How would you like to be 100 years old? Better yet, how would you like to be 100 years old and be as productive as you are in middle age? Well, Fort Worth’s Burk Burnett Building may have a few lessons to teach. The building turned 100 this year and remains as popular as ever. As Sundance Square’s Johnny Campbell notes, it is “100 years old and 100 percent leased.” Burnett bought the 12-story building at 500 Main St. in 1915 from State National Bank, which built it. Designed in neoclassical style by architects Sanguinet & Staats in 1914, the building was Fort Worth’s first true skyscraper.
The base of the building is white terra cotta with granite columns on the Main Street side, while the middle of the building is red brick. The top of the building starts again with the white terra cotta. Buchanan and Miller were the general contractors. The bricks, provided by Acme Brick, also tie into Fort Worth history. Acme provided commemorative bricks during the building’s birthday party on Oct. 15. The first floor of the Burk Burnett Building has been occupied as retail space for home furnishings, a shoe boutique, an art gallery and even a Chinese restaurant. In 2005, Worthington National Bank took over the retail location and bank CEO Greg Morse made it his mission to restore the first floor. He hired a team of historians, artisans and contractors to recreate the bank’s original design and revitalize its interior marble architecture. They used copies of photos found in Historic Fort Worth’s archives to recreate the elegant original bank lobby. “We thought it was important to bring the space back to its original state,” says Morse.
The bank’s restoration received many accolades, including the Historic Fort Worth Inc. Preservation Achievement Award (2006), Texas Historical Foundation Award (2007), Downtown Fort Worth Trailblazer Award (2007 and 2009) and Texas Downtown Association President’s Award (2007). It wasn’t the first restoration rodeo for the bank, which also restored Arlington’s first post office, located at 200 W. Main St. in that city and now serving as one of the bank’s four locations. Historian Quentin McGown was at the birthday party and recounted stories of the building’s legendary namesake. “His story is the story of Fort Worth, the story of Texas,” he says, noting that Texas author Larry McMurtry “incorporated some of the stories of Burnett’s trail rides into his fiction.”
Burnett established the famous Four Sixes ranch and during the terrible drought of 1881 met and became friends with Quanah Parker, chief of the Comanche nation. He created a lease that helped Burnett and other ranches survive by letting their cattle graze on Native American land. When the federal government told ranches in 1898 that they had to leave the land, Burnett and Parker went to Washington, D.C., and spoke to President Theodore Roosevelt, which led to an extension of the lease. That meeting also led to a 1905 trip to Texas by Roosevelt to see Burnett and go on a wolf hunt with several Texas cattlemen. Photos from the visit show Roosevelt dressed in full cowboy regalia and obviously “enjoying the trip,” McGowan told the crowd. And the building that bears his name? It’s still being enjoyed, too.