Story of Arlington &Tom Vandergriff
laid south of the Eastern Cross Timbers, an oak forest covering a
small area of sloping hills. A vast prairie land called Eagle Ford
stretched across on Arlington's other side and faded into the horizon.
In this region, the Caddo Indians lived as the dominant tribe for
hundreds of years. They concentrated most of their population along
a waterway called Village Creek, named for the large number of settlements
there. Europeans first entered the region in 1535 when Spanish explorer
de Vaca led his ill-fated expedition through Texas. The French
followed suit in 1687 with La
Salle heading the way. Eventually, settlers moved into the area
and claimed the land as their own. This created strong friction with
the Caddo Indians, and it continued to grow as Americans expanded
The tension exploded on May 24, 1841 at the Battle of Village Creek.
Led by General Edward H. Tarrant, the Texans obliterated the Caddo
from the region and established a Texas Ranger post at Marrow Bone
Spring. The post was named Johnson Station. Authorized by President
Sam Houston, it
provided protection against future Indian attacks.
Farmers started moving into the area and businesses soon followed.
In 1875, a town was formed. The task of naming it fell upon Reverend
A. S. Hayter, a large landowner in the region. He named the place
after Robert E. Lee's Virginian home, Arlington. In 1876, Arlington
transformed into an agricultural center when the Texas & Pacific Railroad
arrived at Johnson Station, allowing settlers to quickly transport
By 1889, Arlington had grown considerably, possessing a trading post
and twenty stores. It became a college town in 1895 with the erection
of Arlington College. The population had reached two thousand
by 1902. In addition to the fifty-two trains arriving and departing
daily, the city had nineteen stores, four saloons, eight doctor offices,
three barber shops, two lumber yards, and a national bank. Its citizens
soon enjoyed the pleasures of water, electric, and gas utilities.
During the 1930s, the city's population rose to four thousand. Arlington,
however, remained heavily dependent upon agriculture. It wouldn't
be until after World
War II that the city would start industrializing. To meet this
challenge, Tommy Vandergriff led Arlington in its rapid transformation
from a sleepy, rural town into a busy, urban city.
Joe Vandergriff was born on January 29, 1926 in Carrollton,
Texas, the son of W. T. "Hooker" Vandergriff. Hooker and his father
founded a Chevrolet dealership later that year. However, Hooker wanted
his own car business and moved to Arlington. He would later take over
the Carrollton and Irving companies
from his father and add a furniture store, investment company, and
Buick dealership, all under the name of Vandergriff Enterprises.
While Hooker ran his dealership, Tommy attended Arlington High School,
where he developed a strong desire to be an announcer after his early-deepened
voice allowed him to commentate baseball games. Tommy graduated from
high school in 1943 and enrolled at Northwestern University, wanting
to major in Public Speaking. He quickly transferred to Southern Methodist
University before arriving at the University of Southern California.
While attending college, he acquired his first job at KFJZ in Fort
Worth. He also did radio work in Los Angeles and Hollywood. Apart
from audio broadcasting, Vandergriff used his talents for announcing
baseball games of the Los Angeles Angels. Vandergriff graduated from
the University of Southern California in 1947. However, his insecurity
of becoming successful in radio caused him to abandon his ambitions
and start working for his father's Chevrolet dealership.
In 1949, Tommy Vandergriff fell in love with Anna Waynette Smith,
a music professor at the North Texas Agricultural College. The two
married a year later at the First Methodist Church of Arlington in
March. A few months later, Vandergriff moved into the political spotlight
when he became President of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce at the
young age of twenty-five. He reluctantly entered the race for mayor
in 1951 after more than a hundred people signed a petition. He ran
an inactive campaign against the powerful, experienced incumbent B.
C. Barnes. Yet, he defeated Barnes 613 to 329 in the largest voter
turnout in the city's history at that point. On March 22, 1951, Tommy
Vandergriff became Arlington's youngest and most popular mayor.
he took the office, Vandergriff faced the daunting task of keeping
the city in step with its industrialization and growth. It had always
been an agricultural center, relying on its production of grain, vegetables,
and cattle. However, Arlington's dependence waned as big corporations
arrived on the scene with their factories, warehouses, and manufacturing
plants. In 1951 alone, businesses acquired 1,293 building permits
worth a total of 3,618,533 dollars. This sharp industrial increase
helped create a large housing boom in 1952. With the help of residential
projects instigated by companies through-out the country, three shopping
centers and over two thousand houses were built. City officials quickly
used this boom in predicting a population of thirty-five thousand
by 1960. As the population grew, water usage increased, adding more
difficulty to an already complicated problem.
