Back on track: Original Leonards M&O Subway car to be restored

Posted Monday, Aug. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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For years, the No. 1 car of the Leonards M&O Subway shuttled its passengers from a station near the Trinity River through a tunnel under West Belknap Street to Leonards Department Store downtown.

Silver and blue, it was a part of the only privately owned subway system in the country. The subway got its name, the M&O, from the brothers who owned the store, Marvin and Obidiah “Obie” Leonard.

Marty Leonard, the daughter of Marvin, couldn’t have been more proud when she saw the No. 1 car, now rusty and oxidized gray, whizzing down a highway Monday to a brighter future.

The 24-ton, 100-passenger subway car was on its way to a shop near Ennis where it will be refurbished before being displayed at One City Place, which is the former Leonards store site.

“It warms my heart,” Leonard said after seeing the car unloaded in a field near the auto repair shop. “It is like a dream come true. It is something I always wanted to happen.”

She hopes the subway car, which will sit on a set of tracks in the annex lobby of One City Place, not far from the tunnel where it used to travel, will be in place for the building’s grand opening in mid-January.

The idea of restoring Car No. 1 got on track this spring when Ryan Johnson, asset manager for the Spire Realty Group, owner of the building, went searching for memorabilia to hang in the annex between City Place’s two towers.

Spire, which bought City Place in 2011, demolished the former outlet mall and skating rink that once existed between the towers — once known as the Tandy Center — to make room for a below-ground garage. The company has added a two-story annex and a valet circular driveway along Throckmorton Street.

What’s left of subway

During a tour of the building, Johnson said he had seen the former 1,400-foot-long tunnel — which still exists 40 feet beneath the street — where the subway ran from 1963 until 2002. The subway connected the complex to a 5,000-car parking lot off Henderson Street north of the current RadioShack headquarters and Tarrant County College campus.

“Some of the old track still existed,” Johnson said. “There was a long corridor in the project, and I wanted to get some of the pictures [of the subway], so I reached out to Marty.”

Leonard told Johnson what she had and when he asked “what else do you have,” she mentioned that she had one of the original cars sitting in a field southwest of Fort Worth. She got the car — the only one of the first five to survive — from someone who got it from a scrap metal dealer for $400.

The car originally was used in Washington, D.C., and manufactured by the St. Louis Car Co. between 1937 and 1944, Leonard said. It was customized, and heating and air conditioning were added. She is not sure when it went out of service. Eventually, the original cars were replaced by more modern versions by the Tandy Corp.

“It was sitting out on a friend’s property near Whiskey Flats in pretty bad shape,” Leonard said. “One thing lead to another. … We traveled on that path and before you know it we were underway.”

‘There is a lot of work to be done’

Leonard and Spire are working together to return the No. 1 car to downtown, with both Leonard and Spire paying the restoration while Spire is paying for the site preparation.

Because the car is so heavy, Spire had to put in steel support beams “so it won’t crash through the lobby floor” to the parking garage below, Johnson said.

The car will be sandblasted and painted — the original interior color was light blue and white. All new windows will be installed and they’ve already found siding for it, Leonard said.

About a month and a half ago, she bought the No.1 emblem from someone in the Midwest on eBay.

“We’ve got pictures of the car before,” Leonard said. “There is a lot of work to be done.”

Once the subway car is in place, Johnson said, they will create a museum gallery with other artifacts and signage to spell out the history of the car and the site.

While Leonard will continue to own the car, it will be at its new home “for as long as they want it.”

“It’s just a unique piece of history,” Johnson said. “Everyone in the public can come by and enjoy it, and those that rode it can come by and relive history.”

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714, Twitter: @MaxBakerFWST

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