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Just where was Fort Worth's old 'Gold Coast'?

Special to the Star-Telegram

Listen in on police radio transmissions today, and you'll hear official chatter about numbered "sectors" around Fort Worth.

But in early 20th-century Fort Worth, police used more colorful language to pinpoint locations. Areas such as "Gold Coast," "Cabbage Patch," "Hogan's Alley" and "Battercake Flats" identified the neighborhoods where cops covered their beats.

Fort Worth Police Sgt. Kevin Foster, who spends a lot of his spare time digging up the department's history, found the police designations for neighborhoods in a Feb. 18, 1923, Star-Telegram. With help from the local history staff at the Fort Worth Central Library, Foster matched some old beat nicknames to neighborhoods.

"Bohunk Alley" -- a word created with parts of the words Bohemian and Hungarian -- was what police called a settlement of Stockyards packinghouse workers.

"Bums' Bowery" was an area that extended along the northern part of Texas and Pacific Railroad property. Numerous transients lived in makeshift houses and sneaked rides "on the rods" from city to city.

The "League of Nations" referred to a section in northeastern downtown where recent immigrants from various countries often settled when they first came to Fort Worth. When officers were summoned to the area, they often had enormous difficulty understanding witnesses because of the myriad languages spoken.

The affluent residential area along Summit and Pennsylvania avenues was called the "Gold Coast" by police on the beat. The ritzy area along Main and Houston streets was called "Silk Stocking Lane."

"Little Africa" referred to Ninth Street, where black businesses and entertainment venues lined the thoroughfare. The diverse businesses included black millionaire Bill "Gooseneck" McDonald's Fraternal Bank and Trust Co., hotels, theaters, cafes, barbershops and stores owned and operated by African-American entrepreneurs.

A massive immigration of Irish looking for railroad construction jobs began in 1876, and many of them settled in "Irish Town," east of Jones Street and just below East Lancaster Avenue. Irish Town was also the area of mysterious murders of "bulls" -- a nickname for policemen that was imported by the Irish.

"Little Mexico" was called the "romantic beat" by officers because of the women in dark dresses and bright shawls who passed cantinas around lower Calhoun and Jones streets.

"Brown's Mule Square" covered the parklike grounds then encircling Courthouse Square on the far north end of downtown. It was named after a popular brand of chewing tobacco because chewers frequented the cool, shady lawns around the Tarrant County Courthouse to spin tales while they "constantly chawed and expectorated."

Police calls were infrequent in "Quality Grove," a north side residential area where many working-class blacks lived.

It had whitewashed frame homes surrounded by matching picket fences.

Another working-class neighborhood -- this one mostly of Anglos -- was "Hogan's Alley," which followed West 13th Street in downtown Fort Worth. Families lived above their businesses, including printing and typesetting shops, engraving setups and photography studios.

The notorious "Hell's Half Acre" -- roughly occupying the area of today's Fort Worth Convention Center -- contained saloons, gambling parlors, hotels, bordellos and other businesses that catered to the weaknesses of men and women.

Policemen dreaded going into the Acre, where they were called "bull's-eyes" because they were likely targets of gun-toting bad guys.

The Acre was about eight blocks long and five blocks wide -- covering Ninth to 16th streets north and south and from Houston to Jones streets east and west.

The police beat nicknames served their purpose until the late 1930s, when the city, particularly the downtown area, began changing radically.

The cop beat names are among tidbits we can expect when Foster and a local author-historian-professor, Richard F. Selcer, finish a book that they hope to release in the fall -- Cowboys and Cops.

Source: Star-Telegram, Sgt. Kevin Foster, Local History and Genealogical Section of the Central Fort Worth Library.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Bill Fairley