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Lower Downtown Before the Convention Center


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#1 John T Roberts

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 10:41 PM

Jack White has recently sent me 30 photographs of the buildings that were demolished for the Fort Worth Convention Center and Water Gardens. I thought I would share a few of those with all of you. Many of these buildings had a lot of character. If you want to see all of them and the latest uploads, go to http://www.fortworth...dftw/oldftw.htm. There you will find links to all of the photos.

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#2 urban_fever

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 11:51 PM

Great pics!!! If that strip still existed it would now be indigenous territory for Fort Worth hipsters. It reminds me of the East Village in Manhattan, one of my favorite NYC neighborhoods!

#3 djold1

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 06:25 AM

Really great pictures.... From my reading and a little research this area had really reached the bottom commercially by the time the Convention Center project essentially destroyed it.

It's interesting to speculate what direction it might have taken otherwise. However, there is little doubt that Fort Worth really needed a convention facility somewhere in the downtown area at that time. It may have been flawed in its appearance by our current standards, and the area it covered was not considered in a proper historical preservation way, but there was not doubt that Fort Worth would have been in bad shape without something like it.

The TRV is a similar project on a larger scale. Because the density north of the bluffs is lower, it does not have the same potential for destruction. However, as it develops, we need to learn from the Convention Center mistakes and avoid having a 50 years later retrospective viewpoint that is as negative as the overview of Convention Center area is now.

While I was working on my latest map project I used a lot of the images of this area as reference even though most of them were new construction after the pre-1900's time frame of the Hell's Half Acre map.

1855 Map of Fort Worth & Hell's Half Acre


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#4 cbellomy

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 11:21 AM

Man. What a loss. What a terrible, terrible loss. What a district that would be today if it hadn't been obliterated!

If I could rewrite history, I'd move the convention center between Calhoun and Grove, or between Calhoun and the railroad tracks if south of 7th. Today the TRE would have a station next door. And we would still have a true urban village setting south of 10th.

Oh well.



#5 mosteijn

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 12:48 PM

QUOTE(cbellomy @ Jun 17 2007, 12:21 PM) View Post

Man. What a loss. What a terrible, terrible loss. What a district that would be today if it hadn't been obliterated!

Completely agree! It could have been, hands down, one of the coolest urban neighborhoods in the state, maybe even the country. With as much history as it had and with a name like Hell's Half Acre, I mean, c'mon. cry.gif

#6 Fire-Eater

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 01:33 PM

QUOTE(Jonnyrules23 @ Jun 17 2007, 01:48 PM) View Post

QUOTE(cbellomy @ Jun 17 2007, 12:21 PM) View Post

Man. What a loss. What a terrible, terrible loss. What a district that would be today if it hadn't been obliterated!

Completely agree! It could have been, hands down, one of the coolest urban neighborhoods in the state, maybe even the country. With as much history as it had and with a name like Hell's Half Acre, I mean, c'mon. cry.gif


Yeah, that's what people will say 30 years from today when they look at photos of what we have NOW, which will be demolished TOMORROW.

History continues to repeat itself.

It erks me to think that some of y'all decry the loss, yet justify current shenanigans with "privit proptee rats," "economic feasibility," "oh, that's ugly architecture, anyway," and "progress."

Folks need to realize: Historic Preservation IS progress!
WWSPFD?*

History is but the record of the public and official acts of human beings. It is our object, therefore, to humanize our history and deal with people past and present; people who ate and possibly drank; people who were born, flourished and died; not grave tragedians, posing perpetually for their photographs. ~Bill Nye, History of the United States

For me there is no greater subject than history. How a man can study it and not be forced to become a philosopher, I cannot tell. ~George E. Wilson




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#7 Fire-Eater

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 01:35 PM

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Jun 16 2007, 11:41 PM) View Post

Jack White has recently sent me 30 photographs of the buildings that were demolished for the Fort Worth Convention Center and Water Gardens. I thought I would share a few of those with all of you. Many of these buildings had a lot of character. If you want to see all of them and the latest uploads, go to

GREAT STUFF, JOHN, THANKS!!!
WWSPFD?*

History is but the record of the public and official acts of human beings. It is our object, therefore, to humanize our history and deal with people past and present; people who ate and possibly drank; people who were born, flourished and died; not grave tragedians, posing perpetually for their photographs. ~Bill Nye, History of the United States

For me there is no greater subject than history. How a man can study it and not be forced to become a philosopher, I cannot tell. ~George E. Wilson




*What Would Susan Pringle Frost Do?

