InMarket: Gunfight at the Stockyards Corral


It’s a well-told story in Fort Worth lore. Two men approach each other. Words are exchanged. Suddenly a battle erupts and when the smoke clears…. The famous Luke Short – Jim Courtright duel from Feb. 8, 1887 that took place at the White Elephant Saloon and Gambling Hall? Maybe, or it could be last week’s showdowns at Fort Worth City Hall, where opposing forces on development matters squared off. The battles weren’t quite as dramatic – or deadly – as the Short-Courtright shootout, but they did get tense. Speaking at a Fort Worth Zoning Commission hearing about a proposed whiskey distillery on the grounds of the Glen Garden Country Club, Rev. Carl Pointer called the idea “repulsive” and “an insult to our faith.” Things were, surprisingly, a little more genteel during a City Council discussion of a Stockyards redevelopment plan. While former councilman Steve Murrin was dressed like a cowboy ready for a shootout, he was polite as a Boy Scout when he spoke in opposition to the plan. Still, if you think this week was an anomaly, get ready for more. We’re battling for our history. If you haven’t been out of your home in, I don’t know, the last five minutes, Fort Worth is growing. I would say like a weed, but I think it’s more exploding spore. New roads, new developments, apartments, single-family homes, new restaurants … the list goes on. It all means more of our history is being eyed for replacement. I mean, why don’t we have enough hamburger joints or drugstores? The question is, do we have to trade our history for a new power center? Yes – and no. In some cases, our history will fall down of its own accord, from neglect. There was some argument about whether it could be saved, but when the Brace Building at the northeast corner of Eighth Avenue and Magnolia Avenue came down to make way for a bank, the new bank’s appearance was at least not a cookie-cutter design. Still, historic preservationists can be sent into apoplexy with tales of what happened to the 7th Street Theatre (demolished while a historic preservation group was meeting in the city) and the old Fort Worth Library (demolished almost overnight). Joe Burns, the outgoing City Councilman for District 9, voted against the Stockyards development plan, noting that the city does not have a local historic designation to keep some historic properties from going under the wrecking ball. “I have, in talking about the proposal we have tonight, pointed out that we have some highly significant endangered properties,” Burns said. “We have a National Register District, state designations, and yet we don’t have a local district. “And when I brought it up, I was told we might make some people unhappy. There is example after example after example after example of opportunities that we are missing because we are afraid of upsetting someone or we might make someone unhappy. We’re about to do the same thing and I cannot vote for this as long as we are too afraid, too meek, too timid to give this the historic designation that it deserves – much like many properties all over the city of Fort Worth, including some that we own. I encourage the city to take this issue up in the coming years, and hopefully one of my successors will have better success than I did in my six years in terms of historic preservation.” I think Burns may have the right idea or we’re going to be facing these kinds of questions over and over again as our population increases. The temptation to tear down something old and put up a new power center gets to be too powerful at some point, particularly when tough economic times come knocking. Be assured they will. Look at downtown Arlington. The city basically razed much of its downtown and has spent the last two decades attempting to bring it back, with some success, but not without a lot of time, cost and effort. We honor history a lot around here, but it’s time to do more than talk.