May is Historic Preservation Month! “Historical Marker Monday” is a new series on my blog highlighting historical markers. This week highlights Top O’ Hill Terrace.
(Yes, today is Tuesday, not Monday. I didn’t get this one done in time.)
Top O’ Hill Terrace
(at Arlington Baptist University)
3001 West Division
Arlington, TX 76012
I chose Top O’ Hill Terrace this week because today is the anniversary of the Texas Historical Marker dedication ceremony. It was held on May 17, 2004.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Top O’ Hill Terrace had an illegal casino with guards, underground tunnels, and secret rooms. Known as “Vegas Before Vegas,” it attracted gamblers, celebrities, and entertainers. The activities continued until 1947 when a raid by the Texas Rangers caught the operation in action. Today, the site is part of Arlington Baptist University and you can tour some of the remaining structures.
Note: I recently read the book and did the tour — I loved them both! I’ll be doing another post about those soon. This post, though, is about the Texas Historical Marker.
Texas Historical Marker
Below is the text from the Texas Historical Marker:
“Beulah Adams Marshall bought land here along the Bankhead Highway in the early 1920s and opened a tea room, hosting teas and serving dinners to Dallas and Fort Worth patrons. In 1926, Fred and Mary Browning purchased the property and shortly began converting the facilities into a casino, adding an escape tunnel and secret room for hiding the gambling paraphernalia during raids. Known as Top O’ Hill Terrace, the popular spot attracted gamblers as well as visitors who were often unaware of the gaming activities. The restaurant, along with the tea garden that exists today, was a legitimate business, operating alongside a brothel as well as the casino, which benefited from the nearby Arlington Downs racetrack. Top O’ Hill Terrace facilities included a horse barn and a private stable for Browning’s prized stud, Royal Ford, purchased from oilman and Arlington Downs owner W.T. Waggoner.
Contemporary to the Top O’ Hill heyday was the outspoken Dr. J. Frank Norris (d. 1952), longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth. The conservative Norris, co-founder of fundamental Baptist Bible Institute, later known as Bible Baptist Seminary and later as the Arlington Baptist College, was an ardent proponent of Prohibition and gambling reform. One of his targets was Top O’ Hill Terrace, which he reportedly vowed one day to own. In 1947, Texas Ranger Captain M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas led a raid on Top O’ Hill, catching the gambling operation in full swing. In late 1956, under the leadership of Earl K. Oldham, the Bible Baptist Seminary bought the property and relocated here, fulfilling Norris’ promise, although neither he nor Browning (d. 1953) had lived to see it. Today, the Arlington Baptist College continues to use the site, which retains many of its original structures and features a statue of Norris by noted sculptor Pompeo Coppini.” (2003)
City of Arlington Landmark
— Post and photos by Jason S. Sullivan, 05-17-21
— Historical Marker text from “Texas Historical Sites – Atlas” – https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us
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