Dallas/Fort Worth: Looking to the Future, Protecting the Past

By Ron Bernthal

The two Texas cities have always been close—physically, economically, spiritually—and they continue to grow and prosper together in the areas of fine arts, business, architecture, restaurants, and retail shopping. But while Dallas looks to the East for inspiration and competitive energy, Fort Worth balances the fragility of Tadao Ando’s art museum with the rough & tumble history of its Stockyards and cowboy image.


Reunion Tower soars 55 stories above Dallas, next to the glass-enclosed Hyatt Hotel. Both symbols were used in the video of the TV show Dallas. (Photo: Dallas CVB)

At the very top of Reunion Tower, 55 stories above Dallas, Texas, a luncheon is taking place at Atares Restaurant, a circular room that slowly rotates, giving diners a birds eye view of the Dallas panorama, a sweeping 360 degree vista that covers the city’s downtown office buildings, and stretches for miles towards the horizon.

The landscape is framed within a flat, shimmering heat haze, part urban, part rural, that is not especially beautiful, yet symbolizes what Dallas is today, a vibrant modern city that seems to be aligned in cultural and architectural ways more towards New York and Chicago than to its neighbor just 30 miles west of here, Fort Worth.

Dallas’ Mayor, Laura Miller, young and vivacious, is speaking to the luncheon crowd about the Trinity River Corridor Project, a major urban environmental and architectural endeavor for any city, but which will be just one facet of this city’s multiple progressive projects. Dallas city planners seem to take the city’s current slogan, “Live Large, Think Big,” as a dare, with each new project taking postmodernism or urban ecology or city arts one step further.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller addresses a group luncheon at Reunion Tower. (Photo: Ron Bernthal)

The Trinity River is the site where Dallas was founded, in 1839, and the mostly dry riverbed will, in several years time, be brimming with water, and crossed by three modern bridges designed by noted architect Santiago Calatrava. But there is more of course, including a $275 million dollar Center for Performing Arts, scheduled to open in 2009, the ongoing Victory Park district, with its American Airlines Center, a trendy new ‘W’ hotel under construction, and plans for many more upscale restaurants, office space, boutiques, and residential towers. The luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel chain will open its first Texas property in Dallas next year, and the city’s modern and efficient rapid transit trains are expanding rail lines throughout the city, including a new link to DFW airport. Until the train lines are completed, Texans will have to continue to use their current methods of transportation, which can include gleaming new cars or trucks which they purchased at a local showrooms, like the Dallas Toyota dealership.

The Trinity River Project will include three new Calatrava bridges, hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, new parks, lakes, wetlands, and an interpretive center.

The colorful Latino Cultural Center, designed by the celebrated Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta, and the Nasher Sculpture Center are two stunning buildings located in the city’s arts center, the largest urban arts district in the country. With more than 160 museums, galleries and artistic attractions in Dallas, Mayor Miller cringes when she is asked by visitors to the city about South Fork or the Texas Cowboys football team. “Dallas, and its neighbor Fort Worth, have moved far beyond its former icons, and there are now other city symbols that are more appropriate, ” she said.

The Latino Cultural Center is one of many colorful, architecturally unique buildings in downtown Dallas. (Photo: JR Compton)

“You know, the first things visitors should think about are all the art galleries, museums, and great restaurants we have here in Metroplex,” Mayor Miller said, referring to the entire two-city metropolitan area. “We have gone so far in the last few years, with even more restaurants per capita than New York City, and our skyline and downtown in Dallas is so beautiful.”

As fast as Dallas is moving into the 21st century, however, it hasn’t lost sight of its history. Dallas’ Fair Park, a 277-acre National Historic Landmark, has the largest collection of 1930’s art deco exposition-style architecture in the United States. “Fair Park, when it was built in the mid-1930’s, enfranchised a new generation of architects and designers, who came to Dallas because it was new and exciting, and these architects stayed here, bringing to the area new ideas in building design that continues to this day,” said David Dillon, architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News, as he pointed out the numerous landmark buildings that line the wide avenues of Fair Park, a district so well preserved that it is Disneyesque in its perfection. Of course, Fair Park is real, as are the other historic neighborhoods in the city. There are dozens of historic districts in Dallas, and the organization Preservation Dallas is working hard to safeguard as many of the city’s old structures as possible.

Dallas' Fair Park contains America's largest collection of art-deco exposition style architecture in the United States. (Photos: Timothy Boss)

Fort Worth

In 1843, Republic of Texas commissioners signed a treaty with 10 Native American tribes dividing this new frontier between them. Native Americans were restricted to the left of an imaginary line; white settlers took all land to east. As a result, 19th century Americans referred to this imaginary line as the place where the west begins.

