When Substance and Style Had the Same Address (Exhibit B)

In 1931 the city and two railroads teamed up to build four underpasses. Eighty-plus years later the two railroads—Texas & Pacific and Missouri-Kansas-Texas—are gone. But the four underpasses remain. And they remain handsome structures.

I give you exhibit B (exhibit A): The Jennings Avenue underpass runs beneath the wide swath of railroad tracks just south of downtown. Inset shows the Texas & Pacific “brand” in the upper-left corner of each side of the underpass.

Jennings Overpass PeteThe Jennings Avenue underpass replaced the Jennings Avenue overpass. (Postcard from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

jennings 3-31-97 regThe Texas & Pacific railroad came to town in 1876, and as the town grew to the south, the east-west T&P tracks cut off the South Side from downtown. As early as 1897, as this March 31 Register clip shows, South Siders complained about the difficulty—if not downright danger—of crossing the tracks on Main and Jennings. They wanted a viaduct.

jennings via opened 1-29-03 teleAnd they got one. Six years later, on January 28, 1903, a 1,300-foot-long overpass carrying Jennings Avenue over the T&P tracks was opened to traffic. Note that the overpass had hardwood flooring: It was paved with bois d’arc blocks. Clip is from the January 29 Telegram.

jennings ord 6-12-03 teleNo overdrive on the overpass: Six months later the city passed an ordinance to discourage drivers from using the curbs of the overpass to slow their horse-drawn vehicles. Clip is from the June 12 Telegram.

jennings underpass 1-15-31 dmnBy the late 1920s the south end of downtown was being transformed as Texas & Pacific gave its sprawling reservation a makeover, spending millions of dollars. First T&P built its new rail yard southwest of downtown (today’s Union Pacific Davidson yard) in 1928. T&P also tore down its 1899 passenger depot to build its art deco passenger depot and mammoth freight depot in 1931 along Lancaster Avenue. (Nearby, the new Masonic Temple would open in 1932, the new post office in 1933.) And the Jennings Avenue overpass would be replaced by an underpass as the city and the railroad built underpasses for Jennings, Main, and Henderson streets. A construction contract for the Jennings Avenue underpass was awarded on January 14, 1931 to Butcher & Sweeney. Clip is from the January 15 Dallas Morning News.

1930 t&p freight depot 6-21 fwpThis Fort Worth Press photo of June 21, 1930 shows excavation for the T&P freight depot with the doomed Jennings Avenue overpass in the background.

1931 t&p warehouseThe T&P freight depot and the Jennings Avenue underpass.

The Jennings Avenue underpass is perhaps Fort Worth’s most interesting because one approach to it is another underpass: As you turn north from eastbound Vickery Boulevard onto Jennings you can take a surface lane or take the gopher lane under Vickery and into the Jennings underpass.

Like the roof of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas underpass on Morningside Drive (see exhibit A), the roof of the Jennings Avenue underpass is supported by arcaded piers.

Not far from the underpass, T&P built its passenger terminal. In the 1930s arcades such as these were a common feature of bridges and underpasses. The Jennings Avenue underpass has arcades . . .

at three levels. Arcades . . .

running east to west, north to south, and diagonally. Arcades . . .

totaling a half-mile in length.

The 1952 aerial photo shows the 1931 Jennings Avenue underpass and, to the south, a narrow connector over the underpass that allowed cars to reach a parking area east of Jennings. The new I-30 was plopped down neatly in the space between the underpass and the narrow connector. Only the south half of the big Service Life Company building is still standing.

Tomorrow: Follow the Red Brick Roads (Part 1)

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