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DTFW: 1959 Review of the infamous Gruen Plan


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#1 djold1

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 01:43 PM

I picked up a four page article written for the May 1959 Architectural Forum the other day. It is a retrospective on the progress. if any, of the 1956 plan for a radical redevelopment of downtown Fort Worth which was commissioned in secret by a private citizen and executed by Victor Gruen & Associates. It created a furor both in Fort Worth and on the internnational architectural seen.

The article is pretty interesting and fairly objective. There are some good pictures & illustrations of DTFW as it was then and as it might have turned out. For those that are interested I have a fairly high res 10 meg PDF file of the article which I will send as an attachment to anyone that requests it from djold1@lectricbooks.com. The aerials will be much clearer than the lo-res set below. I will only respond to requests until the first of the year.

To me, he most interesting part of the article is the aerial shots of DTFW as of 1959. This is in the period when the old West Freeway was still being built and I35 was not yet started. I think that much of Hell's Half Acre was still in place. The railroad installations were still in place on the east of Jones Avenue and you can see how really big the T & P reservation and the Frisco freight areas were. The Court House area was still intact. North of the river you can see the scars made by the levee work after the 1954 flood as well as a fully functional Texas Electric power plant. There are lots of other detals to be scoped out if you have the inclination to look.


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#2 bhudson

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 02:05 PM

"Dodged a bullet" does not adequately describe the feeling.

#3 bhudson

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 02:09 PM

One monumental irony is that the Medical Arts building (among others long since gone) would have been spared by the plan

#4 Dismuke

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 09:36 PM

QUOTE(bhudson @ Dec 18 2007, 04:09 PM) View Post

One monumental irony is that the Medical Arts building (among others long since gone) would have been spared by the plan



Yes - but it looks like the Tarrant County Courthouse would have been replaced with an ugly box. Bullet dodged, indeed.
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#5 John T Roberts

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Posted 18 December 2007 - 09:42 PM

Sundance Square would have been wiped out, as well.

#6 bhudson

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 10:52 AM

QUOTE(Dismuke @ Dec 18 2007, 09:36 PM) View Post

it looks like the Tarrant County Courthouse would have been replaced with an ugly box.


That is no box, that's The Dawn of Man.



#7 Dismuke

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 12:36 PM

Imagine the mess we would be left with today. Downtown would have been blighted by and left with lots and lots of bland and ugly late '50s and early '60s buildings which did not age well at all (as evidence, recall Landmark Tower) and which would be mostly obsolete for their intended usage. But unlike buildings from earlier periods that became obsolete for their original purpose, the buildings from the mid 20th century era are almost always utterly lacking in the charm, beauty, grandeur and coolness which would make them attractive for redevelopment along other lines.

Had it been implemented, downtown would have continued to decline - perhaps faster than it, in fact, did. Turn downtown into what would amount to a huge mall? Well, what advantage would it offer over an actual mall out in the suburbs? In a real mall, one gets to walk around in climate controlled comfort and doesn't have to deal with the heat, cold and rain. In a real mall, one parks in a parking lot and goes directly inside. In Gruen's downtown mall, one would have had to go through the hassle of a parking garage which is much more time consuming during busy periods and requires one to go down stairs or elevators. What exactly would be the advantage of going through the extra hassle in order to walk amongst a bunch of ugly 1960s buildings downtown when one could walk around an ugly building of the same vintage in the suburbs with far less inconvenience? And the same is true with regard to office buildings as well - what advantage would a downtown full of ugly modern buildings where one has to walk outdoors from a parking garage every day be over a similar ugly building in the suburbs with less parking hassle?

What made the Bass family's vision for downtown so brilliant was that it focused on the things that downtown had to offer which were unique and different than what conventional, bland generic suburbs had to offer. Rather than trying to turn downtown into something it wasn't, they were able to recognize the value of what was already there - value which others failed to appreciate in that doing so went against the conventional wisdom of the time and put one at risk of being regarded as "old fashioned" or "square." And the reason people continue to come to downtown today in increasing numbers is because of things about it that are different than what one finds in other parts of town.

