Seems I always find something new in old photos. The other day I was hovering over Fort Worth via an aerial photo taken in 1952 when I saw a couple of features on the East Side that I—as an old East Side boy—did not recognize. Here is the first mystery feature:
Unlike today’s Google aerial photos, this photo has no labels. That wide street running from seven o’clock to two o’clock is East Belknap Street. But what is that large rectangular open area just north of Belknap stretching between the railroad tracks (left) and the river (right)?
Turns out that was the original Greenway Park. Its layout appears rather formal, with a U-shaped driveway and rows of uniformly spaced trees along the long sides.
I can make out a tennis court, a baseball diamond, and a structure at the curve of the U-shaped driveway that might have been a stage or shelter house.
Greenway first shows up as unlabeled parkland on a 1926 map, when part of the park was still outside the city limits. East Belknap Street would not cross the river until about 1929. (Hare & Hare was Sidney Hare and son Herbert, who had studied under Frederick Law Olmsted, considered by many to be the father of American landscape architecture. For years Hare & Hare served as landscape consultant for Fort Worth parks, including Botanic Garden.) (Map from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)
This map from 1943 shows the shaded area of the park on both sides of Belknap. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)
Bobby Stanton, as a youth growing up in Mosier Valley’s African-American community, commuted to I. M. Terrell High School on the East Side. He remembered that Greenway was the only city park open to African-Americans when he was growing up in the 1940s. (Bobby Stanton eventually was able to get into any park he wanted: He grew up to be Robert Stanton, appointed by President Clinton in 1997 to be director of the National Park Service.)
The Star-Telegram picnic for its African-American employees was held at Greenway Park. And Leonard’s Department Store sponsored “free park movies” at Greenway.
Over the years Greenway Park hosted events ranging from softball and volleyball tournaments to gay pride parades.
But for most of its history Greenway was an African-American park at a time when most of the social, educational, and business facilities of the African-American community were located in eastern downtown or on the eastern side of downtown. This story says that in 1950 Greenway was the only “fully developed” city park for African Americans. The story says that Greenway Park was being used as a makeshift golf course. In 1954 the city built Harmon Field golf course for African Americans.
Even into the 1950s segregation was so entrenched that the idea of whites playing at an African-American park was controversial.
Even the Easter bunny was not colorblind. Easter egg hunts were segregated: whites at Trinity Park, blacks at Greenway Park.
In 1972 Bob Ray Sanders, fresh out of journalism school at the University of North Texas, recalled Juneteenth celebrations at parks such as Greenway.
With the extension of I-35W north, Greenway Park lost much of its acreage, and consultant Herbert Hare of Hare & Hare of Kansas City recommended that the remaining land be sold.
But Greenway Park survived on a reduced patch of real estate, offering a baseball field and a small playground.
Today Greenway Park is a floating paradox: It’s just over the levee from the river and the Trinity Trails, not far from downtown, tucked into the junction of Airport Freeway and Interstate 35W. Ironically, the park’s nearness to two freeways makes it hard to get to and from by car because the freeways’ connections to the park are tricky. Better leave a trail of bread crumbs.