Listen to One of Our Oral History Interviews: Sylvia Barlow

In the 1970s the Denton Public Library began its first oral history program. There were around 42 interviews completed within the years 1974-1976. Alec Williams worked for the library at that time and interviewed all of the participants, who were from various parts of Denton County. About half of the oral histories were transcribed until the funding ran out. The remaining reel-to-reels were uncovered in a box when the Special Collections department was opened in 2005. We have since had a few of the reels converted to digital each year, and when time presents itself, we work on the transcriptions.

One of the tapes contained the interview of Sylvia Barlow and took place on July 31, 1975 at the library (you can hear a typewriter in the background). Alec told me that he interviewed her at a time of great stress in her life, but that she was determined to do the interview. I only met Mrs. Barlow a couple of times and I would most whole-heartedly agree that she was a determined woman. She came into the Special Collections department in 2006 with some photographs of her parents restaurant, Joe’s Pit Bar-B-Q, wanting to know if we would like to scan them (we did) for historical purposes and she shared some of her family’s history. I am especially grateful to Sylvia Barlow for doing that.

Joe's pit bar-b-que 1932

Here are some things I took from the interview: Her parents, Joe and Irma Wankan, came to Denton during the Depression in 1932 (Sylvia was 14 at the time). Her father loved to cook and decided to venture into the restaurant business. Together, they opened Joe’s Pit Bar-B-Q. The oral history interview does not say the exact date or location and I cannot find them in the city directories or yellow pages because there aren’t any surviving ones for those years (at least that I can find), but I believe they must have started their first venture in their home at 510 S. Locust Street around the later half 1932. The Denton Record-Chronicle advertised the grand opening of their new location on August 24, 1933  at 514 South Street, which was across the street from the old Denton County hospital and next door to their home.

joe's home

Home of Joe and Irma Wankan at 510 S. Locust St., Denton, Texas. It is now the Dime Store, although altered. Note the Reserved Parking signs in front of the house.

Sylvia and her sister, Irma Jo, would run the stand from 2-5 and gave curb service. They were known for their sandwiches. Joe kept up with the times and and looking through the their advertisements in the 1940 Denton Record-Chronicle, the name and menu changed; Joe’s Pit Bar-B-Q had become Joe’s Pit Bar-B-Q & Steak House and then in 1942,  Joe’s Steak House. Many different slogans ran in the paper and some of my favorites were: “Good Food Is Good Health,” “Announcing Joe’s Arizona Greaseless Chili – It’s Different! No Indigestion!” and “Experience Proper Refrigeration.”

So where is the building now? Just a memory. It was torn down and there is a parking lot where it once stood: situated between Davis Purity Bakery and the Dime Store. Too bad they didn’t make a Denton reel that went with the View Master that I had as a kid. It would be fun to walk around to various addresses and look through it.

Joe's post card

Sylvia and her husband, Hood Barlow, later opened up Barlow’s cafe – and in addition to working in and running restaurants that hopefully made your mouth water – she did a lot of important things.

You can hear her interview here:

or come to the library and read her transcription.

There is more to her story.

 

-Leslie Couture, Special Collections department
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5 thoughts on “Listen to One of Our Oral History Interviews: Sylvia Barlow

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Sylvia Barlow was my aunt. Joe & Irma Wankan were my grandparents. The restaurant would later become the Steak House.
    Joe B. Rice

  2. I am very curious, and have been for some time, about the oral history collection. It was begun near the end of my father’s tenure as hißtory department chair. Dr. Ron Marcello, of the history department, was responsible for starting that collection, I believe. It was such a worthy endeavor to preserve historical records in such a way. I was wondering if it would be possible that the interview that was done with him as the subject interviewed still existed, and how could I get a copy of it? Of course, I would love to get the auditory version, if possible. His name was Dr. Jack B. Scroggs.

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