So what would have happened is the ONLY aspect of the Gruen plan which might have had a prayer would be some of the office buildings might have been able to attract tenants - at least for a few years. By the 1980s even they would have been regarded as being out-of-date. At some point in time, in desperation to stop the decline, the streets would have been opened back up to traffic. A number of other cities experimented with closing off downtown streets or significantly reducing their traffic flow. In every instance, the results were a disaster and simply killed off what retail was left.

The problem with urban planners such as Gruen is that the world is not a giant anthill and people aren't ants. Just because people such Gruen and their followers are in love with their own "visions" it does not follow that everyone else is going to act according to script.

Some years ago I saw in Boston a derelict circa 1960s era Stalinist-looking government housing project which, I am pretty sure, has since been torn down. The project had lots of space that was designed for retail and whoever dreamed the thing up apparently envisioned it being a shopping destination. But who in their right mind was going to shop there? Why on earth would people from more affluent parts of town have any desire to make an effort to come to an ugly Stalinist-looking complex in a very high crime area with cash and credit cards in hand? The only way to get people to do so would be for the government to outlaw any alternative shopping districts. And why would a concentration of people who are so poor that they have to live in government housing be a magnet for retailers? There is a reason why retailers are reluctant to locate in such areas - the decent people tend to have low discretionary income and there are those who are poor because they are non-decent people which tends to result in a high crime environment. These factors combine to make it difficult for a business to be viable.

But somehow this government housing project was going to be different - it was going to be different because whoever dreamed it up wanted it to be different. The only thing was, people failed to act according to script. The bad apples that end up in such projects behaved like the bad apples they were and trashed the place and caused any decent resident who had an opportunity to do so to flee. Residents who fled were selfish and were not willing to sacrifice their safety and their children in order to conform to the "vision" of the project. Evil, greedy merchants were not willing to open up stores that operated at a loss and deal with the high crime in order to conform to the "vision" of the project. The evil people in more affluent parts of town were selfish and continued to shop in places that were convenient to them, that offered the sorts of merchandise they wished to buy and where they felt safe. They were not willing to sacrifice such things in order to conform to the "vision" of the project.

So the whole place in a span of two decades or so became a brutal no-man's land with entire buildings that were completely abandoned, gutted and boarded up shells. But I assure you that whoever dreamed the thing up and his followers do not put the blame for what happened with the hairbrained "vision." No, to this day they probably still regard the "vision" as being "noble." The reason it failed was that everyone else was too stupid, greedy and selfish to act according to the script and to subordinate their lives and interests to the "vision" of the project.

And had the Gruen plan been implemented, the people of Fort Worth would not have acted according to script either. Downtown Fort Worth today would be as abandoned and desolate as downtown Waco but with much less potential for a future revival. What the I-30 overhead and the convention center did to the southern part of downtown would have happened to ALL of downtown. By contrast, the Bass family had "vision" as well. But they started out putting their own money at risk - and my guess is they did research in advance to verify that there was a real-world basis for their vision. And they started out small - had it not taken off, the damage would have been limited. But when one combines "vision" with unlimited access to the taxpayer's wallets - well, you get stuff such as the Gruen plan and that housing project in Boston.
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#8 bhudson

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 01:41 PM

QUOTE(Dismuke @ Dec 19 2007, 12:36 PM) View Post

when one combines "vision" with unlimited access to the taxpayer's wallets - well, you get stuff such as the Gruen plan and that housing project in Boston.


...or a downtown TCC campus.

As far as Ed Bass and downtown, you can call it brilliant if you want. It's only brilliant because we like the results. With the condition that downtown was in, if Bass had proposed implementing the Gruen plan, the city would have been willing partners to help him (Sundance might have been one man's vision, but it was not one man's money that achieved it). Ed Bass had/has access to the buttons and levers necessary to have implemented a modern version of the Gruen plan.

My point is that Fort Worth finds itself today with the same problem it has always had. One man is running the show. We're lucky that he does things we tend to like, but it is a one man show. What if he decides he likes 1960's architecture tomorrow? Schwarz is out, someone else is in, people are screaming, but nobody will be able to stop it.

#9 Dismuke

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 05:23 AM

QUOTE(bhudson @ Dec 19 2007, 03:41 PM) View Post



As far as Ed Bass and downtown, you can call it brilliant if you want. It's only brilliant because we like the results.


