Phil Cobb and partner Gene Street began expanding their restaurant empire out of Oak Lawn and onto McKinney Avenue when there was no such thing as Uptown.
“Most residential east of McKinney was starting to leave; yuppies were buying land in the historic part of State Thomas,” Cobb says. “There was hardly any residential at all. We came here in 1976. I would say population was 300 people.”
The residents who were there were passionate about their neighborhood. Activists watched every move Cobb and Street made, counting parking spots, measuring square footage. “Gene and I thought we better join them just for self-preservation,” Cobb says with a chuckle.
Through Cobb and Street’s Vineyard Association, the neighborhood received $250,000 in bond money to refurbish five blocks of McKinney Avenue. When they peeled back the asphalt, they uncovered trolley tracks.
“Ed Landrum called me and said he and some other ‘juice freaks’—that’s the term for fans of trolleys, because of the DC current on the wire—had been measuring the crown of the ball of the rail,” Cobb says. “And he said you could probably run a streetcar on that rail for another 50 years.”
Landrum invited Cobb over to his house, where he produced a seven-minute 8-millimeter film that showed the last time a trolley had run in the city of Dallas: midnight, January 15, 1956. The film showed a car pulling into the yard by Fair Park and the gates closing.
“It was almost like a religious experience for me,” Cobb says. “I remember, literally, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Landrum claims I asked him to run the film 13 times. I was hooked. I wanted to see if I could do it.”
In 1989, for the first time in 33 years, a streetcar ran in Dallas. The trolley and the restaurants on McKinney helped brand the area. More important, they became the commercial anchor for the residential developments that would make Uptown one of the most successful urban revitalization projects in Texas history.