To address these issues, Vandergriff passed legislation in 1952 which
provided eighty thousand dollars for upgrading and expanding the water
and sewage systems, increasing the number of police and fire departments,
fixing old roads and developing new ones, and improving street conditions.
He in-creased the amount to 382,000 dollars the following year. He
also worked hard finding new wells for the ever increasing water demand,
and he collaborated with neighborhood cities and towns to create special
plans and projects. Additionally, he developed a new filtering system
for the city.
Tommy Vandergriff faced strong criticism and opposition for his efforts.
His critics proclaimed his programs were too liberal and progressive.
They also believed his budget cost too much money and wasted tax payer
dollars. Tension rose between the two sides until it exploded in 1953.
That year, Vandergriff's main opponents Jim Cannon and V. T. Irons
figured they had enough of him and entered the mayoral race. In the
end, the two men were slaughtered. Cannon received 348 votes while
Irons scraped nine votes, even though he had officially withdrawn
a few weeks before. The young mayor continued his reign.
almost immediately after taking office, Vandergriff engaged in an
annexation war with Grand Prairie
throughout his early tenure. It started when the Arlington City Commission
passed an ordinance to annex six square miles located within three
thousand feet of Grand Prairie's
western border and the Dallas-Tarrant
County Line. The land ran along the southern side of Highway 80
from the county line to Watson Road and extended south to Finger-Holland
Road. It contained the infamous horse track Arlington Downs and the
3D Stock Farm owned by E. Paul Waggoner. More importantly, General
Motors was considering whether or not to purchase the land for a new
On June 1, 1951, the city commission announced the annexation, justifying
the measure as a weapon against zoning. This infuriated Grand
Prairie mayor E. Carlyle Smith because he wasn't consulted over
the matter. Not long afterwards, he and the Grand Prairie Commission
passed their own ordinance claiming ownership to the land. They went
a step further and hired attorney Jesse Martin as legal backup in
case the matter reached the courtroom. Eventually, after many long
meetings with the Arlington mayor, Smith conceded defeat. With the
annexation problem solved for the time being, General Motors bought
255 acres of the newly acquired land and announced its plans to build
a manufacturing plant.
Believing it would make the city the industrial center of North
Texas, Vandergriff tried to persuade General Motors to open a
factory ever since he entered office. After several months of hard
work, he convinced the corporate owners to take a look at the city.
The executives considered the various facts and figures of the region
then made their decision. They bought the 255 acres of annexed land
from Ed Baker, Cleburne Walker, Curtis Mathes, Dixon Holman, and Jarrel
T. Jackson for the price of 1,500 dollars an acre. The property resembled
a rectangular shape, located near the Texas & Pacific Railroad and
sandwiched between Highway 80 to the north and Jefferson Avenue to
the south. The highway also served as the western border while Watson
School Road became the eastern boundary.
From the start, General Motors intended to make a dual-purpose manufacturing
plant. The building would be designed to produce Buicks, Pontiacs,
and Oldsmobiles. It would also make tanks for the Army and Grumman
planes for the Navy. The company announced its plans in April 1952,
pro-claiming it needed between six to ten thousand workers to fully
operate the factory. Construction of the facility began that same
month and ended in October. The first car was completed in January.
However, the plant didn't officially open until June 3, 1954. With
its grand opening, Vandergriff finally achieved his goal. Yet, there
were other matters to address.
Once again, Arlington and Grand Prairie clashed over the issue of
annexation. Vandergriff wanted the entire Waggoner 3D Ranch inside
Arlington's city limits, not just a percentage of it. After he revealed
this desire, the city commission passed an ordinance for the annexation.
Grand Prairie's mayor objected
to the action because consistent reports emerged, claiming that a
company called the Great Southwest Corporation had bought the ranch
to create an industrial district. In the end, Grand
Prairie lost the battle.
Tommy Vandergriff felt confident Arlington would soon reach its status
as the industrial force of North
Texas. Yet, he refused to sit on his laurels and started on a
new task - making the city an entertainment and sports center. He
first tried to bring professional baseball to Arlington, complete
with team and stadium. His first initial efforts failed miserably;
and he would continue to fail until 1971 when the Washington Senators
moved to the area and became the Texas Rangers.