I don't think such a statement is accurate or even fair. There is certainly more to it than the fact that you and I might have a personal preference for the style of buildings Bass has redeveloped and constructed.

Regardless of whether one approves of their buildings, the fact remains that the Basses' initial vision and their efforts to follow through on it singlehandedly got the ball rolling which resulted in the subsequent renaissance of downtown - which has, in fact, by now spread beyond downtown. Without the success of Sundance Square, many of the other wonderful projects in downtown such as the redevelopment of the Electric Building and the Blackstone that the Basses were not involved in would probably not have been possible. Without Sundance Square, the development we have seen in "Uptown" in the Bluff/Samuels area would probably not be happening. Without Sundance Square, it is unlikely that all of the residential development we have seen in the so-called "Upper West Side" would be there. I also think a strong case could be made that the amazing developments that are going up along West 7th and in the Cultural District would not have been possible without the vibrant downtown that was made possible by the success of Sundance Square. A few years ago, a delegation of Dallas political big-wigs made a field trip to Fort Worth seeking to learn what they might be able to do to turn around their decaying downtown - which I am sure would have amused Amon Carter to no end. Such a trip would not have happened had it not been for the success of Sundance Square and all of the many positive things that have come about as a result of it.

The reason the Basses were brilliant is because they were the ones who were able to see into the future long before anyone else and then took the steps that were necessary to make that future an actuality. I have read that the public first learned about Sundance Square when the Basses appeared before the City Council to request that the city not go through with plans to cover the bricks on Main with asphalt. Only then did the public become aware that they had quietly acquired the run down old buildings that became Sundance Square. Had the Basses not done so - well, I think we can pretty much count on the fact that those buildings would have ultimately been replaced by some sort of glass box monstrosity within a very few years and the streets of downtown would have continued to be deserted after 5:00 PM. At the time, what the Basses did with Sundance Square was very much a radical notion and certainly went against the conventional wisdom. Buying up a district of of run down old buildings and fixing them up was pretty much regarded as something that only the hopelessly eccentric might do - quaint and charming perhaps, but highly impractical from a business standpoint. Their brilliance was that they could see its potential as a serious business venture that would lead to bigger and better things down the road for both themselves and downtown.

Think what you will about the Basses - to dismiss or underestimate the importance of their role in the rebirth and subsequent success of downtown is unjust and is highly inaccurate.

QUOTE

With the condition that downtown was in, if Bass had proposed implementing the Gruen plan, the city would have been willing partners to help him


Maybe. But Bass didn't propose implementing the Gruen plan. Doesn't that count for something in your book?

QUOTE

(Sundance might have been one man's vision, but it was not one man's money that achieved it).


I am afraid I am not sure what you are talking about here - perhaps you know something I don't.

My understanding is that the Bass family purchased the old buildings in Sundance Square with their own money and fixed them up with their own money - and in doing so, put their own money at risk. I am pretty sure that some of the Basses' projects have indeed benefited from certain government subsidies and/or favorable tax schemes - and, as anyone who has followed my postings here will know, I certainly do NOT approve of corporate welfare or any other kind of welfare for that matter. That having been said, it is my understanding that whatever subsidies/tax schemes the Basses may have benefited from were mostly extended only AFTER Sundance Square was a unquestionable success and was mostly spent on things such as parking garages for which a demonstrable demand already clearly existed.

I am not trying to excuse or justify any corporate welfare the Basses might have taken. But one does have to put it in proper perspective. The Basses are certainly not the only developers who have done so - indeed, one would be very hard pressed to find a developer today who would not eagerly take whatever subsidies they can get. Personally, I place the majority of the blame with the politicians who make the corporate welfare possible in the first place and, most especially, on the voters who elect such politicians and allow them to pick their neighbors' pocket.

Above all, there is a huge difference between whatever taxpayer subsidies the Basses might have accepted over the years and the massive taxpayer money pit the Gruen plan would have been. To implement the Gruen plan would have required huge tracks of downtown property to have been confiscated by eminent domain with the taxpayers forking over the money to "compensate" the victims. All of the money for the massive land acquisition and for the parking garages would had to have been spent up front with little evidence beyond some urban planner's dreams, projections and wishes that the whole endeavor would have amounted to anything. By contrast, had the redevelopment of the old buildings in Sundance Square failed to take off, the only people who would have been out anything would have been the Basses.