#8 cbellomy

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 04:13 PM

Fire-Eater, I think Jonnyrules and I are both pretty consistently in agreement with you about historic preservation. Certainly I am.



#9 John T Roberts

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 05:26 PM

Chris, even if they had moved the Convention Center eastward, there still would have been a collection of historic buildings demolished for its construction. However, those buildings east of Calhoun were smaller and not as architecturally significant. That area tended to be more industrial. Even if they only saved one building, it shouldn't have been any of the ones that I chose to highlight here. The Majestic Theater was the grandest of all of these buildings in the south end of downtown. The unfortunate thing about its demolition is that its location wasn't actually in the footprint of the Convention Center. The Majestic sat across Commerce Street from the center itself and its site was used to build the mechanical plant for the center, against the recommendations of the center's architects. The mechanical and electrical equipment could have been placed on any other site along Commerce.

Even though the Majestic had lost its luster years earlier, the building was still in its original condition and was as ornate on the interior as the Majestic in Dallas. Jack White has several photographs of the Majestic Theater on this site, but I'm including a couple of more taken in its final days.

Looking south on Commerce:
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Looking east on 10th to see that the street ended on axis with the entrance to the theater:
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#10 cbellomy

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 06:19 PM

John, my conceit was that I was rewriting history -- which means that I would have known in advance that the blocks east of Calhoun would turn mostly into parking anyway. It's a ridiculous conceit but as long as I'm rewriting history... smile.gif

That said, you open up an interesting point of discussion. Was there a better place to build a convention center? I chose the Jones Street corridor also because I couldn't think of anything better. Was I overlooking something?
This could be a pretty fun game.



#11 djold1

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 07:50 PM

QUOTE
That said, you open up an interesting point of discussion. Was there a better place to build a convention center? I chose the Jones Street corridor also because I couldn't think of anything better. Was I overlooking something?


This would be an interesting question. As I said in a previous post, there is little doubt, at least at the time, that a Convention facility was necessary. And it was a given that about the only place that it would fit in was in its present location or a little to the west or a little to the east. The Railroads and the new freeway provided boundaries on two sides. Large occupied valuable business buildings pretty well set the north boundary.

Unless I am mistakien, this thread is the first on this forum to even consider the "why" of the original Convention Center planning. Almost everything else has been simplistic moaning and groaning about the undoubted loss of some historic structures interspersed among those that were dead ordinary.

Again, from the reading I did on Hells Half Acre, there was a period in the 1900-1915 era when a lot of the original and deteriorated buildings were torn down, partly to "clean up" the area. So, many of the structures from an earler historic period were taken out long before the 1950's. In fact, I think that the replacement of places that were considered ugly in the their time period, or too small, too old, too flimsy or less fire resistant continued from the beginning of the city all the way through World War II.

I guess a corallary to the "where" would be a speculation as to whether ot not the Convention Center has ever been needed. Is there a case to be made for a viable & dynamic CBD and a profitable convention business without a facility like this? Or could the city be in its present condition if all that hadn't happened?

Who knows?

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#12 John T Roberts

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 09:21 PM

The big issue about the location of the Convention Center is that its original footprint would have taken up about 10 square blocks of downtown land. If land were allowed for expansion, probably another 5 blocks would have been taken. This means, that no matter where it was located, the building would have wiped out some architecturally significant buildings.

Djold is correct, Hell's Half Acre had been cleaned up previously. You can see by the photographs that Jack White took, many of the buildings dated from the late 1910's into the 1920's. There were a few that were older, and in any dynamic city, there is always replacement of older structures for the new.

I'm turning 50 in October, and I can vaguely remember the buildings in that area before the Convention Center. I remember that they had a lot of character, but they were very run down, and most people were in support of the urban renewal project. I guess the thing that bothers me most about the urban renewal projects from the 1960's is that they totally removed the neigborhoods where the projects took place. Look at what the Convention Center project did. Everything, except for a handful of non-descript buildings was wiped out between 9th, Grove, Lancaster, and Throckmorton. The only significant structure that remained in that area was the now significantly altered Monnig Dry Goods Warehouse, now Water Gardens Place.

I do believe that djold is correct in that if we explore if the location was right for the Convention Center, we should try to determine if the center was even needed in the first place. The center certainly did not spur economic redevelopment around it in the 1970's shortly after it opened. The Omni Hotel is probably the biggest project that has been directly connected with the Convention Center since it was built.

