Sign found in garage will be part of upcoming
exhibit on diversity
One day visitors to the Old Red Museum will marvel at one of the rarest, ugliest signs ever posted in Dallas.
An old real estate sign with the warning "No Queers" written on it has been donated to Dallas’ Old Red Museum for inclusion in a diversity exhibition that will be scheduled in the future. The sign once stood in the yard of an Oak Lawn home that was for sale.
Sam Childers, communications manager for the museum that will officially open May 15, obtained the sign from an Oak Lawn couple who discovered the sign in the garage of their 1914-era home. Childers, who is a historian, said he immediately recognized the historical value of the sign when he read about it in the newspaper and asked the couple if they would be willing to donate it to the museum or some other historical facility.
"I just felt something like that should go to a library or an archive," Childers said. "I was really glad to get it. I just felt like it was important that it be preserved."
The Oak Lawn couple, Mark McCaffrey and Eric Newcomb, said they had not realized the sign had historical value when they first found it four years ago. They kept the sign because it was peculiar and even a little humorous to them. The sign amused them because they had just bought the house and discovered it in the garage as they began to clean out debris.
When Childers approached them with his request, the couple quickly agreed to turn the sign over to the museum.
"We talked about it and decided that we should donate it to the museum," McCaffrey said. "That seemed like the right thing to do."
Childers said there is no more available space in the museum’s exhibition cases at this time, but he plans to keep the sign in storage until there is a special exhibition on diversity. The sign reminded him of similar signs about African-Americans, Irish people and other ethnic groups that once were posted.
The "No Queers" sign is the first he has ever seen addressing homosexuality, Childers said.
"It’s a much rarer thing," Childers said. "I’m so happy they were willing to donate it to us. I didn’t want it to just sit in some garage. At some point we will be able to exhibit it."
Childers said he believes the sign probably was from the 1970s era because that was when gay and lesbian people first started becoming more visible. There probably were not more anti-gay signs posted because people had started becoming more reluctant to reveal their prejudices after anti-discrimination laws began to be passed.
The sign is one of several items Childers has collected for the museum related to the history of Dallas’ LGBT residents. He has also collected printed materials, such as a 1982 flier announcing a gay rights parade in Dallas.
"History is my love," said Childers, who was born and raised in Tulsa and moved to Dallas in 1990. "I always wanted to be a historian."
Childers worked at the Sixth Floor Museum before joining the staff of the Old Red Museum four years ago. He said it is important that the museum be inclusive and reflective of all of Dallas’ communities.
The museum’s purpose is to tell the story of how the city of Dallas and the surrounding county developed from the 1850s to the present. The exhibitions will employ interactive media presentations, artifacts and specially commissioned videos to tell the stories of Dallas’ birth and growth from pre-historic times to the present. Each of the museum’s galleries will contain a theater that will provide a broad overview of the time period represented.
The museum will house a Children’s Learning Center and provide educational materials available on an intranet Web site. It will include classroom visit booklets, lesson plans, subject bibliographies, documents, images of artifacts, graphics and video clips.
The staff of the museum has worked closely with the Dallas Historical Society, local historical organizations, corporations, libraries and individuals to prepare its exhibitions. The collection now includes 500 artifacts and 580 photographs.
The museum has already been open and available for special events this year. Spaces in the upper floors are available to rent for weddings, receptions and dinners for 25 to 400 guests. The amenities include private dressing areas, room for dancing and live entertainment and a parking garage.
Childers said the museum will welcome same-sex commitment ceremonies along with heterosexual weddings.
The Old Red Museum is located at the site of "Old Red," the downtown Dallas County Courthouse that was built in 1892 and abandoned in the mid-1980s. It is located adjacent to the Texas State Book Depository and Sixth Floor Museum, which is devoted to the history of President John F. Kennedy and his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
The old courthouse is the most prominent of a handful of 19th Century buildings still standing in downtown Dallas.
The former courthouse, which is built of Pecos red sandstone and Arkansas blue granite, has been under restoration since 2001 when a Bethesda, Md. design firm was retained to design the project. The restoration project was conceived in the 1990s by groups such as Friends of Old Red, the Dallas County Historical Commission and the Dallas County Historical Society.
The restoration project has attempted to reverse years of alterations undertaken to provide more space for county offices. The goal is to restore the landmark to its original Victorian grandeur.
It has included the reconstruction of the ornate cast-iron grand staircase on the south side of the four-story building. Half of the staircase was removed in the 1920s to allow more office space to be constructed.
An upstairs courtroom has been restored, complete with furniture from the period, for ceremonial functions. A balcony that had been removed was reconstructed so the building’s appearance is more in keeping with the day Kennedy was assassinated when a group of county employees stood on the balcony to watch the presidential motorcade.
The most striking exterior element will be the restoration of the 90-foot central clock tower that was removed in 1919 because of instability. The clock, which will feature a 4,500-pound bell that strikes hourly, will be in place when the museum officially opens.
The museum will be operated as a partnership with public and private entities. It has received funding from Dallas County and the State of Texas. Public funding accounts for $35.6 million of the project, and $14.5 million was raised in a private campaign.
Childers said he is expecting interest in the museum to grow quickly after it opens and for more items to be donated to its collection.
For information visit www.oldred.org.
This article appeard in the Dallas Voice print edition March 23, 2007.
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