Once upon a time, as many good stories begin, the tallest building in North Texas was in downtown Denison. Keep in mind that this was around 1891. The building was so tall that the top floor was declared unsafe and was removed.
The building, first known as the Leeper Building, rose to a towering five stories at 331 West Main. It later became known as the Security Building because of the Security National Bank and later the First State Bank that operated on the ground floor until it closed during the Great Depression.
Overlooking the ornately carved entrance was an even more ornately carved head that became known as “Old Stoneface.”
Ornamental carvings around the entrance, including “Old Stoneface,” are said to have been done by a colorful sculptor who hammered away with his chisel between frequent breaks for visits to neighborhood saloons.
For many years, the building housed the offices of doctors, dentists and lawyers, along with insurance offices and an elevator to take patients and customers to the designated floors.
In order to get to those upper floors of the building, a young Carrie Cole was hired in 1940 to operate the elevator. Most weeks, Carrie worked seven days from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. for the giant salary of 50 cents a week. Yes, 50 cents a week is correct.
But Carrie loved her job. She met just about everyone in town at one time or another and remembered every one of them. She even remembered on which floor most of the occupants officed.
Carrie had a high stool in the small elevator so she could sit at the controls as she manually operated it. The day that the Wolens Realty Co., owners of the K Wolens Department Store down the street, bought the building was a wonderful day for Carrie. Her pay was raised to $1 an hour, she was given a week’s vacation and her work days were cut to six a week. One doctor got upset because he said he had patients coming down on Sunday. The Wolens people told him he could operate the elevator himself on Sunday.
Carrie had a few exciting moments with the elevator when it would get stuck and she would have to climb out. Koeppen Baldwin would send someone down to repair it and once an elevator representative from New York came down and showed her how to “unstick” it. After that, she had fewer problems.
Occupants of the building remained fresh on Carrie’s mind. She began calling them off with the floor on which they officed. She said the “old” Dr. Blassingame, an eye, ear, nose and throat doctor, was on the fourth floor. His son, Dr. Doak Blassingame had an office on the second floor.
Dr. Claud Crawford and his dad were chiropractors and had offices on the third floor, as did Dr. F.F. Fowler, another eye, ear, nose and throat doctor. Dr. John Gleckler was on the second floor, where several lawyers officed. Included there was a young lawyer named R.C. Vaughan, who later became senior district judge for Grayson County when he came back from World War II. Lawyers Alex and Chick Gullett officed on the fourth floor.
In the front part of the building was the Bluebonnet Café that was operated by Mrs. Sontag. After she closed the café, the Ration Board opened up to issue ration stamps during the war.
Carrie recalled that Nathan Crouch got his start in the furniture business on the main floor of the building before he moved across the street.
There was some question about what went on in the basement of the building. As a young Camp Fire Girl, I seem to remember having the Dad and Daughter Banquet and some other activities down there. That would have been in the mid 1940s.
Carrie had different remembrances. She said whiskey was sold illegally by bootleggers out of the basement as well as she remembered. Next door was a pool hall and Carrie said she never knew what transpired over there.
One day, Policeman Griffin came by and questioned Carrie about the basement and the pool hall. She told him that she didn’t know anything about it. Whether he was serious or not, she wasn’t sure, but he threatened to put her in jail if she didn’t tell him what she knew.
Carrie said she told him “I don’t run this elevator sideways, I go up and down” which broke Officer Griffin up.
Carrie ran the elevator for about eight years, and then got a much better job with Texas Power & Light Co., where she worked for 32 more years until she retired. She loved that job and really got to know just about everyone in town as she manned the TP&L Clubroom and frequently traveled with the home service advisors.
It was at the TP&L Clubroom that I got to know Carrie, although she remembered my dad, who was her insurance man in my younger years. Carrie had as much fun as the rest of us when any club had a meeting. She always became one of the group.
Later in life, I would run into Carrie in the grocery store and she would always say “Hello there” and wave from across the store. She never forgot me and I never forgot Carrie. We always shared a hug and talked about the latest happenings in Denison.
First, she lost her only son, Terry Louis, in an accident, then a few years ago she lost the love of her life, her husband, Alonzo. Her friends stayed close to her and enjoyed her contagious laughter and her unending zest for life.
Carrie passed away Saturday at the age of 96 and her funeral will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church before she is laid to rest beside her husband at Oakwood Cemetery.
She was a true Denison treasure.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.