EDITOR’S NOTE: Students from the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism wrote about people and places around Denton County as part of their spring coursework.
PILOT POINT — Although the notorious criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker ravaged this part of Texas in the early 1930s, they were unable to rob Pilot Point’s Farmers and Merchants Bank: It was closed during the Great Depression.
Still, the building’s exquisite German-influenced structure made it stand out and film director Arthur Penn chose it as a set for a bank robbery scene in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
Penn attributed his decision to the fact that it had the “look” and that the town of Pilot Point had not changed much over the years. A good portion of the town surrounding the bank was shut down and every available house was rented out for the film crew.
The unassuming edifice on the square now houses Farmer’s & Merchant’s Gallery, featuring early and contemporary Texas art.
Decades later, many locals still talk excitedly about the filming. It’s even become the basis of an annual two-day festival, Bonnie and Clyde Days.
And it’s become part of Pilot Point’s rich and amazing history, enshrined in another building on the square. Jay’s Museum, housed inside Jay’s Cafe, exhibits more than 1,000 photographs of Pilot Point collected over 15 years by owner Jay Melugin.
Melugin — cook, author, avid historian and antiques collector — calls himself a man who “wears many hats.”
He and his wife, Carolyn, own and operate their cafe in one of the first brick buildings built in Pilot Point, more than 135 years ago.
“I love [Pilot Point’s] history; this town has a fantastic history,” Melugin said.
Jay’s Cafe houses more than 20,000 artifacts.
“I just go find things and then I go search for printed material to learn more about them,” said Melugin, who’s written two books that bring to light Pilot Point’s history as one of the oldest settlements in Denton County.
In 2010, Pilot Point began staging Bonnie and Clyde Days in October.
The annual festival, which celebrates the film about the infamous couple, begins with a parade featuring vintage cars.
Actors re-enact the scene from the movie at the Farmers and Merchants Bank building. Other activities have included old movie screenings and a farmers market featuring goods and goodies that might have been sold when Bonnie and Clyde were on the loose.
Some residents find it ironic that the murderous couple’s story is being honored, and that the celebration of their story can lure tourism to a town that was not even directly affected by their reign.
But Pilot Point is a town that celebrates every bit of its history — even the parts that may be a bit fabricated or whimsical.
Melugin said preserving your past is important to creating your future.
“A lot of people in Pilot Point have done a lot to preserve the history of Pilot Point so that young people will know about it,” he said.
He shares a common objective and purpose with those who came before him.
“I feel a connection with people of the past who sought to preserve our history,” Melugin said, “and that’s what drives me.”