Photo by Rich Anderson
made plans for an expansive park. He abandoned the idea after he and
his family returned from a trip to Disneyland. Remembering the park's
success and its impact on Anaheim, he contacted Walt Disney and attempted
to persuade him to build another park. Walt turned down the offer,
saying he had too many other projects in development. He actually
had no intention of building another Disneyland, believing it would
destroy the magic and uniqueness of the original. And so, Vandergriff
waited for the right moment to make a second attempt to acquire a
Disneyland for the city. That moment never came because of the actions
of Angus Wynne, Jr.
The owner of the Great Southwest Corporation, Wynne had been responsible
for developing a large neighborhood in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas
in response to the sudden influx of military personnel returning from
World War II.
He named the community Wynnewood, which became the largest housing
development project in the nation at the time. Entering civil service,
he then helped in the preservation of Love Field Airport and the prevention
of an attempted monopoly by American Airlines. He eventually stopped
working for the local government of Dallas and focused all his energy
on constructing the biggest industrial district in the United States
when the project came to a close.
Unfortunately, the rivalry between Dallas
and Fort Worth discouraged
companies from leasing the land, forming a financial crisis for the
GSC. Wynne and his staff decided that the best course of action was
to find another source of income quickly. The men agreed to use the
company's assets to build an outdoor sporting goods center with shooting
ranges, fishing and boating ponds, a golf course, a bowling alley,
and a small amusement park. These plans came to a screeching halt
after Angus Wynne, Jr. visited Disneyland and decided that he wanted
one like it in Texas, but with a completely different theme. He chose
Texas history and heritage, which would be conveyed to the public
through the popular teaching method of using the six flags which flew
over Texas to tell the story of the Lone Star State. The end result
was the first regional theme park in the world.
| Six Flag of
Photo by Clintus McGintus, Creative Commons
|Six Flags Over
Texas opened with great fanfare on August 5, 1961. Convinced that
the park would be a phenomenal success, Arlington began to involve
itself with the tourist industry. The city erected signs and billboards,
produced bumper stickers and an assortment of advertising literature,
established tourist hotlines, provided hospitality seminars for locals,
and contacted state and national businesses and organizations to arrange
for conventions. These efforts and the success of Six Flags forever
placed Arlington on the map.
Vandergriff continued his quest to increase Arlington's stature by
introducing legislation in April 1970 that would provide ten million
dollars in bond money for two projects. The first three million would
be used to purchase Turnpike Stadium from Tarrant
County and renovate it in hopes of convincing Major League Baseball
official to allow the city to have a professional team. The remainder
of the money would go toward the construction of the first marine
theme park in Texas. Originally, Vandergriff planned to build an oceanarium,
but he changed his mind upon examining the success of Sea World in
San Diego. The Great Southwest Corporation would enter a contract
to build the park then proceed to operate the attraction. In exchange
for handling the day-to-day management, the GSC would provide a certain
percentage of admission profits so the city could pay off the bonds.
Unfortunately, with only thirty percent of construction completed
by December, the GSC was forced to abandon the project because its
parent company Penn Central faced financial ruin as a result of corruption
and bad decision making. This meant that the city would have to complete
the construction and handle park's daily operations. After lots of
political fighting and negotiating, the city council member agreed
to form a non-profit company to run Seven Seas so the government would
not have to worry about the minute details of park management. Called
the Arlington Park Corporation, it would also be in charge of the
stadium and its potential baseball team.
On September 21, 1971, that baseball team became a reality when the
owners of the American League of the MLB voted 10 to 2 in favor of
transferring the Washington Senators to Arlington. The decision caused
an uproar among the fans living in the nation's capital, but the team's
leadership ignored the controversy and soon had the players in Texas
to get ready during the off-season. It was during this time that the
Washington Senators had their name changed to the Texas Rangers and
Turnpike Stadium became Arlington Stadium.
several delays, the thirty-five-acre Seven Seas*
finally opened to the public on March 18, 1972. The bodies of water
and their surrounding areas that the sections represented were the
Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Sea
of Cortez, Sea of Japan, and South Sea. Overall, there were a total
of twenty-six attractions including a waterfall, seafood restaurant,
lagoon, pirate ship, dolphin show, high diving show, pearl diving
demonstration, and donut-shaped aquarium. It had performing seals,
a killer whale, a variety of sharks, synchronized swimmers, plenty
of fish, and live entertainers.
