I love downtowns. Imagine singing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” at the top of your lungs while doing that Julie Andrews “the hills are alive thing” right in the middle of a busy downtown. That’s pretty much how I feel about every downtown I visit. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a big city or a small town, an old-fashioned square steeped in nostalgia or a modernized city center. They’re all magical. I was researching the downtowns in the mid-cities for another article when I found some things I never knew about in Irving.
Bonus Fun Stuff:The Best Places for Happy Hour in Plano Right Now.
The more I read, the more I was enticed by the charm of Irving’s Heritage District. And then I headed there for another day. I made an excuse to go for a third time, but at least it was just for the evening. Anyway, you can easily spend a full day in this part of Irving and not get bored for a second. The bygone sits side by side with the contemporary in beautiful harmony.
Did I just write a sonnet about Irving? I certainly gave away my age, and I might need an intervention for this downtown worship syndrome.
…you can easily spend a full day in this part of Irving and not get bored for a second.
The bygone sits side by side with the contemporary in beautiful harmony.
Location, Location, Location
It’s easy to get here by car, by bus, or by train and it’s easy to get around by bicycle or on foot. If you drive, 183 (from the West) and Loop 12 (from north and south) make it pretty easy. Parking is also easy due to on-street parking and several small surface lots in the vicinity. It’s only tough when there’s a big city event or special occasion. I parked at Heritage Park several times during my visits, and there was always an open spot.
From DFW airport, or other locations in Tarrant County, you may want to ride the Trinity Railway Express (TRE.) From Dallas, if you’re riding the rail, you’ll need to choose one of the available bus routes to finish the trip. Still, it’s an easy trip and you may want to bring your bike or take advantage of a bike-share at the station when you arrive.
When you exit the bus or train, you’ll quickly see Big State Fountain and the Irving Main Street Mural across the street. Head on across the street to start your adventure.
An Authentic Train Depot and Caboose
On Main Street, about a block past the mural, you’ll find a park that thinks it’s a museum. It’s generously shaded and thoughtfully designed with benches and a walking path, but if you want to linger and take it all in, it’s probably best to make this stop in the morning.
Irving’s first library building is on one end of the park in its original location. Caster Cabin, on the other end of the park, is a replica of one ofthe oldest homes in the area, which wasn’t yet known as Irving at that time. The log cabin was restored and moved to the park from another location.
The park also pays tribute to the railroads that were responsible for the tremendous growth of the area. A train depot from Fate, Texas and the authentic caboose behind it may not be from Irving, but to some extent, theyclosely resembleIrving’s original train station and train cabooses of the period.
The water tower is a replica of Irving’s first water tower, which was located on Main Street, or rather, right in the middle of it. The windmill is old, the gazebo is new(ish) and the whole thing is just remarkably charming.
Remember When Pharmacies Had Soda Shops?
The “why” is a long and multi-faceted tale, but the fact of the matter is that during Prohibition, just about every drug store in America had a soda fountain. Soda fountains were still all the rage when the Big State Dry Goods store changed its business model to a drug store some twenty years later in 1948. Since then, the grill and soda fountain have been open continuously except for a one-month closure followed by a change of ownership in 2014.
The history is fun, but the food and drinks are the best part! Root beer is still served in a frosted mug. If you prefer alcoholic beer, that’s available too. Kids love the shakes served in stainless steel mixing cups.
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Hamburgers and fries take center stage on the menu, although the restaurant serves breakfast all day and offers daily “blue plate” specials. Several cake stands grace the counter. I dare you to try to pass up a slice of lemon or strawberry or German chocolate cake. Actually, I don’t dare you. Have the cake.
After your meal or treat, wander the gift shop and shop for novelties old and new. Take a selfie with “Elvis” and the jukebox, or step outside and get a shot with Bettie Boop. If you’re of a certain age, the place will bring back a rush of memories from your own hometown. For those too young to remember that era, the colorful décor, solid menu offerings, and eclectic shopping mix still make it an appealing stop on a fun day out in Irving, Texas.
If you’re planning to spend a whole day here, you may want to have lunch at one of the eateries that closes after lunch. Come back to Big State for dinner; they’re open every evening except Sunday.
More Great Places to Eat or Shop Small
You’ll find several more restaurants among the service businesses and shops in the downtown retail area.
Perkdale Bakery and Coffee Shop makes those homemade cakes you can find slices of at Big State. Glory House is primarily an events and catering business, but its bistro offers breakfast and lunch buffets Monday through Friday.
