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What are Downtown Fort Worth’s best buildings?

🕐 7 min read

The architecture of downtown Fort Worth is a mix of the old and the new and a visual treat for residents and visitors alike. We asked readers for their favorite buildings and also enlisted a group of professional architects to pick a handful for your consideration.

This is confined to downtown, so other favorites — and some of the city’s most spectacular ones such as the museums – were excluded. Also excluded, but on several of the lists from both readers and architects, were Sundance Plaza and the Water Gardens.

We also consulted a 2007 list of Top 25 buildings developed by the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Some of the descriptions on our list are taken from the descriptions of buildings selected in that survey.

Here, in no particular order, are the results as selected by the editors of Fort Worth Business from the suggestions from readers and professionals.

Tarrant County Courthouse

100 E. Weatherford St. – 1895; restored 1983; more renovation 2014

“It has to be on everyone’s list,” said Bob Pence, president and CEO of Freese and Nichols. “Returning the courthouse square to its original configuration and restoring the west façade is a great improvement.” Mark Dabney, associate principal at BOKA Powell Fort Worth, agrees. “Our famous courthouse is elegant and timeless with its red granite. It anchors the north end of town and with the west portico reconstruction complete this summer, the building will be better than ever.”

The building was designed by Gunn and Curtiss Architects of Kansas City and it is a striking example of American beaux-arts design, the Fort Worth AIA list said. It was No. 3 on the architects’ selections. It was modeled after the Texas Capitol building in Austin and uses pink granite. It was one of the first structural steel-framed buildings built in the southwestern United States.

Flatiron Building

1000 Houston St. – 1907

The Flatiron Building was No. 8 on the AIA’s 2007 list. It was designed by Sanguinet & Staats, modeled after the Flatiron Building in New York built in 1902. It was one of the first steel-framed buildings in Fort Worth and at seven stories was one of the tallest commercial buildings in North Texas in the early 1900’s.

“The Flatiron Building [is] a throwback to my northeast upbringing,” said David G. Campbell, vice president of Huitt-Zollars Inc. “I still have a nice watercolor of the New York Flatiron building in my house.” He admits to being an art deco fan.

The Texas State Historical Association says the Fort Worth architectural firm of Sanguinet & Staats, founded in 1903 by Marshall R. Sanguinet and Carl G. Staats, rapidly developed into one of the state’s largest architectural practices. It was best known for its steel-framed skyscrapers. “Almost every tall building constructed in Fort Worth before 1930, and for a time the tallest structures in Beaumont, Houston, Midland and San Antonio, were designed by Sanguinet and Staats,” the association said. The building is owned by Dr. George Cravens, who has recently completed a $4 million renovation of it.

“There is just something about this building’s shape and look that makes it pleasing to the eye. I have seen this same form in several locations around the country and, for some reason, it always works,” said architect Chris Brim.

First United Methodist Church

800 W. Fifth St. – 1930

The exterior design of the sanctuary building is a classic in its own right, says Chuck Nixon of Jacobs. The details inside the sanctuary are stunning, he says, and the sanctuary is a great space with ambiance that modern churches can’t emulate.

The church was No. 13 on the AIA list. It’s a Gothic revival style designed by Fort Worth architect Wiley G. Clarkson. Over the years, major additions have been made to the original church building. Hahnfeld Associates of Fort Worth have been the architects on these additions.

“There’s just something about Gothic, or Gothic revival architecture as it is more appropriately named, since this building is outside of Europe and after the 15th century. Its pointed arches, large openings, ornate façade and monumental forms of strong vertical elements reaching for the sky are successful in creating a sense of awe and inspiration,” said architect Chris Brim.

Bass Performance Hall

Fourth and Calhoun streets –1998

Bass Hall was built entirely with private funds and stands as testimony to one of the most successful downtown redevelopment efforts in the United States. The building combines a high-performance interior that is acoustically excellent and flexible with back of the house flexibility for a variety of performances, said Chuck Nixon of Jacobs. The architectural details are an excellent blend of contemporary and classical touches and the overall entrance and lobby spaces are inviting and handsome, he said. David M. Schwarz was the architect for the building.

Bass Hall is home to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Texas Ballet Theater, Fort Worth Opera and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and Cliburn Concerts. Performing Arts Fort Worth, the nonprofit organization that oversees management of the hall, also presents other events and programs. The 48-foot tall angels on the building’s front have become icons of the city’s cultural life.

Burk Burnett Building

500 Main St. – 1914; restored 1980, 1984

“The Burk Burnett Building, also designed by Sanguinet & Staats, was our first skyscraper. The neoclassic detailing and massing are truly beautiful,” said Mark Dabney, associate principal, BOKA Powell Fort Worth. “I have always loved the white terra cotta features and granite columns. Now that Sundance Square Plaza has been completed, you get a better view of it and can visualize what it would have looked like in its heyday.”

The building was No. 24 on the AIA list. “This was the third building designed by Sanguinet & Staats of similar appearance,” AIA said. “The Amicable Life Insurance Co. (ALICO) Building in Waco is 22 stories and has a different color scheme. It opened in 1911. The Rand Building in San Antonio is only eight stories and opened in 1913, but is an almost exact duplicate of the Burk Burnett.”

Knights of Pythias Castle Hall

315 Main St. – 1901; restored 1981

“A favorite of mine, another Sanguinet & Staats design, is the Knights of Pythias Castle Hall. The brick detailing and massing of the building create unique details, including a corner turret and a niche for the knight in armor wielding a battle-axe,” said Mark Dabney, associate principal, BOKA Powell Fort Worth.

The building was No. 16 on the AIA list. Its principal tenant today is Haltom’s Jewelers. William Bryce, a mayor of Fort Worth, built it. “The first Knights of Pythias Castle Hall ever built was constructed on this site in 1881, and it burned in 1901. Later that year, the building was rebuilt from the ruins,” the AIA list said. Thomas E. Woodward & Associates were the architects and Thos. S. Byrne was the contractor for the restoration.

Omni Fort Worth Hotel and Condominiums

1300 Houston St. – 2009

This, says Bob Pence, president and CEO of Freese and Nichols, is a “sculptural high-rise building that evolves and changes views as one moves around downtown.” He calls it the most exciting high-rise in the area. “From the north and south, the tower is very thin, pencil-like; from east and west, the cantilevered balconies provided an interesting play of positives and negatives. At the street level, the building is very pedestrian-friendly and the glass cantilevered second floor appears to reach across the street to the Convention Center,” he said.

Chuck Nixon of Jacobs says the building is an exceptional and successful combination of a hospitality and condo facility “that enlivens the South Houston Street corridor especially at night.” It has excellent contemporary exterior and interior architectural design and is “a wonderful asset for the convention center and guests,” he said.

Fort Worth Convention Center

1101, 1201 and 1301 Houston St. – 1968; additions/renovations 1983, 2002, 2003; additional planned

Bob Pence, president and CEO of Freese and Nichols, says this building, formerly the Tarrant County Convention Center, is very pedestrian-friendly with its 1,000-foot-long façade broken by brick detailing and windows. It recalls “earlier Fort Worth vernacular architecture without trying to replicate earlier architecture,” he said. “The south façade with its Star Tower serves as a headboard to the Water Gardens. Public art is incorporated throughout. Not a typical city’s typical convention center,” he said.

Chuck Nixon of Jacobs noted that the renovation and expansion of the original building has proven successful and the exterior and interior design reflect “Welcome from Fort Worth.” He also noted that the use of masonry material color and texture reflect “the various materials used in older downtown Fort Worth buildings.”

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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