With all that Seven Seas had to offer, many felt it was destined for
success. Unfortunately, the Arlington Park Corporation had suffered
a loss of 576,000 dollars from the Texas Ranger Radio and Television
Network, which obliterated the profit of 80,000 that Seven Seas enjoyed.
Several members of the city council had no intention of allowing the
company to repeat the same mistake twice. They passed legislation
to place the park's management into the government's hands. To accomplish
this, the council bought the corporation for 8.45 million dollars
and assumed its enormous debt of 23 million dollars. The city council
would be in complete control of Arlington Stadium and the nearby marine
park, allowing the city to obtain all the revenue from the ventures.
Near the end of 1973, officials revealed the bad news that Seven Seas
had suffered a loss of 550,000 dollars in comparison to the previous
year's profit. To make matters worse, the government had a bond debt
to pay. Leaders looked at the situation and came to the conclusion
that a private corporation was needed to operate marine park and turn
things around. Vandergriff went to work and secured a contract with
Six Flags, Incorporated. According to the four-year agreement, Six
Flags would make a rental payment amounting to sixty-five percent
of the net profits in exchange for managing Seven Seas. It would then
have the option of extending the contract for an additional three
As a result of the contract, many of the people who had applied for
jobs at Six Flags Over Texas ended up working at Seven Seas instead.
Likewise, managers were transferred to replace those who had been
fired from the marine park. Jim Ashworth found himself appointed to
the top position and given the task of making Seven Seas better. To
this end, he had the entire park repainted and added new attractions.
They included an elephant seal, three dolphins, several penguins,
some monkeys, and a costumed mascot named Captain Jonah Wayne. The
most significant new feature was the Seabottom Symphony, the world's
first underwater puppet show. Throughout the season, musical artists
like Donna Fargo, The Statler Brothers, Roger Williams, and Tammy
Photo courtesy Michael Hicks
Photo courtesy Michael Hicks
Photo courtesy Michael Hicks
Photo courtesy Michael Hicks
Photo courtesy Michael Hicks
The 1974 season
proved to be a financially successful one, but not enough for the
city to take care of the annual payment for the bond debt. On the
first of October, the city council voted unanimously to close the
gates of Seven Seas forever. The land would be leased to Six Flags
for expansion purposes and all the marine wildlife would be auctioned
off to the highest bidder. This proved to be a disaster. The theme
park management team wanted no part of the Seven Seas property and
refused to talk about the matter. The second part of the plan went
sour when all the bidders acted on the assumption that the city
was desperate to get rid of the animals and settle for any price,
forcing officials to reject the results because the winning bids
were too low.
While leaders sought a solution to the present situation, everyone
started pointing fingers at who and what was responsible for the
financial fiasco known as Seven Seas. Tales of corruption, cover-ups,
and incompetence found a comfortable spot on the pages of local
newspapers. Investigations commenced and hearings took place in
an effort to find out various truths, both real and imagined. It
soon came to an end with an unexpected offer.
Leisure Marine Corp entered into a joint venture with ABC to privately
operate Seven Seas. In return, the city of Arlington would receive
one percent of the gross income for the first five years and two
percent for the next forty-five. It would also sell the marine animals
to the companies for 125,000 dollars. This announcement produced
great excitement for the council members because Leisure Marine
Corp was owned by George D. Millay, the founder of Sea World.
Seven Seas opened for the 1975 season with renovations, more entertainment,
new animals, and a different approach to marketing. Near the end
of July, Millay complained about the financial woes of low attendance
and high maintenance costs. He used the occasion to announce his
future plans for what would become the nation's first water park.
Once Seven Seas closed for the season, he would sell all the animals
then begin the construction of water slides, wave machines, diving
shows, and surfing pools. He remained true to his word by getting
rid of the wildlife, but refused to renew the lease in the hope
of securing a less expensive contact. Negotiations for the new agreement
broke down and a new company took the joint venture's place.
President Donald P. Jacobs of J & L Enterprises was the new owner
of the land tract. He planned to build a park which would make guests
feel like they were visiting Hawaii. Under the agreement, Jacobs
would provide an annual payment of 50,000 dollars during the first
ten years of operation and 100,000 dollars or two percent of the
gross income once the decade had passed. Most people remained skeptical
about the park's success because of all the failures which had preceded
it. Regardless of all the bad luck, Jacobs decided to press onward.
