A Slow Swift Death (Part 2): The Ghosts of Packers Past

After the Swift and Armour packing plants closed (see Part 1), the two sprawling compounds became ghost towns even as the Stockyards district was being revitalized around them.

Some buildings of the two abandoned compounds were demolished in the 1970s.

Other buildings were gutted by fire.

This Sanborn map is from 1923.

Early in the new century what was left of the Armour compound was razed. But the thick brick walls of several Swift buildings withstood the fires and continued to stand. For years the Swift ghost town remained one of the most evocative landscapes in town.

This was Swift in its heyday: a city unto itself.

After Swift closed and demolition and fires decimated that city unto itself, for years it looked like a German city that had been bombed during World War II. This photo is from early 2016.

Based on old aerial photos and a 1957 blueprint of the Swift packing plant compound, I have labeled in white the buildings that survived into 2016 after Swift closed and have labeled in yellow the locations of buildings, rail spurs, cisterns, and other structures that had disappeared by 2016. (Not shown just south of Northeast 23rd Street is the packing plants’ “sewerage purification system,” over which Swift and Armour wrangled with local governments for years.)

By the twenty-first century the Swift compound had a post-apocalyptic look to it: crumbling concrete, cracked mortar, broken bricks, paneless or boarded windows, rusting iron, roofs caving in after decades of demolition, fire, vandalism, and neglect.

Windowless shells of red Thurber brick.

The packing plants, like the Stockyards, were built of Thurber bricks. Lots of Thurber bricks.

(Watch a 1930s silent documentary on the Thurber brick plant. The south wall of the Swift plant is shown at the time remaining of -:22. Note the drinking fountain at the staircase.)

Windows of the fertilizer mill building on Northeast 23rd Street.

Steel door of the fertilizer mill building.

A railroad spur ran along Northeast 23rd Street beside the loading platform of the fertilizer mill building.

Sprawling, graffiti-tagged, abandoned, and dilapidated, year after year the Swift packing plant seemed to be collapsing under the weight of its own history. Buzzards perched on the parapets of the few remaining buildings. On a windy day a wayward gust would rattle loose tin panels like a petulant child and sigh through the chain-link fence that partially enclosed the compound of fifteen-plus acres. The unsound walls of some buildings were anchored with horizontal cables. In places the brick perimeter wall had collapsed or was leaning, as if italicized.

This photo shows a perimeter wall pilaster whose concrete had crumbled, exposing its ribs of rusting steel reinforcement bars.

These concrete piers beside Packers Avenue supported the east end of the viaduct (see labeled map) that carried livestock from the Stockyards over Packers Avenue and the railroad tracks to the holding pens of the Swift compound.

The east end of the viaduct connected this ramp, which carried livestock down to the Swift holding pens.

The Swift compound was a packing plant, not a palace, and Swift didn’t build it as a showcase for architecture. And yet, here and there among the remaining structures of this most pragmatic of facilities, you could find details to appreciate. For example, the compound was enclosed by a high wall that featured pilasters topped by cast-concrete finials. By this century many of the finials were missing or damaged, but this row of finials had fared better.

Brickwork along the south perimeter wall.

Seen up close, the projecting darker elements were bricks that had been laid with chiseled ends facing out.

Buttresses of the fertilizer mill building (see map above). Note the square iron plates where horizontal cables anchored weary walls.

Even at the back end of a meatpacking plant, there was a touch of grace in this curved double staircase on Northeast 23rd Street.

For more than a half-century many a lunch pail was carried up and down those steps when the North Side was “the Chicago of the Southwest.”

Then the ghost town that had survived fire and neglect faced a new threat. In late 2016, after months of controversy (preservation versus private enterprise), property owner Fort Worth Heritage Development began demolishing surviving Swift buildings to make way for a $175 million redevelopment project. By March 2018 only two buildings of the ghost town remained.

A Slow Swift Death (Part 3): And Then There Were Two

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