The Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) is selling 18 properties. Ordinarily, that would not be big news. But. On the list are three historic Fort Worth School properties.
In November, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram broke the news that among the historic Fort Worth school properties for sale are Farrington Field, Boulevard Heights Transition Center (comprised of three buildings), and Jack. A. Billingsley Field House. These buildings are not yet historically landmarked. This is cause for concern for many, as these buildings are part of the very fabric of Fort Worth.
“Each one of these properties makes Fort Worth distinct from any other city in Texas, Historic Fort Worth Inc. Executive Director Jerre Tracy said. “Once we lose that distinction, there won’t be the same rationale to make Fort Worth your home. Why would you undo what is already good? “
Historic Fort Worth Inc. sent out a press release last week. I encourage you to get on their mailing list. Here are some excerpts of that release:
“THE FORT WORTH INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT HAS A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH STEWARDSHIP OF THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT“
“Fort Worth has the greatest collection of historic buildings, schools, bridges, and structures in this region of Texas, but we are losing them at an alarming rate. As the most influential youth educator in the city, and as the owner of the largest collection of historic grade school buildings of any public or private institution in Fort Worth, we look to the trustees of the FWISD to care for their enviable collection of historic buildings. Now is the time for the FWISD to serve as the next generation’s stewardship leader of the built environment. Stewardship includes understanding how to care for what is irreplaceable. It respects the conservation of rare building materials, validates timeless construction methods, develops a keen understanding of scale, decreases what goes into our landfills, and ultimately, instills respect for those unique places that are associated with key architects, buildings, city founders and leaders that define Fort Worth.
Of the properties the FWISD plans to sell, Historic Fort Worth, Inc. has identified three historically-significant resources without designation protection, two of which are clearly in a development zone and one that represents three distinct buildings constructed at different time periods that were ultimately combined into one building. Collectively, they have been part of our city for 70-100 years, and they deserve a future in it. It is up to this group of FWISD trustees to protect those historic buildings and structures that earlier trustees prioritized and had designed and built by the best architects and construction firms of the day.”
“Farrington Field is one of the best art deco buildings in the state,” architect Michael Bennett principal with Bennet Brenner Architects in Fort Worth, said. Bennett was approached by FWISD when they were searching for architects to help them through the process, and selected to be an advisor.
“I’m a committed preservationist,” Bennett said. “The impression I get from the FWISD is to preserve, but also to use these resources as wisely as they can. They are looking at the right balance, which is the right way to look at it. There is an opportunity that these buildings bring to us as a city. There is potential as an innovation district. For instance, the Farrington Field area is walkable and short bus ride from downtown. My hope is we get a game-changer. The approach we are taking is one that would incentivize preservation. Think about a professional soccer team. That would be great for Fort Worth. What if we redevelop the field and save the parts that are historically important while increasing the value around the area? P.C. Cobb Stadium in Dallas is a great example of what you don’t want to do.”
If you remember the sale of the beautiful Art Deco P.C. Cobb Field to Trammell Crow in 1979, you will understand why this is important. Known initially as Dal-Hi Stadium it was, it was a Works Progress Administration project built in 1937 and the main athletic facility in the Dallas school system for many years. It was renamed for P.C. Cobb, the man who ensured it was built, in 1957. It was such a beautiful facility that it was regularly used as a location for fashion photography. Now the Infomart stands in its place, and the stadium is barely a memory. These are the sorts of things historic preservationists work so diligently to prevent.
But as we all know, when money talks, history walks.
The Eagle Ford School, where the infamous Bonnie Parker spent some time, has become a beautiful event space. All it takes is vision and, of course, hard work.
When I received the press release, I turned to our go-to architect Lloyd Lumpkins to get his thoughts about the FWISD properties for sale and why those three, in particular, deserve landmark status recently.
“Why do we need to preserve older buildings? They tell us who we were. They give us a sense of place, of where we have been, a context to help guide us where we want to go! Can you imagine planning a trip without knowing where you are going to start? You would be lost before you start. Preserving buildings is preserving culture, preserving attention to who we are, what we are, and, most importantly, where we are going.”