Grand Prairie is a darling of a city, right smack in the middle of the metroplex. Its character is a little in the middle too -- not quite quaint, but not thoroughly modern either. Grand Prairie’s magic lies in mixing the two so seamlessly that residents take it for granted. Visitors miss out on a few things that have faded to memory, like Kip’s Big Boy, Gibson’s and Mott’s stores, the Grand Prairie Roller Rink, Millar Drugs, and from even earlier days, the Baghdad Supper Club. But some things never change, and many of the city’s old loves remain, as contemporary versions make their place alongside them. That’s something visitors (first-time or home-towners returning) can truly appreciate in this very special city.

Military/Aviation Industry

Grand Prairie and the nearby area sprang up around military aviation production for World War II. In 1940, Hensley Field became the Naval Reserve Aviation Base and during that decade, Grand Prairie grew from a population of 1,000 to 15,000.

Fond Memories:

Everyone knew someone who worked at LTV; it wasn’t unusual for entire families to be employed there. Back-to-school shopping meant buying jeans from the Army Navy store.

What’s happening now:

LTV Corporation is now a division of Grumman-McDonald Douglas; Lockheed Martin is the city’s second largest employer. The Army Navy store is still on Main Street, and Grand Prairie now boasts a drone store.

Dallas Drone on East Main Street in Grand Prairie is the first drone retail store in DFW, and among the first in the world. Open to the public, they provide drone education and repair as well as sales to professionals and hobbyists. Specializing in racing, they own the first permanent drone racing track in Texas.

Downtown

Main Street and the downtown area grew as the population boomed. As of 1950, downtown occupants included Grand Prairie State Bank, Millar’s Drug Store with its soda fountain and lunch counter, and Grand Prairie Hardware, which had been around since 1879.

Grand-Prairie-tx-attractions

Fond Memories:

Eating burgers and sundaes at Kip’s Big Boy, hanging out after Gopher games at the Jack in the Box, and buying homecoming mums from Hoffman’s, dresses from Watson’s, and shoes from Goff’s are just a few of the memorable moments high schoolers in Grand Prairie enjoyed.

What’s happening now:

Jack in the Box and Hoffman Florist are about the only places still standing from those wonder years. Recent efforts to revitalize downtown brought several new shops and restaurants, as well as the incredible Farmers Market facility.

Farmers Market

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Recently honored by American Farmland Trust as one of the most celebrated Farmers Markets in America, the Grand Prairie Farmers Market has market vendors on site on Saturdays from March through December. The Market Square also serves as a venue for city events like the Main Street Festival and themed celebrations and events including a Crawfish Boil, Craft Fair Day, and Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Movies

Coinciding with the rise of movies as entertainment and the golden age of Hollywood, movie theaters started appearing in the area. In 1950, the Uptown Theater joined the Wings Theater and the Texas Theater on Main Street.

Fond Memories:

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For some locals, the smell of popcorn brings back memories of Saturday kiddie shows at the Uptown. Others remember the Kung Fu movies or blockbusters from the 70s. Grand Prairie had a drive-in theater too.

What’s happening now:

The Century Drive-In is gone but Uptown Theater reopened in 2008, fully refurbished to its former glory, as a performing arts venue and event center.

Uptown Theater
Now the home of the Grand Prairie Arts Council, Uptown Theater plays host to everything from community theater to nationally touring plays, musicals and concerts. Their 2016 Presenting Series features The Lettermen, Three Redneck Tenors, and four more great shows.

Animal Attractions

From 1970 until 1992, people flocked by the carload to the drive-through zoo known as Lion Country Safari. Kids of all ages loved seeing lions, zebras and other African wildlife up close.

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Fond Memories:

Those car side animals were crazy! There were some particularly excitable monkeys if I remember correctly. Sadly, the park closed after flooding of the Trinity River endangered the animals. All that remains are building foundations and trails now used for biking and jogging.

What’s happening now:

Grand Prairie’s prime animal attraction is now Lone Star Park where visitors can watch and bet on live thoroughbred and quarter horse racing. Verizon Theater and the Texas AirHogs Stadium are also part of the entertainment complex across the street from the old Lion Country Safari grounds.

Lone Star Park

Spring brings thoroughbred season, with races every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from April to July at Lone Star Park. The park’s Bar and Book restaurant is open year round and hosts simulcast racing. Live bands perform after the races on select Friday nights.

Verizon

Called the “theater of the future,” Verizon Theater has an indoor concert hall as well as an outdoor space for larger performances, called The Field. The venue offers a full schedule of concerts and has hosted a wide range of performers including Robin Williams, the Eagles, Justin Bieber, and Michael Buble.

Texas AirHogs

All of Texas loves the Texas Rangers, but Grand Prairie’s team, the Texas AirHogs, plays in a different league. Literally – it’s a minor league team, and a great one at that. For 2016, the Grand Prairie AirHogs have merged with the Amarillo Thunderheads to form the Texas AirHogs.

