In the early ’80s, when there was serious talk about tearing down the  Lakewood Theater, it was more than resident Jo Barr could bear.

 

Sure, it’s a neighborhood legend and architecturally significant, but that wasn’t the only reason Barr couldn’t bear to see the theater in the path of a wrecking ball.

 

“I told my husband, ‘But mother and daddy had their first blind-date at that theater!” she recalls. So, in the spirit of romance and preservation, Jo and her husband B.B. bought, renovated and reopened the theater in 1984 (its safety guaranteed, the couple later sold it and the theater is now operated by Keith McKeague.)

 

For those of us who now enjoy its art deco furnishings, 15 cent movies and gay bingo nights, or just its historical presence in our neighborhood … well, little did we know we have Goerf and Lorene Hensley to thank for it. Them and their blossoming love of 1939.

 

 

Of all the theaters …

 

More than 60 years ago, Neva Totton phoned her friend Lorene Dixon on a Saturday afternoon and casually asked her: Did she want a date for the evening?

 

Goerf Hensley recalls he and his brothers were all at the café where Totton worked. “ Neva said: We have a girl here who wants a date tonight. Felt said: I’ll go. O’Dell said: I’ll go. And I said I’d go.”

 

So Neva told Lorene to pick one of them to be her date. Was it going to be Felt, O’Dell or Goerf?

 

Lorene, who had a penchant for flare skirts and the jitterbug, had never met any of the brothers, so she simply chose the name she liked best: Goerf. It turned out to be a much more fateful decision than she could have guessed at the time.

 

Goerf, too, didn’t put much stock in the blind date at first. He says he probably wore “a brown old pair of pants … I didn’t go all dressed up.”

 

He, Neva and her boyfriend picked Lorene up and drove over to the newest theater in town: the Lakewood Theater. When pressed as to whether he made his date pay her own 10-cent admission price, he admits with a chuckle: “I probably did.”

 

Was it love at first sight? “About halfway, I guess,” says Goerf with another grin. But that initial spark was enough to lead to a second outing, and Goerf, who had planned to move to Arizona, was smitten enough to cancel the trip.

 

Eventually, what started as a blind date meant only to kill time on a Saturday night ended as a date with destiny: Goerf and Lorene were married Feb. 3, 1941.

 

And 61 years later, their lifelong bond would save a neighborhood landmark.

 

 

Back in the Day

 

All these years, three children, 9 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren later, Goerf and Lorene Hensley, now 90 and 84 years old, recall not only their first date, but living, working and raising their family in East Dallas .

 

The family ties that first bound the couple to Dallas as they grew up strengthened as they prepared to start their own family. Goerf was originally from Rhinehart, just outside of Dallas, while Lorene was raised on a farm near Audelia and Forest .

 

The area, known as Vickery, was then considered on the outskirts of Dallas , and the newlyweds decided to settle there.

 

Goerf took a job making $15 a week tending the grounds at Grove Hill Cemetery . Though it might not seem like much now, Goerf insists the pay was a big improvement over earlier jobs he’d had during the Depression.

 

“I worked all day for a dollar and a quarter a day, three days a week in the ’30s. Three days a week was all you could get. It took $2.50 for groceries. Three dollars and seventy-five cents a week was what I worked for.”

 

Later, during World War II, Lorene and Goerf both went to work for North American Airlines, building war planes, P51s and B29s. Eventually, Goerf moved to the Safeway company and worked there 30 years in truck dispatching before retiring in 1974.

 

     After their children — Pat, Gary and Jo — were born, they moved “in town” to East Dallas in 1950, and finally put down more permanent roots in Hollywood Heights around 1955. Here the children grew up and went to school. All three graduated from Woodrow Wilson between 1959 and 1968.

 

As their children married and raised families of their own, Lorene and Goerf moved from Hollywood Heights , but chose to remain in Lakewood . The entire clan — children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — followed their lead and still live in either our neighborhood or in the metroplex.

 

What has kept everyone so loyal to the area?

 

“Family!” Pat and Jo respond emphatically at the same time. “We have a lot of family close by.”

 

While the familial bonds have remained a constant, the Hensleys have seen our neighborhood go through many transformations. They recall with fondness times spent at White Rock Lake , before it too succumbed to troubled times and had to be pulled back from the brink of destruction.

 

          “They are more strict on the lake now. Years ago, you could go out and stay all night,” Goerf says with a touch of nostalgia. “We used to go out there and have campouts and cookouts and fish all night.”

 

Jo adds: “We used to go down to the lake and mother and daddy would fix breakfast on a gas stove on Saturday or Sunday mornings.” The family also remembers a time when playing on the spillway and swimming in the lake were allowed.

 

There are, of course, other sentimental bits of history that disappear as any city expands and the times change. A streetcar ran right past the theater through Lakewood and on toward downtown, costing only seven cents to climb onboard. Goerf remembers the Minyard family opening Carnival Icehouse off of Ross and Henderson in 1932, right before Minyard and his sons built their first grocery store. And though it’s difficult to imagine now, there used to be an airport at Abrams and

Northwest Highway

.

 

Fortunately, history and progress have been kinder to what is one of the more important landmarks in our neighborhood and the Hensley family’s own lore.

 

Goerf and Lorene, forever busy with family and careers and summer trips to the lake, only made it back to the theater once more, in 1941. An opera was playing, and Goerf didn’t much care for it, so they left before the show finished. 

 

Regardless, the theater served its purpose in their lives the night Lorene chose Goerf. And, when asked the obvious question as to whether she picked the right brother, Lorene coyly replies, “I guess so.”

 


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