How do you react to the image below?
Do you react viscerally? Negatively, with thoughts of Hitler, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, World War II? When we react negatively, it’s because we see this symbol through post-1930s eyes. But if you could screw a pair of pre-1930s eyes into your sockets (kids, don’t try this at home), you’d probably see the swastika neutrally if not downright positively. That’s because for most of the last three thousand years the swastika as a symbol has had a positive connotation, as it does in Buddhism and Hinduism, and has symbolized good luck or auspiciousness (the meaning of the word swastika in Sanskrit).
For example, locally the swastika as a symbol of auspiciousness seems to have been especially popular in 1906-1907. That’s when these two buildings—(left) Western National Bank Building and (right) Flatiron Building—bearing swastikas were built downtown. The swastikas were placed at the entrances of the two buildings, as if to bestow good luck upon all who enter.
In 1906, if you had walked into the new Western National Bank Building of William Eddleman (as in the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House on Penn Street in Quality Hill) at 9th and Houston streets) swastikas would have been over your head as you entered. The bank was organized on February 3, 1904.
In 1907, if you had walked into Dr. Bacon Saunders’s new Flatiron Building across 9th Street from Eddleman’s bank, swastikas would have been at your sides and overhead.
Both buildings were designed by Sanguinet and Staats.
Swastikas appeared in architecture in American buildings early in the twentieth century, sometimes as freestanding symbols, sometimes, as used by Sanguinet and Staats, in rows between parallel bands.
In fact, swastikas were featured at the wedding of Dr. Saunders’s daughter in 1906. Saunders was dean of Fort Worth Medical College. His wife was a founder of the Fort Worth chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving.
The swastika at the top of this post is from these ads in the Fort Worth Telegram in 1907. If you had walked into The Fair woman’s department store downtown in 1907, you would have seen swastika belt buckles and swastika hat pins. Likewise, local jeweler M. A. Lesser touted the advantages of swastika jewelry.
David T. Bomar (1861-1917), local attorney, banker, and developer, developed Swastika Place and probably named it. Again the year was 1907.
When Washer Bros. celebrated twenty-five years of business in 1907, male employees were given souvenir swastika emblem watch fobs.
The popularity of the swastika symbol continued. In 1909 Fort Worth had a Swastika Dancing Club.
This token by the Excelsior Shoe Company is from 1910. The company sold a model of shoe named the “Boy Scout” to capitalize on organization of the Boy Scouts of America that year. Stripling’s Department Store sold Excelsior shoes.
You could buy swastika-tread tires and Swastika brand spark plugs for your car.
There were Lucky Swastika soap, Swastika Fuel Company, Swastika Ranch, and Swastika Oil Corporation.
But the swastika’s positive image began to change in 1920. That’s when Adolf Hitler made the swastika the symbol of Germany’s Nazi Party as he began his rise to power.
(In 1925 Hitler would write in Mein Kampf: “. . . the swastika signified the mission allotted to us—the struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind and at the same time the triumph of the ideal of creative work which is in itself and always will be anti-Semitic.”)
Still, in 1924 the new insignia of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division—made up of National Guard units of the Southwest—featured a swastika, which is also a common Native American symbol.
And even in 1933 Dallas still had a Swastika Saddle Club.
But that year, Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and in March the swastika became the symbol of the German nation.
Of course, the rest of the world didn’t turn on the swastika immediately. For example, in 1935 the masthead of the “Junior Edition” of The Handout student newspaper of Texas Wesleyan College featured swastikas.
By the late 1930s the swastika increasingly did take on a negative connotation to millions, and much of the world hasn’t seen the swastika through the same eyes since.
But in downtown Fort Worth two buildings remind us of a time before a good symbol went bad.