The year was 1948 when a small group of dedicated newspaper print shop workers with The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times-Herald who enjoyed a friendly game of poker and the occasional high-ball of aged whiskey began discussing their cronies actually writing all the print.
What fun it would be to take their money and beat them in a game. So, the invitations began.
The poker night eventually attracted the attention of several reporters, many of whom had hours to kill between the close of business and the time that their respective newspapers were put to bed. This late-night soirée eventually became the foundation for North Texas’ first press club. This new organization would provide camaraderie and a place to socialize, but also a venue to promote journalistic ideals and ethics.
In 1951, the Press Club of Dallas received its charter from the State of Texas. Its first home was over the Pulley Bone Restaurant (now the site of Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas). Elsie Morris was one of the early employees and functioned as manager, chef, waitress, bartender, and mother hen of this blossoming group of media misfits.
Later, the club moved to what was affectionately called “The Purple Palace” next door to the Baker Hotel (now, One Bell Plaza). It was a popular respite, chiefly because it was a private club and the only place you could buy a reasonably priced drink with your meal or after work in downtown Dallas. The back-room poker games continued but Thursday nights were also popular with special dinners and a sing-a-long around the piano. (That was a karaoke machine in the good ol’ days.)
When the Petroleum Club next door (located in an addition to the Baker Hotel) moved to fancier digs, the Press Club of Dallas took over their space in 1957. That location, which encompassed two floors, set the club up for a boom in membership growth that included reporters, editors, photographers, and production professionals from both of the city’s major newspapers, as well as radio reporters and those from Dallas’ surrounding television stations.
Throughout the 1950s, the club instituted many of its signature events, including the Katie Awards, the annual Gridiron Show, political debates, press conferences, book signings, and professional workshops. Various communication-related organizations met regularly in the Club’s private dining rooms as those open doors welcomed everyone in the media.
The Press Club of Dallas was in a unique situation in 1963 when the assassination of President John F. Kennedy brought the eye of national news to Dallas. Many of the club’s founding members reported first-hand on the assassination and ensuing events, including the arrest and murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and later the arrest of Jack Ruby.
If the nation wasn’t aware of the journalistic integrity, finesse, and temerity of Dallas reporters, they were now. Thanks to their work, new industry standards for reporting major news events – especially via television – were created here in North Texas.
The club had a brief stint at the downtown Metropolitan Building before moving in the 1970s to Union Station. Following its years at Union Station, the Press Club of Dallas had private meeting space at the Stoneleigh Hotel and the Sheraton Dallas Hotel, where it remained for the next 20 years.
In the 1990s, the Press Club of Dallas fought rising prices of gasoline, paper, and booze like everyone. Downsizing its headquarters gave the club brief stints on McKinney and Ross Avenues, as well as North Central Expressway. The members of the Club relocated to the Women’s Museum in Fair Park, which was home for the next 12 years.
Since the 1950s, the Press Club of Dallas has welcomed notables (e.g., Red Skelton, Chief Justice Earl Warren and prominent attorneys Melvin Belli, Percy Foreman and Jo Jamail), journalism luminaries (e.g., Walter Cronkite, Hugh Sidey, Bob Schieffer, and Ann Compton) and even presidents (e.g., Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush).
Even our own local membership has included some of the most revered members of Texas journalism – from people who shaped our industry during the days following the Kennedy assassination and in the early days of television broadcasting to those who competed for headlines when Dallas was still a two daily newspaper city.