Are there any thoughts?

#13 mosteijn

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 10:54 PM

QUOTE(cbellomy @ Jun 17 2007, 05:13 PM) View Post

Fire-Eater, I think Jonnyrules and I are both pretty consistently in agreement with you about historic preservation.

I would say I am in agreement also, probably more so than most people. Being from a younger generation, my views of "before my time" are significantly different than most people's, especially on this board. I completely agree that preservation is more about the time period than the style or aesthetic beauty of a building, although on certain buildings I probably differ from Fire-Eater on whether it's worth preservation.

As for the location of the convention center, I would actually suggest somewhere totally different - the central west side of downtown. Particularly, I like the area between Belknap, Taylor, 3rd, and Henderson. I'm not sure what was there before the parking lots, prisons, and offices that currently occupy that land, but I don't think it was anywhere near as architecturally significant as HHA (as a whole). Would have been closer to today's Sundance Square and TRV anyways. *sigh*

#14 Fort Worthology

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Posted 17 June 2007 - 11:26 PM

QUOTE(Jonnyrules23 @ Jun 17 2007, 11:54 PM) View Post

As for the location of the convention center, I would actually suggest somewhere totally different - the central west side of downtown. Particularly, I like the area between Belknap, Taylor, 3rd, and Henderson. I'm not sure what was there before the parking lots, prisons, and offices that currently occupy that land, but I don't think it was anywhere near as architecturally significant as HHA (as a whole). Would have been closer to today's Sundance Square and TRV anyways. *sigh*


Wow - that's a very intriguing idea there, Jonny. Fascinating "what-if," if that had happened and HHA & the area around today's ITC had been spared.

#15 djold1

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 04:58 AM

I'll just kick in a few thoughts about "Was building the the Tarrant County Convention Center necessary?" issue...

Personally, I think it was.

It would have to have been located in the same general North/South location but it certainly could have been a little east or a little west. I don't think that placement is too important even considering what might have been saved vs. what would have been destroyed. It still would have to have had surface parking lots as it does now. Would we have gone as far west as up past Henderson and destroyed the Masonic building and the old homes still on Summit? Why not? Those bluffs would have been a spectacular setting but historically a huge disaster.

I didn't move to Fort Worth until 1971, but in my reading and researching of the city I really don't believe there was a meeting or performance venue of any size near the CBD at the time. Was Will Rogers the only thing going? I can't remember specifically.

Given the times and the necessity for Fort Worth to keep parity with its neighbors and competitors, it would have been economic suicide not to do a project like this. It had to be prominent in the CBD and as I have said, the CBD had restrictive boundaries. Also Fort Worth was a city of about 300,000 or less at that time. While John was correct in his statement that there really wasn't a lot of economic development in terms of new building in that district until the Omni, there is also the spectre that the existing hotels would not have been able to survive because there wasn't any place to meet or to perform.

So, if you agree that a convention facility was necesary in the CBD, where logically would you put it? "Uptown" near the Court House was filled with larger buildings and well occupied. The land was expensive there. Not to mention wiping out some historic structures up there as well. The old HHA was mixed or worst and was perhaps "quaint" to a few at the time but was considered unsightly and dangerous. At the time a lot of those buildings were less than 50 years old. And because of its condition, I assume that there was some Urban Renewal money available from the outside.

All that makes a decision pretty easy for a City & County that needed to try to keep things moving up.

Hindsight is wonderful. And we do a lot of that on this Forum. But unless the hindsight is balanced with the understanding of the historical reasons that something happened and the tenor of the times it happened in, then we are speaking with a certain degree of ignorance. We learn from history but it would be arrogant to say that we really know a lot more than the folks that were participating in Fort Worth at the time. It would have helped all of us to have been there.

On the other hand...

It does make for a an interesting mind game to consider, from our present lofty historical heights, any alternatives that might have been possible to keep Fort Worth and the area in competition and growing without building a convention center in the CBD.

I'm really looking forward to reading some ideas on this...

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#16 safly

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 12:13 PM

To think of the residentials in that area that could have been just makes me want to throw a rock at that flying saucer stuck in park.

That Trinity Hotel. wub.gif AWESOME!

And to think that a RE Developer these days would pay anything to add another 10 stories. The views! The views!

The question now is, should FW consider relocating Gen. Worth "Square" and ignite a rebuilding effort on Main between 8th and 9th?

Like Johnny's idea with the CC placement. The should of, could of, would of syndrome is a neat game to play.

