Cowtown’s Cathedral of the Iron Age: The Art Deco Depot

As the decade of the 1930s began, the firm of architect Wyatt Hedrick surely was packin’ the hottest drafting pencil in the West.

hedrick lancasterHedrick et al. were turning a five-block stretch of Lancaster Avenue into a showcase of architecture on a grand scale. During the years 1931-1933 the Texas & Pacific passenger terminal, main post office, and mammoth (580,000 square feet) Texas & Pacific freight terminal would open.

t&p opens 11-3-31 dmnOn November 2, 1931 T&P’s twelve-story “skyscraper” passenger terminal opened as part of T&P’s $13 million ($199 million today) building program in Fort Worth. Clip is from the November 3 Dallas Morning News.

t&p 11-1-31 pi editorialThe Star-Telegram published a front-page editorial on the significance of the new passenger station during the Iron Age, the era when people dressed to travel, they traveled by train, and trains were pulled by steam locomotives. The editorial refers to the 1896 federal building/post office on Jennings Avenue, which was still standing.

t&p 11-1-31 big adThis ad congratulated Texas & Pacific and its president, John L. Lancaster.

t&p 11-1-31As was the custom, local businesses placed congratulatory ads in local newspapers. Northern Texas Traction Company would go into receivership in 1932 and in 1938 become Fort Worth Transit Company, operating both buses and streetcars. Streetcar service would end in 1939.

Brothers Temple and R. C. Bowen operated Bowen Air Lines and Bowen Bus Lines, which had a terminal across Lancaster from the new train depot. The Bowen depot also was art deco.

t&p 11-3-31 parade

The nearby Jennings Avenue underpass also opened when the new depot opened. Both the new depot and the new underpass were celebrated with a parade in which five thousand people marched downtown and through the underpass, led by five bands.

The new passenger terminal replaced the 1899 terminal located where Frank Kent’s Cadillac dealership would later be. The new passenger terminal was T&P’s fourth in Fort Worth.

This photo taken in 1930 shows the 1931 depot under construction. To the right is the 1899 depot. Between can be seen the front of the 1908 freight depot, the Joseph H. Brown building (1886), and the Monnig’s warehouse (1925). (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

Demolition of the 1899 depot began when the new depot opened.

t&p lancaster 12-14-30 dmnOn December 13, 1930 Mayor William Bryce had proposed changing the name of three streets—the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike, East Front Street, and North Street—to honor T&P chief John L. Lancaster, a resident of (close your eyes, Amon!) Dallas. Clip is from the December 14 Dallas Morning News.

lancaster name it 30The Star-Telegram echoed the sentiment of the Morning News. The names of the three streets were changed in early 1931 as work on the two T&P terminals progressed.

1928 lancaster PETEDetail of a 1928 map shows today’s Lancaster Avenue as “E. Front St.” (And note that Vickery Boulevard was “Rio Grande Ave.”) (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

t&p city directories lancasterSure enough: The city directory of 1930 shows no Lancaster Avenue, but the city directory of 1931 does.

1932 FW TP Depot Interior Plan1

The new terminal had a “women’s waiting room” and “colored waiting room” (see below). (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

This 1932 photo looking west along the railroad tracks shows two pairs of old and new: On the right are the 1899 passenger depot and the 1908 freight depot. On the left are the 1931 passenger and freight depots. (Photo by J. W. Barriger III from his collection in the National Railroad Library.)

Occupants of the building in 1935. Most of the building was still vacant.

The building’s incinerator smoked like a T&P locomotive. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library Star-Telegram Collection; thanks to G. R. Harwell for the tip.)

The Iron Age came and went, and the last train pulled out of the station on May 31, 1969. The building was vacant for a few years and then was occupied by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 2006 the building was converted to lofts. Now the only trains that stop at the terminal are the TRE and TEXRail. But inside and out, the T&P passenger terminal remains one of the outstanding examples of art deco in Cowtown.

Some views of the Texas & Pacific passenger terminal:

Blueprints of the north elevation and a detail of the waiting room ceiling.

T&P depot track signs

t&p concourse

The below-grade passageway leading to the platforms and tracks.

building t&p passengerlight t&p lobby 1

look up t&p eastart deco t&p 4-16 1birds eagle t&p frontbirds eagle t&p rear

ceiling t&p1

t&p waiting roomnight t&p lofts 1corner t&p seart deco t&p wall 2

art deco t&p detail inside

art deco t&p bow

art deco t&p east 1art deco t&p patternart deco t&p metalceiling t&p ceiling 2door handles t&p

In the concourse of the terminal today is an exhibit documenting the status of African Americans in the station during segregation.

