BY SHAUN TREAT
Denton is about to hit those dreaded triple digits after a heckuva wet Spring, so how now to spend our precious sweaty weekends left of summer? We previously spilled the first round of bizarre “Offbeat Denton Sites” with the promise of more, and reckon it’s high time you hardcore urban adventurers get your next set of zany spots. So crank your car A/C and take the short drive to spy one’a these kooky offbeat Denton County sites that maybe someone once mentioned to ya back in the day!
The hands-down most Wayne Manor-like spot in the entirety of Denton County is way outta most of our housing budgets, but the Champ d'Or Estate down in Corinth is a custom-built French baroque chateau fit for a Bond film. It’s French title translates as “Field of Gold” not just for its ostentatiousness, but also as a nod to the surname of Alan and Shirley Goldfield, who originally built the infamous chateau in 2002 after five years of planning and construction. The classy 25-acre estate also includes a one-and-a-half-acre lake, lush gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools with a guest pool house, a tennis court, it’s own movie theatre and bowling alley, a posh ballroom, and a garden veranda that can seat 450 of your closest pals for martinis. I have yet to spot a Batmobile racing out of an underground cave, only tinted bulletproof limousines of faceless moguls surveying the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless” mansion with a 20 car garage and $35 Million pricetag. We aren't the right folks to ask what you’d need to dress like to tour the grounds, but maybe an ascot and a Monopoly dude monocle? Any number of superhero villains could shoot their movie here, so someone ring Marvel Studios. This sprawling estate is definitely worth a drive-by if you can catch the gates open, but preview the swankiness with this slideshow tour at Forbes.
A more humble but no less awesome site is our locally beloved Art Fence on Sherman Blvd., the inspired creation of Rose Costumes' Judy Smith. Her vintage clothes and costume shop was already a Fry Street legend before she moved it to her North Loop 288 location in 2004, but Smith's “adopt-a-spot” project via the always great Keep Denton Beautiful, started over 20 years ago when she began decorating it with funky shoes, eclectic pictures, and repurposed ephemera. There was a huge kerfuffle when Natural Grocers removed the iconic Denton landmark as they moved into their new location, but the store quickly sponsored replacement of the beloved fence with Judy’s help when they were flooded with complaints and angry letters. Worth more than a drive-by, Judy’s Art Fence richly rewards a loitering gander at its kitschy gems.
But if’n you’re hankering for a cool spot to linger about, take a short drive up to Pilot Point and check out the Farmers and Merchants Bank Gallery. Filled with scads of incredible Texas art and antiques to peruse, the historic 1896 landmark building is itself also really interesting to browse. The F&M Gallery owner, Wes Miller, bought the building in 1975 and has occupied it longer than the original bank, which closed in 1931 during the Great Depression after 31 years of business. The F&M Gallery was a filming location for the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde film, and the town hosts a nifty Bonnie & Clyde Days Festival every October, but the spot is also nationally famous for its 2005 ACLU censorship lawsuit that was quite the local scandal! In 2003, Wes Miller commissioned a painting for an exterior wall from artist Justine Wollaston, a Michaelangelo-inspired mural depicting a bare-breasted Eve that sent some pearl-clutching local Puritans into hysterics. The Police Chief threatened to arrest Miller for exposing children to pornography, Miller snarkily responded by covering the breasts with “Crime Scene” tape, lawsuits flew and tempers flared. When Pilot Point officials backed down in 2005, Miller defiantly commissioned another mural that depicts a naked Lady Liberty lounging on an American flag as a long-lasting middle finger to censorship. You can still check ‘em out on the north wall of the building, then on your way back to Denton you should stop by the Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch and eat some pizza at The Bear’s Den with live bears. No, seriously, it’s a thing.
But where the heck is our history and nostalgia, you wonder? Howzabout the urban corpse of a beloved long-dead drive-in movie theater you can explore with just your bicycle and a smartphone? Done. The Ranchero Drive-In on far North Elm HWY 77 is just maybe where many a local stole their first kiss under the flickering screen, but the only thing left of the first-of-its-kind-in-Denton venue is a desolate portion of the snack bar and its ghostly footprint on Google maps near UNT’s Discovery Park. Luckily, there’s a new drive-in concept coming soon to Lewisville for outdoor movie buffs! Meanwhile, 2 Charlies has outdoor patio movies on Wednesdays this summer.
We also can’t neglect the Denton Historic Park where the Saturday Farmers Market brings scads of folks out! Y’all should most definitely tour the lovely Bayless-Selby House and the Quakertown House while you’re there, as our Denton museums open 10a-3p on Saturdays, or check the Courthouse on the Square exhibits featuring “Made in Denton County” and the Dorothy Bertine watercolor paintings or bizarrely fascinating Pecan Art of local visionary B.W. Crawford. Heck, wandering the historic courthouse is always an afternoon well spent!! Also go snap some photos at Eureka Park in South Denton while it lasts, since it’s set for demolition and a remodel pretty soon (be sure to donate here). Not much of summer left, y’all, so squeeze in these zany urban adventures while you can!
Shaun Treat PhD is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture.