to the Caruth’s way back when. Mabel and Dad knew each other back then; I guess this would be the 1930’s. This would have been outside the city limits back then. I knew her pretty well because we bought Johnson grass hay from her for our horses.
Anyway, Dad convinced her that to sell him the property where Louann’s was to be built, on Lovers, between Greenville and what would become Matilda. He bought all of it but a piece that Hedrick Oil owned. That was right on the Southeast corner of Lovers and Greenville where Hedrick would eventually put a Texaco station. Neither he nor Mom could ever convince Hedrick to sell them that bit of land.
We rode our horses where Northpark is today. There wasn’t anything there at that time, no construction there, just open field. We had bikes back then, but we always rode our horses. We also frequented a Cabell’s store where Lontos meets Abrams. I remember Mr. Cabell calling my mother and telling her that he was installing hitching posts on the side of the store so we could tie up our horses safely while we were in the store. Mr. Cabell was also Mayor of Dallas soon after that
Like most kids in that era, we picked up pop bottles and sold them for Cokes, peanuts, and candy at that store!
Paul: What was your first memory of Louann’s?
Tony: It was always there, as it opened a few years before I was born. My first memory would be playing around there when I was about 4 years old. You see, we had two residences: one would be upstairs part of Louann’s where there was an apartment that we lived in quite a bit. We also lived out on Anthony Lane which was named after me. It later became known as Pregnant Alley as you either had to be pregnant or had a bunch of kids.
Paul: Is Anthony Lane still around today?
Tony: No, when we were annexed by the City of Dallas, a lot of things changed. I can still remember we had to load up all our hogs and sell them. You couldn’t have horses or chickens either – we had all those and a lot more. This one fella had a farm on the corner of Lovers and Greenville, I remember he had a bunch of mules. He had to get rid of them too.
Paul: So this was essentially a farm. About how close was this to Louann’s?
Tony: Probably a mile or so. We were east of Louann’s, straight down Lovers Lane and across Skillman. We had a lot of that land.
Paul: And Louann’s itself was very close to the ‘new’ Central Expressway. But before that, folks would travel up Greenville Ave.
Tony: Yep. You could see the traffic on Central right outside of our upstairs window. And back in the day, folks called Greenville Ave, “The Pike”, among other things. That was the way you went to Richardson.
Paul: So once the City of Dallas annexed the area where you lived and the Louann’s club, do you remember any changes to the way they did business?
Tony: This happened after the club opened. It didn’t really change much about the way the club was run.
Paul: And the building itself?
Tony: When we stayed at the club, we stayed at our upstairs apartment. That was where the offices were too. Also bar storage and the expensive supplies were up there.
Downstairs we had a big main dance floor, a music bar, three bandstands inside and one outside.
Paul: What was the music bar?
Tony: That was where we played records. Anything from 78’s to LPs.
Paul: So you had the first ‘disco’ in Dallas, probably Texas!
Tony: (laughs) I guess we did.
My mother put in a really big sound system from RCA that might have been when the club opened. That thing would blow you out. And because they had installed this really deluxe sound system, RCA gave them a free television. Of course, that didn’t matter as there weren’t any TV stations in Dallas. It was a conversational piece, that’s all it was, Paul! It ended up just sitting back in a corner collecting dust.
Paul: Right. Channel 5 came on the air in 1948.
Tony: I remember we would get copies of Billboard and find the latest tunes and order a copy. And we got all of our records at a little place on Lower Greenville called the ‘The Record Bar’. As I remember, it was on the left hand side past the Arcadia on Greenville Ave, it sat in a very small strip center. There weren’t a lot of record shops or even radio stations to get the latest music then so we kinda felt like we were on the cutting edge.
Paul: Tell me a bit about the structure itself, the pictures I have seen of Louann’s seemed to be of a big, cavernous place.
Tony: It was really, really big. The biggest crowd I remember was about 3,600 people. There might have been more but that was the biggest I remember.
Lawrence Welk came in and the place was standing room only. Not sure how many people were there but it seemed like everyone in Dallas.
When you walked into the entrance, there was one big dance floor and we had table setup up on both sides of the dance floor. And we built what we called the ‘Garden Room’, that was the second part of the building. Mom and dad kept adding on and adding on and adding on. That was still part of the inside of the club. And the third part was the outside dancing, ‘The Garden’. You can see that in the picture you sent me.
Paul: What kind of hours was Louann’s open?
Tony: We opened up about 4 in the afternoon and you could stay open until 12:15 during the week and 1:15 on Saturday. That was State law back then Paul.
Paul: What did you do in the club?