QUOTE

Ed Bass had/has access to the buttons and levers necessary to have implemented a modern version of the Gruen plan.


If so, then for whatever reason, he obviously chooses not to push such buttons or levers.

The only entity that can implement a scheme such as the Gruen plan is the government. If our government is such that a private citizen like Ed Bass can push the levers of political power in the way you describe - well exactly whose fault is that? Who makes it possible for such levers to exist in the first place? People talk about businessmen corrupting politicians and the government. But if politicians and government officials did not wield the massive regulatory power over all aspects of our economy and lives and did not have the ability to confiscate and redistribute vast sums of taxpayer wealth - well, if government officials did not have such massive power, what motive would there be for businessmen to attempt to buy influence? Exactly who is corrupting whom? A great many businessmen these days have no choice but to buy political influence in order to defend themselves against competitors who seek to prevail by means of political pull rather than the marketplace. It is very difficult for a business to say no to government subsidies and corporate welfare when all of its major competitors are already taking it and gaining a competitive advantage as a result. I submit that the problem is not business corrupting government but rather the other way around.

QUOTE

My point is that Fort Worth finds itself today with the same problem it has always had. One man is running the show. We're lucky that he does things we tend to like, but it is a one man show.


Exactly what show is he running? If you are talking about his developments - well, of course he is running the show. That's because they are his show - and since it is his show, he quite properly gets to run it. If you are are talking about downtown as a whole - well, the notion that he runs the show is bizarre. He is by no means the only property owner downtown. And he certainly is no longer the only developer who is active in the downtown area.

QUOTE

What if he decides he likes 1960's architecture tomorrow?


Then that's his business, isn't it? It is a free country. That's a decision he gets to make if he wishes to do so.

Your premise here is that the buildings he puts up are based on whim and are dictated by nothing more than his personal architectural preferences. And perhaps they do indeed coincide with his personal tastes. But there has to be more to it than that. Ed Bass is undoubtedly rich enough to fix up a few blocks of two and three story old buildings just for the fun of doing so. But I guarantee you the man is not in a position to go around arbitrarily throwing up Schwartz skyscrapers on no other basis than mere indulgence in his taste for such architecture. The man would not be the successful businessman he is if he operated on such a basis. Maybe he likes Schwartz skyscrapers - but I promise you that the only reason they end up being built is because Bass has reason to believe that they will be a financial success.

QUOTE

Schwarz is out, someone else is in, people are screaming, but nobody will be able to stop it.


Huh??? Why on earth should they be able to stop it? By what right?

You and I are certainly entitled to our opinions regarding the sorts of buildings he chooses to put up. But on what basis should you or I have any say-so on the matter? On what grounds should Ed Bass be required to give even a fraction of a second's worth of consideration to what you or I think? The style of architecture that Bass chooses for the buildings he is paying for with his own money is none our bloody business. If Ed Bass does not like the color I choose to paint my house - well, that's his problem, not mine. If I don't like the style of architecture Ed Bass chooses for his skyscrapers - well, that's my problem, not his. And if prospective tenants decide that they don't like it either and choose to lease elsewhere, then that's Ed Bass's problem.

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#10 djold1

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 06:59 AM

That's pretty eloquent Dismuke. And probably right on the money from an historical standpoint. Movers and Shakers tend to get a lot more done in a shorter time than cumbersome municipal committees. While paying attention to history doesn't always give us a clear path to the future, it can certainly tell us a lot about what didn't work in the past.

Let's do a little more time-jumping with the city aerial & skyline below. The warp date is 1929, which is about 30 years before the 1959 picture which is in itself about 48 years from our present moment. It is a page from a rather elegant "Welcome" brochure printed by the Chamber of Commerce by M.D. Evans which is in my collecton.

As shown, you can see that Front street, which will become Lancaster in a couple of years, dead ends and doesn't cut through the south end of downtown. Instead there is a real disaster area in the T & P yards sprawling all over everything. You can see the "old" T & P station with its distinctive tower which was located across the street from the current one.

Thsi picture also gives a pretty good view of the Hell's Half Acre area just before the Great Depression.