Hawaii Kai opened in June 1976 with very little fanfare. For five
dollars, adults could enjoy dolphin shows, diving shows, sea lions,
Polynesian dancers, musicians, singers, and a petting zoo. All the
employees working at the park came from the Kamehameha School of
Honolulu, some of them receiving scholarships in return for their
The attendance figures were incredibly low. Jacobs tried to fix
this problem by hosting luaus for twelve dollars a person, but it
was no use. On the eleventh of September, he filed for bankruptcy
and closed Hawaii Kai. The city council decided it would never again
invest in the entertainment industry, but it would continue supporting
the Texas Rangers. In 1977, Tommy Joe Vandergriff resigned as mayor
for reasons unknown.
same year brought about the grand opening of Wet 'N' Wild in Orlando,
Florida. George Millay had finally realized his dream of building
America's first water park. Unfortunately, the park lost 600,000
dollars during its first season and investors started considering
the possibility of abandoning the venture. Fighting the urge to
permanently close it and count his losses, Millay believed the park
would rebound during the second season. He was right. Wet 'N' Wild
had a wonderful year and talks eventually began about the possibility
of building another water park. The first location he chose was
Arlington. Opened in 1983, it lasted until 1995 when Millay sold
the park for unknown reasons to Six Flags. The name was changed
to Hurricane Harbor, then called Six Flags Hurricane Harbor two
years later as part of a re-branding effort.
The 1990s also provided a new home for the Texas Rangers. Approved
for funding during 1991, the Ballpark In Arlington was completed
in April 1994 and hosted its first game, an exhibition match against
the New York Mets. The stadium had its name changed to Americaquest
Field in 2007 and Globe Life Park in 2014. Regardless, residents
for the most part have insisted upon calling it by the original
name. The latest development for the Texas Rangers has been the
announcement of a new stadium to replace the current one. Despite
the controversy sparked since the news arrived in May 2016, it seems
like plans are moving forward. However, because the project is both
a private and public endeavor, an election will have to take place.
Like Globe Life Stadium, the current home of the Dallas Cowboys
had its origins during the 1990s. Owner Jerry Jones originally wanted
the city of Irving to expand its
Texas Stadium by increasing the seating capacity and adding a retractable
roof. However, after his announcement in 1994, the city council
refused to honor his requests and he began looking for a new home.
Jones held private negotiations with Arlington while holding out
hope that Irving would agree to making the improvements. By the
end of the century, no deal had been reached with Arlington and
Texas Stadium remained in its current state. Jerry Jones then decided
to conduct some research other cities that might be interested in
building a new stadium.
In April 2004, Jones announced a proposition to make Fair
Park in Dallas the
new home of his football team. Out of the 650 million dollars required
for the project, the city would have to provide 425 million through
an increase in hotel and car rental taxes. The local government
condemned the offer and refused to hold a special election on the
Undeterred by the refusal, Jerry went straight to Arlington and
began negotiations with the city council. The members voted unanimously
to allow the public to vote on the matter. According to the new
deal, the city would spend 325 million dollars through a tax increase
and Jones would pay the rest, even if the project went over budget.
The measure was passed and Cowboys Stadium was completed in 2009
at a cost of 1.15 billion dollars. The sports venue had its name
officially changed to AT&T Stadium in 2013.
| Cowboys Stadium
Photo by Mahanga
| The latest development
in the city began in August 2013 with the adoption of the Metro Arlington
Express. Before that time, Arlington had maintained its negative reputation
for being the largest American city without a bus system. Beginning
in 1980, the matter of having a transit system periodically entered
public debate, always ending in defeat at the ballot box. The city
council eventually came up with an idea to bring public transportation
without the need for voter approval. The University of Texas in Arlington
would help finance a test project partially funded by the local budget.
It involved providing a bus route from CentrePort Station near DFW
Airport and College Park Center at UTA with an additional stop in
the entertainment district. The endeavor was a remarkable success
and the program was renewed in 2015. It will have to continue going
through the renewal process until the voters decide to permanently
May 7, 2017
note : Do not bother looking for the remains of Seven Seas. Almost
everything is gone and there is no plaque, marker, or sign to remind
visitors of its existence. Located at the intersection of Convention
Center Drive and Copeland Road, the majority of Seven Seas is now
a parking lot. A large hotel stands at the area where visitors entered.
The only remnants are a few water features near the hotel's swimming
pool and a pavilion currently used to host weddings.
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