Odd Amusements

The Wax Museum of the Southwest moved to Grand Prairie from a Fair Park location in 1972. The museum featured figures of Bonnie and Clyde, among others, as well as historic memorabilia.

Fond Memories:

Not so fond for some, is the memory of the gory hanged-man decapitation scene. Death scenes were abundant and the macabre was ramped up for Halloween every year, to the enjoyment of many. The place even has a real-life murder mystery surrounding it.

What’s happening now:

About a year after a fire destroyed the wax museum in 1988, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax moved into this location. The attraction is still going strong today, but with a focus on mainstream pop culture instead of history.

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Under the Ripley Entertainment umbrella, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! now features five attractions. Ripley’s Odditorium pretty much defines oddities. More active attractions include the Enchanted Mirror Maze, Moving Theater, and Impossible LaseRace. Tussaud’s Palace of Wax is there too, with more than 200 life-like wax figures, focusing largely on the pop culture arena.

Shopping

Grand Prairie mall lovers had to drive to Irving or Arlington until 1970 when Forum 303 Mall opened. It was anchored by Leonard’s (later acquired by Dillard’s) and Montgomery Ward.

Fond Memories:

Watching movies at Forum 6, seeing fashion shows in the amphitheater, and skating at the ice rink were all part of the Forum 303 zeitgeist. For some of us, it was our first taste of Chick-Fil-A, and who could forget Piccadilly Cafeteria?

What’s happening now:

The well-loved mall has now been demolished and an industrial area takes up the space. That doesn’t mean shopping has died in Grand Prairie. Residents and visitors alike now enjoy Asia Times Square, also on Pioneer Parkway, and Grand Prairie Premium Outlets on I-20.

Asia Times Square

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A shopping center with restaurants, retail, beauty shops, and more, Asia Times Square opened in 2008 and expanded in 2013. Hong Kong Market is one of the DFW area’s two largest Asian grocery stores, offering fresh produce and meat as well as live seafood.

Grand Prairie Premium Outlets
About a hundred premium and designer brands are represented in at Grand Prairie Premium Outlets. From Charlotte Russe and Famous Footwear to Calvin Klein and Kate Spade, shoppers can find the fashions they crave in a range of prices.

Food and Coffee

All that shopping will make you hungry. Grand Prairie’s favorite food choices were and still are mostly casual – pizza, burgers and dogs, and of course, Mexican food. Some very memorable restaurants have come and gone over the years.

Fond Memories:

Locals loved Don Juan’s Romantic Mexican Food so much they could navigate there by smell. Kids at Shakey’s Pizza watched mesmerized as pizza makers tossed dough around until it was time to eat the pizza and watch silent films. Lunching at The Prairie Dog, Theo’s, or the A & W drive-In was an essential part of teen life. Memories of the homemade cinnamon rolls from Red R Coffee shop will transport true Grand Prairie natives to straight to heaven (where we belong.)

What’s happening now:

Both the Prairie Dog and Theo’s Drive-In are still open, and diners have some new choices for burgers and dogs too. Don Juan’s is still cooking delicious Mexican food too. New kids on the block, Mixed Up Burgers, D-Town Coney Island, and Beto’s now serve up delicious eats, and the latest in coffee shops is The Brass Bean on Main Street.

Mixed Up Burgers

With two locations in Grand Prairie, Mixed Up Burgers puts a great twist on burgers by mixing up goodies on the inside of the burger. Throwback Thursday savings and a unique Burger of the Month are impossible to resist.

D-Town Coney Island

Authentic Detroit-style hot dogs from D-Town Coney Islandmay just get you drooling. Munchies including Fries, Coney Fries and Loaded Fries dominate the rest of the menu.

Beto's

Beto’s is a family-owned Mexican restaurant that got its start in an abandoned space that had been a Dairy Mart decades before. The restaurant operated out of that small and sad-looking building for nearly a decade. But the food was great and folks just kept coming. The food’s still great, and folks still keep coming, but now they get to come to the family’s beautifully-designed flagship restaurant with a huge dining room and a private dining room to boot.

The Brass Bean

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Across from the Farmers Market downtown, The Brass Bean is a full service coffee and espresso bar that serves breakfast (all day on Saturdays!) and lunch six days a week. The nostalgic setting will charm you while Wi-Fi keeps you connected (if you have to be).

Wrapping up this “then and now” journey makes me want to head to Grand Prairie soon for a new adventure inspired by decades of memories. I’m glad it no longer takes a full day on horseback to reach my hometown like it did in 1909. I can swing by and reminisce or make new memories in just a few-minutes’ drive. On your next visit to Dallas or Fort Worth, be sure to make time for a stop in this lovely little city in the middle.

Does this story bring back fond memories of your hometown? What nostalgic places do you wish were still around DFW? Let us know in the comments below.

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Grand Prairie is full of things to do. It is a darling of a city, right smack in the middle of the #DFW metroplex. 7 things that make Grand Prairie great: then and now.