Tarrant County, TXGenWeb

The Showboat
(Published Oct. 10, 2002, NW Times-Record)

Contributed by Kenneth Klein
Staff Writer, NW Times-Record


For a few short years, The Showboat was the "Flagship" of the fleet of nearly-forgotten nightclubs and other entertainment establishments which once drew large crowds of revelers to Jacksboro Highway in the Lake Worth area. During the earlier part of the last century, Lake Worth was home to many nightclubs competing for a piece of the Casino Park Ballroom clientele - from rude honky-tonks to high-class establishments for area's elite, and each with it's own atmosphere.

One of those establishments in Lake Worth was the Coconut Grove Nightclub was opened by Earl Hodgkins, son of Jim Hodgkins in 1937, on the same ground where the old Hodgkin’s Trading Post was located. It is located where the old Coconut Grove Beer Barn stood, at Jacksboro Hwy and Foster. It was a favorite place for musicians to meet after completing their gigs.

Other nightclubs with exotic names such as The Palm, 2222 Club, The Blue Dragon Inn, The Showboat, Nelson's Place and the 3939 Club (among others) began to dot the Highway, creating a strip leading out of Fort Worth. Jacksboro Highway was beginning to get a reputation. It was called "Jax Beer Highway" or Thunder Road". As the establishments flourished so did the gangster and gambler activity. Many if not all of these clubs offered booze and gambling, except for the Casino Park Ballroom (at least, they were never caught). To insure the peace at the Ballroom, a group of bouncers headed by former heavyweight boxer Sully Montgomery eyed the premises. He later became Tarrant County sheriff from 1946 to 1952, but he made considerably more money from the gambling and protection rackets than he did wearing the star.

The Showboat was a major nightclub that was built in 1937 and was the creation of R.H. Carnahan. It was for all practical purposes, a life-sized replica of a showboat, from the masts, deck chairs, life preservers and full crew in uniform down to the portholes in the hull. Only instead of being moored in the waters of Lake Worth, it was built on dry ground where the old Boat Garden boat dealership was, directly in view of, and competing with the Casino Park Ballroom.

Customers entered the ship via a gangplank. The deck was the dance floor, and the orchestra played from the port side in a giant cream-colored seashell. Chairs and tables were located on the upper deck, which provided an excellent view of the dancing floor. The bar was located between the dance floor and the stateroom. The booze: Scotch from Joe Kennedy’s Irish reserves, beer, whatever your fancy. The prohibition days had ended in 1933, and the booze was flowing! The Stateroom was air conditioned and had a smaller dance floor for those rainy nights. In the hold of the ship- The Game Room, complete with slot machines, gaming tables, Poker. Craps. Blackjack. You name it. The kitchen was originally to serve only fried chicken due to it’s small size. But cattlemen from Midland raised a commotion that it was unfair to the steak. By 1940, 5 kinds of steaks were on the menu.

On July 1, 1938, the ship was officially christened by Mr. Carnahans’ wife. A party of over 500 gave the sendoff, including the Monnings and Mr. & Mrs. Amon Carter (the Carter’s farm, Shady Oaks was less than 2 miles away). Carnahan operated the establishment with Chef John Lacy and Head Waiter "Big Mack" until it closed in September 1939. By June 28, 1940 a new owner, J.P. Bowlin had assumed the wheel, with ‘Captain’ J.O. Kidd as the head waiter. The manager was Omer Dews and the Assistant Manager was Jack Reams.

Sadly the Showboat had a short life, succumbing to fire on Friday, July 25, 1940. The blaze was discovered by Chef Jimmy Davis about 1:15 a.m., in a storeroom directly under the bandstand, but firemen did not receive the call to the structure until 1:52 a.m. By the time they had arrived, flames swept through the dryland boat, destroying it and burning 3 electric transformers nearby, and consuming the nearby building which housed the gas and water plant. The cause of the fire was never determined. Fortunately, there were only minor injuries. But owner J.P. Bowlin had no insurance, so the Showboat was never again opened.

A young lad could make a small fortune in those days, running bottles of whisky to customers at 50 cents each. It was possible to earn $150 a week - a small fortune in those days (roughly the equivalent of $900 today). Women were 50 cents each, or $2 for the night - and plentiful. Although booze and gambling were illegal, either by state or federal law, the strip boomed.

So the practices were general knowledge, even to law enforcement officials. But rarely would an establishment be closed; conveniently, somehow the slot machines and booze would ‘disappear’ from an establishment as watching eyes loomed nearby. Beyond Casino Beach, toward Jacksboro, the counties were dry. The quench for thirst fattened the wallets of many an entrepreneur. Bootleggers loaded up their big, high-powered Buicks, Cadillacs and Lincolns on Hwy 199 before making the 200 to 300 mile run to counties where even beer sales were illegal. It was such a common sight that any car with a trunk loaded down was considered a bootlegger's car!


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