Di Rosani’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar offers a surprisingly extensive menu of traditional Italian dishes and pizza. Villa’s Grill is a Brazilian churrasco, also a surprising find in the downtown collection of decades-old buildings.
Perhaps the happiest surprise of this dining scene is Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Kitchen. In October 2017, the Dallas Observer called it “one of the two most exciting new Thai restaurants in North Texas. They’re closed on Mondays, but if you visit any other day of the week and you’re a Thai food fan, this stop is a must.
Rocking on the Front Porch
While not quite as old as the log cabin at Heritage Park, the house that’s called Heritage House was built in 1912 and is one of the oldest homes in Irving. It has been fully restored and is furnished with antiques, most of which are gifts or loans from Irving’s founding families.
The Irving Heritage Society conducts tours one Sunday afternoon per month, but you can also see some interesting things from the outside. Wander around to the backyard to look around, and maybe sit a spell in one of the rocking chairs on the front porch.
A Slice of Life in 1963
Memories fade with time, but Dallas may always be known as the city that “killed the President.” JFK buffs can visit a museum or take a bus tour to learn more about our 35th president and his assassination in downtown Dallas. But you can also learn more about the events before and after that day in Irving at the Ruth Paine House Museum.
Ruth Paine was an Irving housewife (and later single mom) who befriended Marina Oswald and invited her to live with her while Lee was away working. Lee Harvey Oswald usually stayed in a rooming house during the week and spent the weekends at Ruth’s home. Unbeknownst to Ruth, Oswald had stored his rifle in the garage. He spent a Thursday night at the Irving home and took his rifle with him when he left for work at the Schoolbook Depository the next day – November 22, 1963.
The house museum has been restored and remodeled to look just as it did on that day. Tours begin at the Visitors Center near Irving City Hall. After a quick van ride to the home, visitors can view the home and watch life-size holographic reenactments of police interviews and other discussions with the Paines and the Oswalds in the days leading up to and following that fateful day.
Advance reservations are required to take the tour and can be made online.
Exploring the Vintage Trail
In the historic downtown area near Main Street, you’ll find several places to shop for antiques and vintage treasures. Up the road, you’ll find another fun shop – Ashphill Gift Emporium. These shops have joined together to form a Vintage Trail with special Market Day events throughout the year. You can while away an entire afternoon exploring the trail.
FJS Vintage & Vintage Music Store (upstairs)
A Different Kind of Trail
Throw a rock in Irving and you’ll hit a park. And chances are it’ll be a big one. (The park, not the rock.) In this part of Irving, you’ll find three more parks to explore, each with its own features to enjoy. You may want to start with Centennial park with its long concrete surface trail perfect for walking and biking. Delaware Creek runs through this park and if you follow it south, you’ll come to Senter Park. On the north end, you’ll find the South Irving Library and Millennial Park across the street.
While in Centennial Park, you may want to check out the history wall at Founders Plaza. There’s a log cabin in the park as well as a modern pavilion. Feed the ducks at the creek and when you’re ready to move on, check out Millennium Park.
You can parallel park right beside the awe-inspiring fountain at Millennium Park so there’s no excuse for not getting a good picture. From there, you can easily walk, bike or drive to Veterans Park across the street.
In addition to the bronze sculptures depicting each of our armed forces, Veterans Park has a main memorial wall and dozens of memorial structures honoring individual veterans. Its most recent addition is a statue called “A Mother’s Tear” which sits the large waterfall Fountain of Hope. This park is a perfect place for learning and honoring history. It’s also a welcome place for silent contemplation and gratitude.
Veterans Memorial Park
Sometime during your day, you may want to grab some of the best ever selfies or pics for Instagram. The Main Street Mural in historic downtown Irving is a great start. Southern Junction also has a magnificent mural. Another favorite is the Eat at Joe’s sign near Joe’s Coffee Shop. If you’re there before 3PM, you can also stop in for coffee and pie – or lunch if you like. Across the parking lot from Joe’s you’ll find one of the prettiest self-service car wash buildings you’ve ever seen. Stop and wash your car or wash your dog in their own special bay. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on a pic of the antique garden at Joan’s Spot-Free car wash. You’re gonna get some hearts on that one.
Have you ever visited Irving’s Heritage District and historic downtown? Let us know your favorite things about the area in the comments.
Photos by the author unless otherwise stated.