Fort Worth was growing and the access across the T & P reservation was terrible. The Jennings Ave viaduct was dangerous and wouldn't handle the traffic. Almost all the other crossings were at grade and there were something like 20 tracks to cross in some places. This will change in the next couple of years as the T & P and the city change everything.

Incidentally, the railroad bottle neck at the crossing if the T & P and Santa Fe at Tower 55 was a huge problem at that time as well, as it had been from about 1900 on. It did not get solved in the reconstruction of Front Street in the early 1930's. The problem is still with us today.

Look north past the Courthouse. The FW Power & Light plant is there. On the other hand, everything looks just like it does now and did in 1959. Essentially there is nothing at all in the flood plain from the Courthouse Bluffs up to the old Frisco tracks. For good reason. About every 5 years a major flood covered everything. What does this tell us about the existence or non-existence of truly historical structures in the TRV area?

There are two great maps of 1929 (Jenkins) & 1930 (Evans) Fort Worth that show all this in detail that I am currently working on as additonal documentation.

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#11 bhudson

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 09:41 AM

Dismuke,

Either the intent of my post wasn't clear, or I misinterpreted your post. It was so long I tried to condense it and must have gotten it wrong, if so I apologize. Regardless, it wasn't necessary to lambast and belittle my point (and invent things that I did not say) in order to make yours. Never once did I dismiss or underestimate the Bass brothers' role in the rebirth of downtown.

The devil's advocate position I was submitting is this: "It is not a good thing that Fort Worth is one man's vision." If J. B. Thomas had put money at risk as Ed Bass had done, we might have the sorry results of a Gruen plan. The only point I was trying to make was that when you are subject to one man's vision, you get what that person wants for better or worse. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Just as long Fort Worth's next visionary isn't a Victor Gruen fan, I guess.

I love what the Bass brothers have done to downtown. For certain, their initial investment was a visionary risk which they are deservedly profiting from. But I think at this point for the long-term success and development of FW's inner core, the ideas and money need to be coming from more than one place... and for the most part they are. One man won't be right every time.

#12 Dismuke

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 01:53 PM

QUOTE(bhudson @ Dec 20 2007, 11:41 AM) View Post


Regardless, it wasn't necessary to lambast and belittle my point (and invent things that I did not say) in order to make yours.


In no instance did I lambaste or belittle your points - and it is not my style to do so in any serious forum, which is what I consider this forum to be. My posting was perfectly polite. My replies were directly in response to what you wrote. I pointed out my disagreements and stated my case as thoroughly and as strongly as I could given the amount of time I was willing to put into it. Such does NOT constitute "lambasting" or "belittling."

As for my "inventing" things that you did not say - that is not my style either and I did not do so. I responded to what you wrote. Whenever you communicate a point, be it verbally or in writing, there always exists the possibility that others will interpret it differently than what you intended. But that does not mean the other person is "inventing."


QUOTE

Never once did I dismiss or underestimate the Bass brothers' role in the rebirth of downtown.


Well, you wrote the following: "As far as Ed Bass and downtown, you can call it brilliant if you want. It's only brilliant because we like the results."

So apparently it was not your intention to dismiss the Bass brother's role when you made this statement. But the only thing I or anyone else has to go by are the specific words you typed into this forum - it is not possible to read minds. Taking another look at your statement, I don't think it is at all unreasonable for a careful and honest reader to interpret it as being such a dismissal. That is a risk that is inherent in any form of communication and is not the same thing as "inventing."


QUOTE

The devil's advocate position I was submitting is this:


Unless they clearly indicate otherwise, my default assumption when someone expresses a point of view is that they are serious about what they are saying.

Playing devil's advocate is certainly a valid rhetorical device. But it is absolutely necessary that a person make it clear they are employing it in advance and not after the fact. There are three reasons for this:

1) Not making it clear you are playing devil's advocate makes it very likely that the other person will have a false understanding of what your actual views are. To the degree that you take your opinions and your credibility seriously, this is not a state of affairs that you should regard as desirable.