Tony: You know I grew up in the club so I did pretty much everything from stocking the bar to barback to cleaning. If it was a job in the club, I did it. If somebody didn’t show up, then you would have to cover for them, so us kids got to know pretty much all the jobs.
Paul: I know you saw a ton of bands there. Who was your favorite?
Tony: Harry James. Absolutely. Bar none.
Paul: Who were some of your Mom and Dad’s favorite bands there?
Tony: We had the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Perez Prado and Ralph Flanigan. There were a bunch of them. Mom really liked Prado. Perez did some of his big numbers like “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” and “Mambo #5”
We also had Les Brown and Woody Herman, they were a couple of bands mom loved. You’re going way back now!
I remember most of the bands would come in by train. There was a stop right about where Yale (SMU Blvd) and Central are today. Of course Central wasn’t built yet. The train ran about parallel to where it would be built. Anyway the bands would unload there and we would go pick them up.
Paul: It was such a big club, do you remember having problems up there with drinking of groups of troublemakers?
Tony: Oh the the Lakewood Rats were the worst of the bunch. One of the guys was permanently banned from the club, I can’t remember his name. But his HS had a reunion there and he had to go talk to my Mother and get a letter saying it was okay for him to come back in to attend the reunion.
My Uncle Marty Martinkus was the bouncer, that was my Mom’s brother. He was a tough guy, served in the US Calvary. He took care of things for us.
Paul: In doing research for this project, you started to see this trend of music at the club. The Big Band sound was going out while early rock and roll started to come into the scene.
Tony: I think things really changed when Elvis came on the scene. He changed the face of music for all of us.
Paul: Do you remember Kirby St. Romain?
Tony: Oh yea. He had the house band for my mom and also was with The Expressions. He played a lot of there in the early days.
The Chessman played up there all the time, that was back when Jimmy Vaughan was in the band. Stevie Ray would come up to visit and they would have him sit in with Jimmy. Nobody knew how good he was going to be but you could tell he had some talent.
The Four Gentlemen, Johnny Dee and the Green Men – we released them from their contract so they could go out to California. They did some gigs out there and even appeared on the Batman TV show as some of the Joker’s team, they were the bad guys.
Paul: What were some of the hot tunes that you remember folks asking for at Louanns?
Tony: ‘The Bunny Hop’, ‘Shaboom’, there were so many. Shaboom was my favorite.
Paul: Who were some of your favorite employees?
Tony: Nonnie Gardner, she was the head waitress. She was there when Dad opened the club until we sold it. She did the swap meets in the parking lot too that met on Sundays I think.
We had a cook there named Clara Crowder. She did all our cooking, matter of fact, she was the one that taught me to cook. She did all our family cooking.
Paul: I guess you remember the area starting to change a bit too.
Tony: Oh yes. I remember that cross the street from us, a few years after we opened, Mr Hardy opened up three different golf courses there, The ‘Pitch and Putt’ was there on the NE corner of Lovers and Greenville, the driving range was next to that, then there was a horse stables and riding area – and I think the golf course just a bit down the road. Lee Trevino worked there later on, probably in the 60s. From what I remember Mr Hardy ‘discovered’ him.
Paul: Do you remember why your Mom sold the business?
Tony: It was back when we were pretty sure that ‘liquor by the drink’ was going to pass in Texas (which it did – April 1971), she decided that she didnt want to deal with all the new TABC regulations and put the club up for sale. Everything was BYOB before that most everywhere. We sold draft or bottle beer and wine but no mixed drinks.
Paul: And then your Mom sold the club to Larry Lavine.
Tony: Yes. We had to do a complete inventory when he bought it. That was a lot of work
Paul: So Louann’s is no longer with the Bovis family after 30 plus years. Curious what you did?
Tony: I decided to get in Law Enforcement. I spent 6 years in Dallas with the Dallas Police Department Reserve while I was still working at Louanns, then went to Pilot Point and Gainesville then did 16 years in Carrollton and 15 years with Denton County Sheriffs Department.
We also had a little ranch up in Pilot Point, about 300 acres and 300 head of cattle. Did a lot of work up there.
Paul: Tony, this is such a cool snapshot of Dallas nightclub history. Thanks so much.
Jack was the drummer for the band Stycks
Paul: Welcome Jack, can you tell me how you got into the music business?
Jack: I went to school at RL Turner, played in a band there we called the Royals. That’s where I began my drumming career.
Paul: Tell me about The Stycks
Jack: They formed a couple of years before I joined them, 66-67ish. I replaced their drummer Jay Taylor, his family owned Taylor Publishing.
That’s about the time when I was introduced to the Studio Club which Larry Lavine owned. He’s a crazy one. He married Caroll Shelby’s daughter I think. We used to rehearse all the time at Studio Club. Larry was pretty cool about that. Don Henley would be there practicing with Felicity, we’d take turns rehearsing and listen to each other. It was pretty cool as nobody else was in the club.
