When I discovered, Top ‘O Hill Terrace was listed as one of the Top 4 attractions in Arlington on Trip Advisor, along with Arlington favorites AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Field and Six Flags Over Texas, I knew this must be Arlington’s best hidden gem.
You may ask, what is Top 'O Hill Terrace? Now home to Arlington Baptist University, Top 'O Hill was previously a tearoom and Casino. You heard me right, a CASINO. This illegal gambling establishment operated for more than 20 years, from the 1930s, before finally being shut down in the mid-1950s.
Recently, I took the tour at Top ‘O Hill and learned more about this infamous attraction. Flanked by two stone turrets and a heavy iron gate, the university entrance looks like something out of a 20’s mystery novel. If you blink you might miss the small guard shack door, a reminder that these gates once held back law enforcement while being the only entrance to this property surrounded by a wired alarm system. Guards carefully vetted gamblers, bootleggers, gangsters, and entertainers with secret passwords before allowing them to cross the gates.
As I headed up the steep drive, I realized why it's called Top 'O Hill. The views of the surrounding area are amazing as this is one of the highest points in the county. I could also see that, 80 years ago, this would have been a remote location between bustling Dallas and notorious Fort Worth and its Hell’s Half-Acre.
Vickie Bryant, wife of the former University president, greeted me at the administration building (the former casino) and ushered me into a small room filled with books, photos, clothing, and other artifacts. Vickie has spent the last 20 years collecting memorabilia, stories, and photographs, and retelling this amazing story. Featured on television, highlighted by tour guides, and lauded on Trip Advisor, Vickie is my guide.
The tour began with a history filled presentation taking me through Top 'O Hill's beginnings as a tearoom, its heyday as a casino, and how the Baptist church came to own the property. Names like Sally Rand, Dean Martin, Hedy Lamarr, Howard Hughes, W.C. Fields, Bonnie and Clyde, Frank Sinatra and Bugsy Siegal roll out as the story unfolds.
During the presentation, Vickie showed me poker chips, a roulette wheel, fur coats and decks of cards. Each item not only ties back to the casino but Vickie's tales of obtaining it are fascinating on their own. Her matter-of-fact delivery, southern flair, strong conviction, and passion for the history of Top 'O Hill made me feel like I was sitting with my favorite aunt, listening to family tall tales. The stories came to life with murder, intrigue, and redemption. The fact that it's all true made it even better.
Among the most storied places at Top ‘O Hill is the tearoom and garden. Escape tunnels can be found around the spaces leading up to it. During raids, gamblers would flee the underground hidden gambling rooms through the tunnels and up to the garden to pretend they had been enjoying their teas and sandwiches among the “real” guests the whole time.
As the tour ended, I realized I had just stepped into history. Hearing the tales and walking the grounds helps keep this story alive for future generations; and if you’re looking for an intriguing step back into history, book a tour and tell Vickie I said hello!
Schedule a tour at topofhillterrace.com.