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

In 1931 the city and two railroads teamed up to build four underpasses. Eighty-eight years later the two railroads—Texas & Pacific and Missouri-Kansas-Texas—are gone. But the four underpasses remain. And they remain handsome structures that serve substance without sacrificing style.

I give you exhibit B (see 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.

The Jennings Avenue underpass replaced the Jennings Avenue overpass, which bridged the T&P tracks. This photo looks northeast toward downtown from the Fort Worth & Rio Grande railyard west of Jennings Avenue. On the left is a sign at the Burrus mill at Jennings and Lancaster. (Photo courtesy of the Genealogy, History and Archives Unit, Fort Worth Public Library.)

jennings 3-31-97 regWhen the Texas & Pacific railroad came to town in 1876, its tracks were south of town, but 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 Fort Worth Register clip shows, South Siders complained about the difficulty—if not downright danger—of crossing the tracks at grade level on Main and Jennings. They wanted a viaduct that would allow them to safely cross the tracks.

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.

In 1907 Northern Texas Traction Company laid a double-track streetcar line on the viaduct  to serve the South Side on the St. Louis Avenue and (Fort Worth) University routes.

By 1920 the viaduct (V on map) carried streetcars to four South Side routes: (1) Henderson Street, (2) College Avenue, (3) Hemphill Street, and (4) St. Louis Avenue. To the west of the viaduct was the Fort Worth & Rio Grande railyard, to the east was the Texas & Pacific railyard. (North Street became “Lancaster Avenue” in 1931. Railroad Avenue today is Vickery Boulevard.)

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 railyard southwest of downtown (today’s Union Pacific Davidson yard) in 1928. T&P also tore down its 1899 passenger depot and built 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.

This postcard shows a streetcar rising from the underpass southbound on Jennings Avenue. (Postcard from G. R. Harwell.)

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.

jennings-googleThe 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 northbound lanes of 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 carried tracks of the Fort Worth & Rio Grande railroad to an industrial site 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.

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

  1. G R Harwell says:

    Here’s an old Teich postcard of the area I just acquired from eBay, if you’d like to share it with your readers. I haven’t found the image online anywhere.



    Great research! W. Vickery was also once called Rio Grande Ave in front of the Dickies building. Do you know when this happened?

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Corinna. It was Railroad Avenue from at least 1901 to 1920. It was Rio Grande from at least 1925 to 1940. In 1940 it was both Rio Grande and Vickery. By 1943 it was just Vickery. Looks like Vickery was extended west to meet Railroad/Rio Grande in the late 1930s.

  3. Kris Savage says:

    Terrifically interesting… thank you Mike! I’ll take a closer look next time I head for downtown via Jennings.

    Do you have any idea what the purpose of the ‘gopher lane’ was? To bypass the intersection only? Or might there have been another reason?

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Kris. Darned good question. Why an underpass to the underpass? What made that intersection different than, say, Vickery and Main or Vickery and Henderson, which also got underpasses at the same time? I looked at maps that predate the underpass and see no reason.

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