One day while driving down a back street off of White Settlement Road near Montgomery Plaza in Fort Worth, I came across a little museum I had no idea was there. It’s called the Leonard’s Department Store Museum and that caught my attention. I pulled in and tried the door but it was locked.
I went next door the M&O Station Grill and inquired about the museum. Danny and Rose Badillo took me in to the museum through the grill and showed me a treasure trove of Fort Worth’s history.
The museum started when Marty Leonard, daughter of owner Marvin Leonard, got a 1936 Leonard’s Speedster wagon as a gift from a friend who found it in an antique store. She wondered what other things from Leonard’s could be out there and had a party inviting anyone who would bring her something from the store. She has been adding to the collection ever since.
Leonard’s Department Store was the place to shop back in the good old days. From humble beginnings Marvin Leonard and his brothers grew a small grocery store in downtown into a mega store that sold everything including farm and ranch equipment, furniture, clothing and tires for the car. During it’s prime Leonard’s covered eight city blocks.
Leonard told me stories about the monorail train that hung from the ceiling in Toyland to a how during the depression, when all the banks were closed, Leonard’s would cash your paycheck and give you half in cash and half in “Leonard Script”. People were so grateful they became loyal customers and other area businesses accepted the script in their stores also.
Christmas time was big at the department store and Santa was the main attraction. People came from everywhere to shop at Leonard’s because there were no malls and shopping center like we have everywhere today. Christmas window displays were a must see each year for local families.
With parking being a problem downtown the Leonard brothers decided to put in a parking lot by the river and then built a subway to carry customers into the store. The M&O subway ran from 1963 until August of 2002. it was the only privately owned subway in the world.
Unfortunately the store was sold to Tandy in 1967 and subsequently sold to Dillard’s in 1974 when the Leonard’s name came down, but there is still a big piece of the history in this little one room museum. When you go to visit, be sure and get a hamburger from the M&O Station grill because it does not disappoint.