You know that pic of the Majestic Hotel and that old city bus reminds me of a conversation I had with the wonderful Mrs. Brown (Terry's Grill). She told me about how she used to love riding the bus in to downtown, because of that diesel smell. Something about that diesel smell from the OLD buses just sparked some everlasting wonderful memories of the DTFW that used to be.
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#17 cbellomy

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 12:35 PM

QUOTE(djold1 @ Jun 18 2007, 05:58 AM) View Post

I didn't move to Fort Woth until 1971, but in my reading and researching of the city I really don't believe there was a meeting or performance venue of any size near the CBD at the time. Was Will Rogers the only thing going? I can't remember specifically.


Yes, Will Rogers was basically all there was.

QUOTE
Given the times and the necessity for Fort Worth to keep parity with its neighbors and competitors, it would have been economic suicide not to do a project like this. It had to be prominent in the CBD and as I have said, the CBD had restrictive boundaries. Also Fort Worth was a city of about 300,000 or less at that time. While John was correct in his statement that there really wasn't a lot of economic development in terms of new building in that district until the Omni, there is also the spectre that the existing hotels would not have been able to survive because there wasn't any place to meet or to perform.


The existing hotels didn't survive anyway. The Texas and the Blackstone both failed. It was thirteen years after TCCC opened before the hotel business started getting traction again in the CBD with the Americana (now the Worthington) and Hyatt Regency (now Hilton) hotels opening.

QUOTE
So, if you agree that a convention facility was necesary in the CBD, where logically would you put it? "Uptown" near the Court House was filled with larger buildings and well occupied. The land was expensive there. Not to mention wiping out some historic structures up there as well. The old HHA was mixed or worst and was perhaps "quaint" to a few at the time but was considered unsightly and dangerous. At the time a lot of those buildings were less than 50 years old. And because of its condition, I assume that there was some Urban Renewal money available from the outside.

All that makes a decision pretty easy for a City & County that needed to try to keep things moving up.


My lament about losing HHA has more to do with losing an authentic urban setting in the shadows of the true CBD than it does the historical importance of the structures there (though certainly there were several structures worth preserving). It also has a bit to do with losing the HHA name. Here we had our own answer to Hell's Kitchen, an authentic urban village with street-level retail and lofts above. Yes, it was dangerous, but so was Deep Ellum -- it would have come back in time.

I understand your point, though. For twelve years, TCCC stole a lot of business from Dallas (until Reunion Arena opened). It actually was a point of civic pride at the time, being modern and new. I just don't know if the city/county fathers at the time understood the true price of building in that location, though. We gave up a big part of our civic identity when we lost HHA. We also lost our best pure urban setting, sans office towers, in town. That place would be hopping today.

I think they were right to build a convention center. Jonnyrules' suggestion of NW downtown might have been a better choice (certainly the Leonard Brothers wouldn't have minded). Maybe the area south of the Federal Courts Building would have been good as well. Losing those blocks would have been no big deal compared to losing Hell's Half Acre, something we can never get back now.



#18 Phil Phillips

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 03:00 PM

Anyone have any photos of this area once the buildings were cleared, maybe right as construction of the convention center began?

#19 Fire-Eater

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 07:48 PM

QUOTE(cbellomy @ Jun 17 2007, 05:13 PM) View Post

Fire-Eater, I think Jonnyrules and I are both pretty consistently in agreement with you about historic preservation. Certainly I am.


You are.
WWSPFD?*

History is but the record of the public and official acts of human beings. It is our object, therefore, to humanize our history and deal with people past and present; people who ate and possibly drank; people who were born, flourished and died; not grave tragedians, posing perpetually for their photographs. ~Bill Nye, History of the United States

For me there is no greater subject than history. How a man can study it and not be forced to become a philosopher, I cannot tell. ~George E. Wilson




*What Would Susan Pringle Frost Do?

#20 John T Roberts

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Posted 18 June 2007 - 08:13 PM

Phil, I started receiving demolition photographs from Jack White today. I will have those uploaded as soon as I can. I don't know if he has any of the land being totally cleared.

Here is one taken from the Hotel Texas with about half of the blocks cleared on the south end with the north end buildings (including the Majestic Theater) still standing.
IPB Image

#21 Phil Phillips

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Posted 20 June 2007 - 01:07 PM

Great photos. Thanks.

#22 AndyN

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Posted 21 June 2007 - 08:12 PM

This had to be the most interesting building that caught my eye in the sequence of pictures and I have been wondering about who built it and how old was it.

