I Remember When Plano was a Sleepy Town

When I was a child in the 1960s, old men would gather around the wood stove at Plano Implement Co. in the old railroad depot and shoot the bull, or meet up at a tiny store in the little community of Renner to play a heated game of dominoes.

These are the old men I remember growing up as a fourth-generation citizen in this once sleepy town. Times have changed and Plano has followed suit. Now I’m one of those old men, but gone are the days when everyone knew everyone else’s business.

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Plano Implement Co. in the old H&TC Railroad Depot // photo from Frances Bates Wells Collection, Genealogy Center, Plano Public Library System, Plano, Texas

Still, when your roots run deep in a city, you tend to know what’s going on. My great-grandmother’s house, which was purchased by the City of Plano, is being renovated to house the ArtCentre of Plano, providing a home for events in the downtown area. Three schools in Plano have been named in honor of my relatives: Andrews, Forman and Saigling elementary schools, and I feel honored for these gestures.

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The author as a boy in 1961

For those who grew up in Plano and for those who’ve recently planted roots in our community, let me share some of my memories of the city. These represent just a sampling, as the pages of this fine publication could not hold all my recollections of our community.

1960: Plano’s movie theater, The Palace at K Avenue and 15th Street, would allow us to enjoy an afternoon movie and snack for less than 50 cents. Mr. Joe ran the movie house, more commonly known as the “Rat Palace.”

1960: Moore’s Variety Store on 15th Street was every child’s dream—toys galore and Archie comic books, which we all collected.

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Moore’s Variety Store around 1950 // photos courtesy of Skipper Wilson

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1960: My church, First Christian Church in downtown Plano, had its 100th anniversary. It was quite the celebration.

1960: Co-op Grocery on J Avenue had the friendliest employees who made you feel like their store was the only place to shop.

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Co-op Grocery // photo courtesy of Barbara Taylor Bennie

1961: I learned a lot in the bedroom in the first grade! Plano was growing so rapidly that the only elementary in town, now Mendenhall Elementary School, was bursting at the seams. The district acquired three new houses in a new development sprouting up just west of Collin Creek Mall to house the first-graders. Mrs. Funderburgh served up steaming tuna casserole on Fridays and other palatable lunches in our cafeteria—the garage.

1961: Harrington’s and Allen’s drug stores in downtown offered afternoon soda fountain spots for the teens to gather, just like in Happy Days.

1963: When JFK was assassinated, life as we knew it came to a halt. At Mendenhall Elementary, Mr. Jolly placed the PA microphone next to the radio broadcasting KLIF. The announcement of the President’s death shocked us all, and our teachers wept in the hallways. The radio and TV stations only broadcasted information about his assassination—no Saturday morning cartoons and no music on our AM transistor radios. A memorial service in the Plano High School auditorium, which is now Williams High School, attracted a standing room-only crowd to honor our deceased President. That was true Plano pride.

1963: During the Cold War, we brought pillows and canned food to school to be prepared in case the Soviets attacked us. We were so fearful of that possibility, but it was tempered by our pride at seeing our astronauts make America proud, which we observed while gathered in the cafeteria around a tiny black-and-white TV.

1965: The entire town closed and everyone headed to Austin in freezing rain to see the Plano Wildcats edge Edna, 20-17, for the AA Texas State Football Championship.

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Rodney Haggard making a tackle during the AA Texas State Football Championship game // photo from December 22, 1965, Plano Star Courier

1971: I worked at Bob Davis Food Store on 15th St. I had to stack crates of Coke bottles to the ceiling in the back room. One time, they all fell over, crashing on my nose and creating the biggest mess of glass ever. I didn’t even get fired.

1973: Our current congressman, Sam Johnson, returned from Vietnam after being held as a POW in the Vietnam War. Citizens wore Sam Johnson POW bracelets all over town. A welcoming parade was planned. School was dismissed early and all the businesses closed to welcome home this hero.

These are historic, often forgotten, memories of old Plano. No matter how my city changes, it will always be home, sweet home, to me.

What are your past memories of Plano? Leave your comments below.

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