A Dallas Motel Was So-Called Rare Haven for Black Travelers
By ROBERT WILONSKY
The Dallas Morning News
DALLAS (AP) — In all of Dallas, Texas, there stands today but a single motel that once served as a rare haven for black travelers driving through Jim Crow country.
The Dallas Morning News reports the motor court sits along Fort Worth Avenue where it dead-ends into Interstate 30, a short drive from the gravesite of Clyde and Buck Barrow. The motel looks today just as it did in the mid-1950s, a sprawling “C” of red bricks and white hitching posts and — hard to believe — clean garages next to each of the 30 units. On and off since its opening in 1947, this motel carried the word “Ranch” somewhere in its moniker, and as soon as you pull in you can see why.
The motel was rechristened Inn of the Dove in 2007. But it’s still very much the Triple R Ranch Motel, as it was known upon its opening in 1947. Or the Triple A Motel, as it was referred to in the Negro Motorist Green Book from 1956 until ’61. Or the Ranch Motel, as it was known for many of its 72 years.
“Very impressive,” said city planner and preservationist Jennifer Anderson as we walked the property Thursday afternoon.”
“She wore a wide smile as Tony Patel, the motel owner’s son, gave us a tour of the grounds and rooms. “It’s still so … intact.”
Anderson, who works in Dallas City Hall’s Historic Preservation division, gave the place a brief mention in a January blog post documenting three decades’ worth of Dallas Green Book listings. The road-trip movie “Green Book” starring Mahershala Ali as musician Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as his driver Tony Lip had just received a handful of Academy Award nominations.
The film went on to win Oscars for best picture, best supporting actor and best original screenplay.
Anderson culled through three decades’ worth of travel guides to find out which local establishments merited mention in the booklets that gave “the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable,” according to the introduction to the 1949 edition.
She found that Dallas had only two locations still standing. One isn’t an official city landmark but should be — the downtown Moorland YMCA, home to the Dallas Black Dance Theater. This motel, at 1839 Fort Worth Ave., is the other. Author Lawrence Ross wrote about his visit there for The Root online magazine in 2017.
The lodge first appeared in this paper in 1947 as the Triple R Ranch Motel. Five years later it was called the Triple A. Then, a year after that, in ’53, it was again the Triple R Ranch, where operator Cora Reynolds was arrested and charged with and eventually convicted of running a “bawdy house,” which is to say a brothel.
Tony Patel had no idea his dad’s motel had been a Green Book listing six decades ago — had no idea what “Green Book” even meant, outside of its use as a popular movie’s title. Anderson gave him the brief history of the guide that, from 1937 until 1967, steered black motorists toward places where they could stay and play and eat and drink without fear of being turned away or worse.
“Now it has more history to it — more value, I suppose,” Tony said of the motel. “It changes your perspective.”
Tony said his dad bought the place in 2007, the year the boarded-up Ranch Motel joined the Alamo Plaza Courts and the Mission Motel on Preservation Dallas’ list of Most Endangered Places due to “neglect and development pressures.” The Alamo exists now just as pieces of a sign scattered all over Sylvan Thirty; the old Mission site on West Commerce Street is an apartment complex stamped from cookie cutters.
Tony said that during the motel’s makeover, someone suggested his father slather the Ranch with stucco. Ramesh Patel refused, according to his son: “He said, ‘I like it the way it is.'”
The place seems to be in better shape, inside and out, than most of this city’s official landmarks. The giant lawn in the center of the complex used to be a swimming pool, and the coffee shop and soda fountain are long gone. But otherwise, a visit is like driving into a time warp.
This is one of those everyday landmarks we take for granted, a footnote to history we drive past without a second glance. If this place were to disappear, no one would notice or care. Which is why Anderson wanted to highlight its existence, during a recent visit to the site with a journalist.
“I don’t think the average person is going to pull in here and go, ‘Oh, this is historic,'” Anderson said. “But once they know what this place meant for people, hopefully it endears them to it.”
Among the local establishments listed in the Green Books were motels, the YMCA and restaurants. Most were in Short North Dallas, near North Hall Street and Ross Avenue, or in the State-Thomas neighborhood — near the freedmen’s settlement swallowed up by what became Uptown. A few, too, were close to Fair Park.
Some hotels, including the Howard on San Jacinto Street and Powell on State Street and Grand Terrace on Boll Street, were bulldozed a lifetime ago, replaced by expensive townhomes and apartments. The Palm Cafe and Shalimar Restaurant stood on a section of Hall Street that’s now a North Central Expressway overpass. And some other Green Book motels are impossible to find, such as the 2nd Ave. Motel, listed in the 1956 and ’57 editions on a street that does not exist today.
And though Green Acre Court off Ross Avenue shuttered in 1976 and was in the process of being smashed to landfill rubble in the fall of 2017, various literature contained copious references to the place. It was referenced in Ray Charles histories as the place he and Della Beatrice Howard stayed in 1955; Etta James mentioned it in her autobiography “Rage To Survive;” photos of heavyweight champ Joe Louis at the Green Acre survive in the Dallas Public Library’s archives.
These days, upscale development is beginning to encroach on the area around the Inn of the Dove; developers are devouring this side of West Dallas. Tony Patel says his father has been approached repeatedly with big money for the historic site.
“Please don’t sell it,” Anderson pleaded to the 28-year-old.
He told her not to worry: His father wants “to maintain it as it is” and has no intention of selling. You could see the relief spread over Anderson’s face.
“It’s really exciting that it’s still here, and that you guys have taken such good care of it,” she told him. “It makes history real.”