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Jun 16 2007, 10:41 PM) View Post

IPB Image


Is this the Draughon's Practical Business College as shown on This eBay listing? I think it looks awfully close if you consider a few decades worth of revision (and what looks like a nasty cutout of the first floor facade at the corner). The text on the postcard says 14th and Main, and the photo from the Jack white Collection says the Ideal was a few blocks south of 9th street = 14th? Judging by the car in the older picture, it is from the teens or twenties. Probably not the original purpose of the building.

I am not bidding on this item and I have no knowledge of the owner and no interest in its sale, so feel free to snatch it if you want.


IPB Image

Woops. Looks like he has two cards from the same school. This other card shows the school as being at 6th & Main in 1908.

IPB Image

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#23 John T Roberts

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Posted 22 June 2007 - 04:46 AM

Andy, I think this is the same building. I know that Draughon's Business College move around downtown quite a bit during those times.

#24 Jack White

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Posted 22 June 2007 - 09:20 PM

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Jun 22 2007, 04:46 AM) View Post

Andy, I think this is the same building. I know that Draughon's Business College move around downtown quite a bit during those times.


John...that does appear to be the same building, but the card says FOURTEENTH and Main,
and I have been calling it THIRTEENTH and Main. We can find out for sure because the
address of the IDEAL Theater next door can be looked up in the city directory.

My impression is that Draughon's was a tenant at one time, but that the building was
not theirs.

Please post for edification of discussers here the great new slide of the building
I sent out today. These forum people will LOVE it.

I appreciate all the nice comments, folks.

Jack

#25 John T Roberts

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Posted 22 June 2007 - 09:51 PM

Jack, I now have uploaded the photos and I am posting it here. I tried to look at the Digital Sanborn Maps available through the Fort Worth Public Library tonight, and the site was not available. However, I started looking through the photographs, including the few that I have posted here on this forum. By making the comparisons, I have determined that the white building stood at 14th and Main. The key is by your overall photo looking south from the Hotel Texas. The buildings were not demolished for the Water Gardens until after the Convention Center was built. If you remember, originally 13th was rerouted almost to 14th, so that would be the last block of demolished buildings. Your view from the Hotel Texas shows the southern half of the center site already cleared, but the northern half buildings still remain and the streets are still in place across the site. If you count streets, you can see 9th in the foreground and 10th where it ended at the Majestic Theater. Continue counting the streets and the last one before buildings started again was 14th. Finally, look at the building at the SW corner of 14th and Main and then compare it to the photo of the west side of Main with the mystery building and the Ideal Theater. You can see the building across the street has brown brick on the upper floor, a green awning, and an orange sign with Pepsi on it. Now, go back to the view from the Hotel Texas and you can see the first building standing on the west side of Main is a brown brick building with a green awning and orange sign.

I apologize for my lengthy explanation, and I'm sure most of you want to see the new photograph, so here it is.
IPB Image

#26 M C Toyer

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Posted 24 June 2007 - 09:29 PM

Great photos and interesting thread -

I believe the 3 story building pictured in the above post was originally the Farmers and Mechanics National Bank built in 1889 on the northwest corner of 14th and Main. Per Oliver Knight in "Fort Worth - Outpost on the Trinity" the bank was founded by John Hoxie of Chicago.

I have a book written by the demolition contractor for the Convention Center property. I can't lay my hands on it right now and the author's name escapes me but the title is "Wrecking Texas." He provides quite a bit of detail and several photos of the process.

I'll look for the book and post some excerpts if I find it. I do recall his bid for the salvage rights was $2500 payable to the City of Fort Worth - the demolition and site clearing were all at his expense. I also recall he had a number of security problems and tangled with a local union because he was using street people to clean bricks.

M C Toyer

added - Here is the full citation on the demolition book from the Fort Worth Library catalog:

Wreckin' Texas /
by Hollis, Ray, Pendergrast, Sam, 1932-
Austin, Tex. : Eakin Publications, c1984.
Edition: 1st ed.

Description: x, 179 p. : ill., ports. ; 23 cm.

Copy information
Location Collection Call # Status Due Date
Central Library Non Fiction 92 Hollis, Ray Checked out 06/21/2007
Ridglea Branch Non Fiction 92 Hollis, Ray Checked In

I did not know until I was seeking this data that Hollis was a candiate for governor in 1994 - defeated in the primary by George W Bush.







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