I remember when Don and Glenn said they were going to go out to LA to play with some chick out there. Turned out to be Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies which became the Eagles.
We played over at Louann’s a few times before Larry bought it from Ann. We also ended up playing there every other weekend for a long time both in the old club and the new one that he built after the fire.
Paul: Can you tell me what the difference was between the owners Ann Bovis and Larry Lavine?
Jack: That would be hard to say as we didnt really have a lot of contact with Ann. We were booked through Showco. They got us some really good gigs. We opened for Zephyr at Louann’s and we opened for Steve Miller band at McFarlin Auditorium at SMU. Zephyr actually played at the Texas International Pop Festival. Showco got us another gig opening for Sonny and Cher at University of Oklahoma and Texas Tech. They wanted us to sign an exclusive agreement but we didn’t. Big mistake.
I was just thinking about those Louann’s tickets we saw a photo of the other day. I remember going upstairs at Louann’s and seeing box after box of old tickets from different shows going back to the 40s. I wish I had kept a few of those for souvenirs!
By the time we were playing there in the late 60’s, they really didn’t open the back garden up so much. So the bands would go back there to take a break, bring out the bongs and relax.
I do remember one little tidbit. We auditioned Stevie Ray Vaughn to join Stycks as a favor to Jimmy Vaughn. I could tell he was a natural but we really needed somebody that could play the cover tunes. He was really good but we needed guys that could fit in our style, he was still a little wild. Then a couple of year later we are playing The Cellar and this band called Blackbird comes on and all of a sudden here comes Stevie. Wow. What a change. The guy was an absolute phenom.
That was the week before this happened. We were up at Louann’s during the day trying to work in the new guitar player that we had just hired and had left all our equipment up there. This was April 1st of 1971. I get a call from a friend of mine telling me that ‘Louanns burned down last night’. I tell him ‘that’s not funny’ thinking its a April Fools joke. Turns out it was true.
I called the Dallas Fire Department to make sure my friends hadn’t been ribbing me. They told me that it was a 3 alarm fire. I asked what was the extent of the damage and he says ‘the place burned to the ground’. I’m saying ‘oh crap, you gotta be kidding me.’
I remember asking about the fella that lived upstairs. He was lucky to get out of there with his life. I think his name was Terry, an Assistant Manager or something.
From what I understand the Fire Department kinda gave up saving any of the buildings but were protecting the Texaco Station on the corner. They had gone into a defensive mode so the tanks there wouldn’t explode.
We went by later once the fire had cooled off. My drums had melted into a little pile, I grabbed a couple of cymbals and that was about all that was left of all our equipment.
We had just been dropped by our insurance company two weeks before that saying that we were too big a risk, so we ended up losing everything.
Anyway we had a gig later that night so we headed over to Arnold and Morgan and get everything. I was still paying off the loan on the year old, double bass Ludwig, two flare toms and a ton of percussion equipment. Larry Morgan was there, we told him what had happened and he thought we were pulling his leg, an April Fools joke. When he finally realized we were serious, he hooked it into gear and got us all fixed up for the gig that night.
We talked to Larry Lavine about this later but his insurance didn’t cover anything we owned. That didn’t go over too well with us but to his credit he kept us working at the Studio Club and the new Louann’s. The new club was the same building where Kitty Hawk was and later it became Cowboy and Confetti. I remember there were two levels. They had a balcony that kinda wrapped around the inside of the club.
Of course Larry was the brains behind Chili’s. He and a few of his buddies would go down to Terlingua to the Texas Chili Cookoff. He tells me, ‘Man, I got this idea for a burger place, we’re gonna call it Chili’s.’ I’m thinking, ‘just what we need, another burger place. But he knew.’ We went to Opening Night there, it was kinda the rehearsal for the opening night.
Paul: So tell me about what happened to The Stycks
Jack: At some point we started losing members so we decided to go ahead and let the name Stycks die out. We ended up forming Texas Rose. Our lead singer was a guy named Bob Lincoln and we had a gal singer named Linda Wary. Her boyfriend was the fella at Studio Club that booked us. We went through three or four versions of Texas Rose.
I also played with a band called Lynx. It was kinda strange as we opened for the band Styx (not my Stycks)
Paul: So what are you up to these days?
Jack: Well up until about 5 years ago, I was electronics manager at Walmart. Then I decided to retire. I basically handed them my badge and walked off after the manager and I got into a fight. My wife and I had 14 cats and 3 dogs. Spend half my day cleaning cat poop!
Paul: Thanks so much Jack. Some great stuff here, it’s been a blast!
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