Texas Longhorns symbolize the rough, cattle & cowboy past of Fort Worth and northern Texas. (Photo: Ron Bernthal)

A few years later, as more Eastern ranchers moved into the area, and the Native Americans retreated from North Texas, the relationship between the republic of Texas and its southern neighbor, Mexico, deteriorated to the point of war. Major general William Jenkins Worth, assumed command of the Texas frontier in January, 1849., and a month later a spot was chosen for a protective fort near the foot of a bluff overlooking the Trinity River.

After General Worth died from cholera in San Antonio, the city that grew from this early settlement became known as Fort Worth, a wild West town that quickly filled with cowboys, cattle, saloons, dance halls and brothels, whose downtown became known by the outlaws and gamblers who passed through as hell’s half acre. Shootings, knifings, muggings and brawls occurred every night, but the city’s main focus was cattle and railroads and, in 1893, a local businessman named Louville Niles formed the Fort Worth Stockyards Company. The two biggest cattle slaughtering firms at the time were Armour and Swift, and both established operations in the new stockyards.

The original cattle pens at the Fort Worth Stockyards still hold an occasional cow or horse, and are kept intact as a reminder of the city's Western past. (Photo: Ron Bernthal)

By 1904 Fort Worth’s livestock market was right up there with Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha. But Texas was in the West, and Fort Worth’s nicknames, “Cowtown,” and the “City Where the West Begins,” stuck with it, even as local millionaires used their money to bring affluence, art, theater and a sense of style to Fort Worth.


Tadao Ando's Fort Worth Modern Art Museum is an example of the striking architecture that has changed the face of Dallas and Fort Worth. (Photo: Ron Bernthal)

But the city grew up in the shadow of its larger and more glamorous neighbor to the east, Dallas, and despite such nationally known attractions as the Modern Art Museum, the Kimball Art Museum, the Amon Carter Museum, state of the art performance centers and numerous high end shopping districts, Fort Worth retained its traditional western look and feel, and no area of the city symbolizes its cowboy past more than North Fort Worth, where the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District is both a real and replicated version of old Fort Worth.

The livestock auctions are still held on Fridays here, and the cadence of t he auctioneer hasn’t changed since the late 1800’s. What they’re selling here hasn’t changed either, as bids are placed for herds of angus, English cross, or exotic Brahman feeder steers and heifers, or weaned calves. Men in white cowboy hats, boots and jeans bid on the steers through coded signals to the auctioneer, but the modern age is very prevalent. The cowboys carry cell phones and briefcases now, and arrive not on horseback, but in new pickup trucks and late model Cadillacs. The cattle are not actually in the nearby stockyards either, but are shown on several wall mounted TV sets grazing on pasture land in Texas, Nebraska, or Colorado, and broadcast to this group of bidders, and dozens like them around the country, by a live satellite video feed organized by a company called Superior Livesdtock Auction.

A short walk from the very business-like auction room is the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the former horse and mule barns of the Sstockyards. For Easterners who have no knowledge of rodeo stars or Texas Country Western music the photographs and artifacts of the inductees will look unfamiliar. Folks like Guy Allen, a 16-time world champion steer roper, Jim Bynum a 4-time world champion steer wrestler, and Don Gay, a champion bull rider, are all well-known Texans.

“Although that whole period came to an end,” said Douglas Harman, President and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, referring to the decades when the Fort Worth stockyards was one of the largest cattle markets in the country, “cattle ranching, farming, the entire business of agriculture and livestock, it’s all still so much part of the Texas economy.”

Of all the inductee names in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, however, the best sounding name has to be the Light Crust Doughboys, a Texas band that has been around since the early 1930’s. The name was taken from a brand of flour called, what else, Light Crust Flour, a sponsor of the band’s early radio shows.

The band’s most popular period was between 1935 and World War II, when over 170 radio stations in the South and Southwest carried their fiddle playing songs into the homes and barns and car radios of rural America.

The Light Crust Doughboys in Texas.(Photo:Guy Logsdon)

The Doughboys still exist, and continue to give special performances and promotional events in Texas and, perhaps more than any other musical group in the country, they represent the old cowboy image of Forth Worth, an image often overwhelmed by 21st century lifestyles, but which is still part of the heart and soul of Texas.


© Ron Bernthal – No editorial content, portions of articles, or photographs from this site may be used in any print, broadcast, or Web-based format without written permission from the author or Web site developer.

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