The quotation is from the poem “Freedom Train” (1947).

The terminal had a separate waiting room, restroom, and ticket counter for African Americans.

A bench from the African-American waiting room.

A drinking fountain for African Americans.

The railroad employed African Americans but offered them a limited range of jobs.

This plaque honors Garfield W. Thompson, who once worked as a railroad dining car waiter, became a civil rights leader, and represented southeast Fort Worth in the Texas House of Representatives for ten years.

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20 Responses to Cowtown’s Cathedral of the Iron Age: The Art Deco Depot

  1. Linda Wilhelm says:

    I came across a old tiny Charga Plate in an ornate case with the name of Mrs. L.F. Raliertson (?) Just wondering the history of this card if you have any. Thanks Linda Wilhelm Morro Bay, Ca.

  2. Charlie Dierker says:

    Mike, do you know any details about the top of the parapet on the northwest corner of the T&P Terminal being designed and built to moor dirigibles? It’s different than the ones on the other three corners.

    • hometown says:

      I had never heard this, Charlie. I’ll have to take another look at the building. I think I see the difference you are talking about–a knob that the other three corners do not have. A search of the S-T archives turned up nothing, but that never proves anything.

    • G R Harwell says:

      This appears to be the garbage chute incinerator chimney. See photo:

    • hometown says:

      I had never seen that photo, although someone had told me that there was something different about one of the top corners of the building. The building was smoking like one of T&P’s locomotives! Thanks.

  3. Michael Anderson says:

    John Watkins experiences are similar to those of my older brother and me. Our parents would put us on the train in Fort Worth, headed to our grandparents in Holland. We were probably 6 (me) and 9 (my brother) or so.

    We both had tags with our names and destination written on them pinned to our shirts.

    I remember one time, at some stop along the way, we got off to get something from the station (probably candy or a Coke), and the train started pulling away! Scared the … heck … out of us! We thought we were going to be stranded. Turns out they only moved a few feet.

    We did this trip several times in the late 40s early-to-mid 50s. Our parents would drive down later in the week, and then we would all drive back to FW.

    Simpler times, for sure.

    • hometown says:

      “We both had tags with our names and destination written on them pinned to our shirts.”
      That would freak out the parents of today.
      But that was life back then. And somehow we managed to grow up without being murdered by a stranger.

  4. tom campbell says:

    Your appreciation of, and documentation of FW deco are treasures.
    I don’t remember what inspired us to peer in the doors of the passenger terminal late one night in the 80’s, but a little old man (caretaker in residence?) noticed us and let us in. While we looked about the after dark waiting room, he reminisced about the activity during WWII. He said all the benches were full and there were lots of standees, coming, going and seeing loved ones off. That let us envision that darkened room full of busy 40’s folks, and i think of it still when we pass the building.

    • hometown says:

      The war must have been an especially busy time for the station. Somewhere in a closet or an archive there must be photos of GIs coming and going and of loved ones waving goodbye and crossing fingers.

  5. John Watkins says:

    When I was a kid in the early ’50s, my parents would put me on the train at the T&P station for a 90-mile ride to Grand Saline so I could spend time with my grandparents. The conductor would look after me and make sure I got off at the right stop. Simpler times!

  6. Dennis Hogan says:

    The last T&P train to or from Fort Worth made its run on May 31,1969. Check out this timeline:

    • hometown says:

      Thanks for the catch, Dennis. I think I got that wrong date from the website of the lofts. Have made the correction.

  7. Leo Palitti says:

    This is just too cool! Thank you for another great article Mike!

  8. howard koor says:

    Love your blog!

  9. Tim Young says:

    Beautiful photos of our home. Living in the T&P Lofts is amazing. Is the 5th photo from the bottom in this building? I haven’t seen that before. I really enjoy reading your posts.. keep up the great work!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Tim. Grandest building in town, I think. All the photos are of the depot. Fifth from the bottom is a detail of the lobby ceiling.

  10. Jo Ann Nicholas says:

    To me the most beautiful building in FW. So glad to know it is well used today. Only in America do we tear down everything 30 years old.

    • hometown says:

      It is a treasure. I hope the central post office and T&P freight terminal find a similar use to assure their preservation.

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