Poker to Preachers and Bowling

As a Certified Tourism Ambassador or CTA, I’m invited to participate in discovery days hosted by area conventions and visitors bureaus. These outings help us as CTAs to see what is out there and experience the area’s attractions. When we are familiar with them then we can recommend or comment on them to visitors.

Last Friday, Arlington CVB hosted North Texas CTAs at several attractions. We didn’t visit any of the big-billed attractions like Cowboy’s Stadium or Six Flags but instead several lesser known sites. The sites included some historic buildings, the UTA Planetarium, the Arlington Music Hall and a science center. With so many attractions to choose from, it was hard to decide what to do during the four hour event. We, my sister, mom and I, settled on Top O’ Hill Terrace and the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. Both of which I had never heard of before but would gladly go back and visit again.

Top O’ Hill Terrace

We’ve all heard stories or seen movies about organized crime, illegal gambling and speakeasies, which most of us would normally associate with Chicago, New York City and other big, old cities. However, Arlington, Texas was home to one such establishment of the 1920s that brought in $50,000-$100,000 a night doubling it on weekends. Because of the nearby horse track, Arlington Downs, and a reputation reaching top-tier celebrities, for many years this casino, Top O’ Hill Terrace, thrived.

Tea Garden where gamblers would pretend to have been all night after being chased out of the casino through secret tunnels. Supposedly, many people were murdered in this garden.

The grounds didn’t only house the casino but also a brothel, stables for race horses, training facilities for top boxers of the time and more. The casino itself was equipped for avoiding detection with armed gate guards, change-over capabilities from casino to tea room, and hidden tunnels for quick escape during raids. The current tour takes you to many of these locations and lets you look into the escape tunnels that Texas Rangers really chased illegal gamblers through.

One of the hidden chambers where the casino hid its illegal gambling paraphenelia during raids. It was forgotten about until they started telling the story of Top 'O Hill Terrace.

The ruin of the casino came as a local fundamentalist Baptist minister, J. Frank Norris, fought against gambling with Top O’ Hill at the top of his list. He organized many raids into the facility including the one that scared most of the business away and ultimately caused the casino to close its doors. Because of Norris’ involvement the Bible Baptist Seminary that he founded bought the property in 1956 converting the notorious former casino into a school for preachers, the former brothel into a women’s dormitory.

One of the escape tunnels. This one exits right below the Tea Garden with easy access to it.

Perhaps just as interesting as the story is how the story has only recently come to light. For years, the seminary, now the Arlington Baptist College, didn’t talk about the property’s shady past. In their opinion it had been cleansed from the evil influences that shouldn’t be spoken about. Only recently, when the wife of a former president of the college, Vickie Bryant, came across the connection of their founder Norris to the shutting down of the casino, did the college start telling the story. Vickie has dedicated a lot of time and energy to collecting artifacts and stories connecting to the school’s past and organizing and giving tours.

To schedule individual or group tours contact Vickie Bryant at (817)461-8741 ext. 109 or email her at vbryant@abconline.org. There is a $5 per person donation for tours. This is an interesting piece of history worth an adventure.

Bowling

First of all, who knew that there was an International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame or Bowling International Research Center and Training Facility? I sure didn’t. If I had heard someone mention it before, I definitely would not have placed it in North Texas but more likely the Midwest somewhere. Well, I now stand corrected and gladly because this was such an interesting place. I wish we could have taken a tour of the training and research facilities too.

Yep, not only is there an International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame but it is right across the street from Six Flags where I've been tons of times.

The state-of-the-art museum utilizes a variety of storytelling and engagement methods to inform visitors all about bowling. There are audio and video presentations, games, life-size dioramas, hands-on learning displays and more. The museum takes you on a journey through the history of bowling, variations of the game and then what makes bowling what it is today. Did you know that bowling was most likely invented by the Egyptians? Yep, they have found bowling apparatus in Egyptian tombs. Over the course of several centuries, this leisure activity found its way to Europe with tons of variations. Some of the stories of bowling in history are downright laughable and very interesting. For instance, King Edward III allegedly banned bowling for his army so they wouldn’t get distracted from archery practice.

As you wind through the museum, you discover the changes in the game and technology that made it a wide-spread and beloved sport by people all over the world. One great feature of the museum is the interactivity provided by games that teach about bowling around the world, proper techniques and more. My favorite game though was the arcade-sized bowling alley that we could play five frames on. I beat my sister and mom with a whopping 63.

I also learned that there are different grease patterns on lanes that change how your ball rolls and that the core of bowling balls can be many different shapes. Even though I had never heard of it, many obviously have.

It just goes to show that you never know what adventures are right in your own backyard until you go out and find them. It could be an international destination for enthusiasts of xyz or it could be a piece of history that’s been covered up and untold for many decades and has recently come to light. Whatever it is, it’s an adventure and it’s out there so go have one.

One response to “Poker to Preachers and Bowling

  1. I would definitely recommend these sites to go see and enjoy. I also hope that as more time passes that Top O’ Hill Terrace will be able to do even more research into its past.

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