Cruising Longview, in Search of Vanished Landmarks

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I was cruising around South Longview and the downtown area the other day, whiling away time on Memory Lane before a dreaded appointment with an MRI torpedo tube. Dreaded, not because it hurts or I’m particularly worried about the results. The deal is I’m decidedly claustrophobic and have to get legally stoned on Xanax to keep from climbing out of that contraption before the scan is completed. I have abandoned ship before, much to the dismay of the medical staff. So to keep my mind off the impending test, I drove around looking for long-gone landmarks from my youth— until it was time to enter pharmaceutical la-la land.

We moved to South 12th Street in the fall of 1968 from New Hampshire, after spending a summer living in Greggton with my grandfather, while my dad found work and a house to buy. By fall I was a 13-year-old kid with a banana-seat bike, operating a paper route through downtown for the afternoon edition. Most of the stores, bars and businesses I peddled papers for a dime through downtown are long gone or moved. There was Riffs, a hoity-toity women’s clothing store; Hurwitz, clothing for men, now out on Judson Road; Dillards, now in the mall but for years downtown at Tyler and High streets; Kelly Plow, whose furnaces conjured up visions of Hell as I tiptoed past; the Arlyne Theater and Brass Rail up the street from the paper. The latter was my favorite den of inequity and failed dreams. Both are long demolished.

A magnolia tree towers still on the corner of Tyler and Court streets. It was once the centerpiece of a ramshackle bar on Tyler Street. The tree is more than twice as tall now, the building long gone. I believe it was called the Tree Top Inn but don’t trust my memory. It could have been the Magnolia Saloon. But I am certain the tree grew out of a hole cut in the tin roof, and the bar had a hard-packed red-dirt floor. It catered to workers from Kelly Plow, once located a couple blocks away in the parking lot where a Farmers Market sprang up last year. I have a hand plow from the factory that my late mother got at a rummage sale somewhere. Someday I need to build new handles for that plow.

Traveling down Mobberly Avenue, I try to figure out where Tony’s Sporting Goods exactly stood. Tony was quite the character, with the most impressive set of nose and ear hair I have witnessed. His store was near the old Gibson’s — later a Howard’s store — a precursor to Walmart. I loved going to Howard’s as a teenager, pining over the selections of guitars, wondering if I should spend my paperboy money for the latest Steppenwolf LP or take a chance on Three Dog Night.

One Christmas, when I was 14, I saved my money and bought my parents a new stereo system from Howard’s. It was solid plastic and medium fidelity, but it was a step up from what they were using. It probably set me back $75 or so. I remember my parents were flummoxed I had spent that much money on them. I recall simply wanting to do something nice for them. Now they’re both gone, and that is one of my fonder memories of growing up, so it was certainly money well spent.

Howard’s didn’t survive the onslaught of Walmarts, of course. Not much did. Certainly the S&H Green Stamp Store, once on High Street near Birdsong, didn’t survive, though I don’t know if Walmart is to blame. My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I attempted to explain the green-stamp concept to our 14-year-old daughter recently. You shopped at Brookshires, which was the grocery store in Longview in the 1960s, and received a certain number of green stamps depending on how much you spent. As you saved, you spent months poring over the S&H catalog, which in the 1960s was the largest-circulation publication in the country. When you had saved up a sufficient number — about 82,800 stamps or 69 books, if memory serves — you would head to the S&H store to redeem the stamps. I remember my mother buying a table lamp with green stamps. Green Stamps are long gone, though the name survives under the concept of online points.

On to the old site of the River Road Drive-In, now occupied by an apartment complex. My buddies and I used to cut through the LeTourneau University (then college) campus and peek over the fence at the racier movies being shown. Finally, back down Mobberly to where Burger Chef stood, at the intersection with Birdsong Street. I would ride my bike down there after supper and buy three little cheeseburgers for a buck. Like most teen boys, my stomach was a bottomless pit that needed to be replenished every few hours.

By then it was time to head home, get zonked on Xanax, and allow my wife to drive me to the clinic. Inside that tube I dozed fitfully, daydreaming about those little cheeseburgers and Tony the Sporting Goods guy, trying to ignore the clanging and banging that goes with an MRI.

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  • Gaylon Butler


    Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. I think it was the Magnolia Club. If you remember the Army-Navy Store was in the same block as a kid I loved to that store. Mr. Brightwell owned and operated the Burger Chef ( Mobberly and Birdsong). He lived in the house on Birdsong directly behind the BC.

    • admin


      Hi Gaylon: Forgot about the Army-Navy Store, which I loved as well. I still have a weakness for those places. Thanks for writing. Best, gb

  • Bill Armstrong


    In the early 60s, we lived on East Radio St, right behind Gibson's. I remember a Tony who owned H&T Sporting Goods on S. Green. Could this be the same Tony you're thinking of? Your mention of the River Road Drive In brings back memories of warm summer nights and my fascination, as a child, with the wonderful neon animation on the back side of the screen tower. I wish I could find a photograph of it. My other fond childhood recollection is of the Saturday morning kiddie matinees at the Arlyne, downtown on Methvyn. The Arlynene was a beautiful theater and, as a child I was fascinated, and perhaps just a little titillated by the illustrations of the lovely, scantily clad ladies that graced the theater walls. My grandmother owned the cafeteria that was between the Arlyne and the Brass Rail until the late 50s or early 60s.

    • admin


      I remember both well.

    • Sarilee


      If you grandmother was a lady named Mrs. Cummings, we lived next door to her on Padon St. She gave me a pretty pink slip for graduation. I worked as a cashier at the Arlyne when I was in high school Thanks for all the memories. I remember all these places very well

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