Presented by neighborsgo editor Elizabeth Knighten

Thomas Kreason has been fine-tuning the Texas Musicians Museum since 2004.

It’s been a long road for Kreason, 57, the museum’s director and curator. He has worked steadily to build up a Texas music memorabilia collection, and moved the museum from Hillsboro in 2007 to Waxahachie in 2010. But soon, the museum will open in what Kreason hopes is its next home: Irving.

Last October, the Irving City Council approved a development agreement with Kreason. The museum will occupy the former Toyota of Irving dealership at 222 E. Irving Blvd. in the Heritage Crossing area downtown.

The 8,500-square-foot museum project will likely go out for bid around October or November, said Kevin Kass, who is the redevelopment and TIF administrator for the city of Irving development services. The city anticipates about 10 months to a year for construction, he said.

“You’re looking at [opening] a year from when we start, so we’re looking probably at the earliest probably November, December of 2015,” Kass said.

Though the museum is beginning to pick up momentum, Kreason said, the wait has been challenging. Kreason said the moving process has delayed the museum in its mission to honor musicians, including late Texas blues guitarist Johnny Winter, who was scheduled to be the museum’s next inductee to the Texas Musicians Hall of Fame. Winter died July 16 at age 70 while on tour in Switzerland.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to pick up the pace and make up for some of that time,” Kreason said.

Building a collection

The Texas Musicians Museum project began in 2004.

But if hadn’t been for the Hard Rock Café in Dallas, Kreason may have gone down another path. The Richardson resident worked for the Hard Rock from 1987 until 1989 at the restaurant’s McKinney Avenue location, housed in a former Baptist church that was razed in 2008. There, Kreason moved up the ranks, from stage management to production management, lighting and sound, he said. He previously worked behind the scenes at concerts, and his experience brought him to the Hard Rock to assist with the venue’s live shows.

In 1987, the Hard Rock’s memorabilia department asked him if he wanted to help out.

“That’s really what inspired me, because I was always fascinated with history when I was younger,” Kreason said. “[I] probably got 30 years of experience because of all the particular items they had.”

Through the connections Kreason made while working at the Hard Rock Café, he started buying and selling memorabilia in the late 1980s. In 1996, Kreason began tailoring his collection to Texas music history pieces. He said he began to take note of Texas’ “phenomenal music scene.”

“I was just astounded because there [were] all these incredible pieces that I thought were historically significant for something like that, that were being bought and going overseas or to other countries or going out of state, going to private collections where they would never be seen again,” Kreason said.

Today, Kreason said, the collection is worth close to $1 million.

“The more I saw us losing our archives, our history, it just really hit me that something needed to be done,” he said.

On the move

In 1996, Kreason said he received a call from the general manager of the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn. The studio was interested in launching a blues and rock museum, and they wanted him to come on board to help with the project, Kreason said. That’s when the idea for his own museum blossomed, he said.

“When I worked with Sun, it was more of a museum format and it was around a real historical place,” Kreason said. “So all this kind of hit me, you know it really kind of sold me on the whole history relationship.”

In 2007, the museum settled in its first location, a Victorian-era cottage in Hillsboro. Kreason said the museum moved to the area due to its proximity to Carl’s Corner, the site of Willie Nelson’s Willie’s Place truck stop and venue, which closed in 2011.

In 2010, the museum moved again into the Rogers Hotel in Waxahachie. Nearly three months into the lease with the hotel, Kreason said, the museum had a small fire in the office.

Kreason began shopping the museum to other locations around 2010. He said he put feelers out to the cities of Allen, Dallas, Grapevine and Fort Worth. But it was museum board member Leo Hull that helped connect the museum to Irving, Kreason said.

Don Williams, director of business and visitor services for the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, said he reached out to Kreason and his wife, Marianne, about two or three years ago when the museum was looking to move out of Waxahachie.

“They came in and pitched what their concept was,” Williams said. “They were interested in being near a rail line. The Trinity Railway Express has a stop like two blocks from where the museum is going to be, and I got the city real estate department involved and we found a building that was very unique and really met all of their needs.”

The museum moved out of Waxahachie in summer of 2011. Since then, the display pieces have been in storage.

Despite working without an operating facility, Kreason said he’s heard from area residents — including daily phone calls inquiring about visiting the museum. The museum contributed a small display to an event at the Allen Public Library honoring late blues musician Freddie King, who lived in Dallas.

“We’ve made a lot of new friends through that whole promotion that we did,” he said. “Everybody we encounter is really excited about [the museum], and I think they’re as anxious for it to open as we are.”

Preserving history

When the museum officially opens its doors, it will feature stage clothes from artists such as the Dixie Chicks, Hank Thompson, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison and Barbara Mandrell, Kreason said.

Texas Musicians Museum board member George Gimarc, a disc jockey and author of the Punk Diary series, will add his own collection of items on loan to the facility. Some of his donated pieces include documents such as club fliers, contracts, letters, autographed items, sound recordings from 1920s records and a field recorder formerly owned by folk music collector Alan Lomax. The archival work of Austin-born Lomax and his father, John Lomax, is housed in the Library of Congress.

The device, Gimarc said, was used to record and cut records.

“[Lomax] used to travel around the country recording itinerant black musicians in churches and prisons and cotton fields and front porches,” he said. “I have one of his machines that did that, and it presently is being put back into working condition so we can have musicians record on it again.”

Kreason said the museum will also feature a record that Waylon Jennings used to play to introduce his radio show. The item also includes handwritten markings.

Locating a home for the museum isn’t just a victory for Kreason.

Don Williams said the city saw the museum as an opportunity to bring visitors and tourists to the Heritage Crossing area. Irving has had a plan to revitalize the area, he said.

Irving, which owns the building, will lease the space to Kreason for $3,500 a month. To offset the cost of Kreason’s rent, the museum plans to bring six festivals a year to Irving. The museum will also feature an outdoor music garden, which Williams said will serve beer and wine to guests.

In September, the area will also welcome the opening of Big State Fountain Grill. The Irving landmark, Big State Drug, was purchased in May by Rick and Susan Fairless, owners of Stroker’s, a Dallas motorcycle shop, bar and music venue.

“We see this as the beginning of the redevelopment,” Williams said. “We think this is going to draw people from all over Irving. We think it will also bring in people from outside of Irving down to this area, so we’re just really excited about it.”

Northwest Dallas County neighborsgo editor Elizabeth Knighten can be reached at 214-977-2264.

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