2) The only hope that another person has of being able to persuade you to come around to his point of view is to first find some sort of common ground in the form of shared premises upon which he can try to build his case. In order to be effective at persuasion, it is absolutely necessary to have an accurate understanding of where the other person is coming from. By simply throwing out devil's advocate positions that do not represent your actual views without letting the other person know what you are doing, you are basically sending them on a wild goose chase and throwing curve balls at them in any effort that they might be making to understand what your actual views are. To do this is very inconsiderate. To the degree that a person seeks to understand your views, they are attempting to take you seriously - and, in such a context, to throw out devil's advocate arguments that you don't represent your actual views undercuts their effort. Of course, sometimes a devil's advocate argument is a very effective and legitimate way for you to understand the other person's viewpoint. All one has to do is simply qualify the argument by mentioning that you are playing devil's advocate.

3) There are some people out there (I am not suggesting that you are one of them) who plea "devils advocate" as a cop out whenever someone demolishes one of their arguments and they are unable to come up with any other rebuttal. In other words, some people seek to evade the responsibility that is inherent whenever one expresses an opinion. Whenever one expresses an opinion on a serious issue, there is always risk that someone might come along with a rebuttal that demolishes it - and there are people out there who seek to exempt themselves from any negative consequences by simply crying "devil's advocate."


QUOTE

"It is not a good thing that Fort Worth is one man's vision." If J. B. Thomas had put money at risk as Ed Bass had done, we might have the sorry results of a Gruen plan. The only point I was trying to make was that when you are subject to one man's vision, you get what that person wants for better or worse. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Just as long Fort Worth's next visionary isn't a Victor Gruen fan, I guess.

I love what the Bass brothers have done to downtown. For certain, their initial investment was a visionary risk which they are deservedly profiting from. But I think at this point for the long-term success and development of FW's inner core, the ideas and money need to be coming from more than one place... and for the most part they are. One man won't be right every time.



It is true that the Bass brothers have had an overwhelming influence on downtown - so much so that most of the other developers who later became active in downtown simply followed down the same path as opposed to offering up something radically different.

I think it is important to briefly analyze the nature of this "one man's vision" and exactly how much power this one man is able to exert.

There is a huge difference between the power and influence of Ed Bass verses someone such as a Fidel Castro who imposes his vision on unwilling victims at the point of a gun. If someone were to denounce Ed Bass in this forum using the worst possible terms, so long as he did not commit libel, there is nothing Bass can do about it. If the person works for Bass or if Bass is one of his customers, then Bass could (and should) refuse to have further dealings with the person and withdraw his financial support. But that is all he can do. Someone such as Castro can and does have such people thrown in jail or worse.

The power Ed Bass or you or me, for that matter, has to influence the direction of downtown is entirely economic. In other words, he has such influence only to the degree he has earned it. His family may be very wealthy - but I assure you that there is no way that even they could have afforded to have developed and maintained all of their many projects downtown had those projects not been successful, self-supporting business enterprises. And to the degree that those projects are successful businesses, that is the degree that countless numbers of other people - both tenants and shoppers - have signed off on Bass' vision in the way that matters most: by their pocketbooks. So, yes, the rebirth of downtown in largely one very wealthy man's vision. But that vision would not have been actualized had not a whole bunch of non-wealthy people recognized the value of that vision and voluntarily bought into it. Had Bass instead invested in some Gruen style hairbrained scheme that people wanted nothing to do with, so long as the government did not step in to bail it out, all Bass would have accomplished would have been to deplete the family fortune thereby reducing the amount of economic influence he would be able to exert over downtown in the future.

The other point that ought to be made about downtown being one man's vision is the fact that there is absolutely nothing that has ever stopped someone else from coming along and attempting to implement some sort of rival vision. The Basses don't own all of the land downtown. There is absolutely nothing stopping you or me or anyone else from buying up downtown land and offering up our own visions. That you and I might not have the capital, knowledge and skills to do so.....well, that's hardly Ed Bass's fault.

If downtown is the product of one man's vision, it is either because that vision is so successful and so attractive that everyone else involved downtown wishes to be part of it or it is because nobody else has been willing and/or able to come up with and implement a financially viable alternative. And if someone else were to come along willing to invest in a rival vision and that vision had merit - well, there is very little that Ed Bass could do to stop it.

Now, if you are suggesting that Ed Bass goes to City Hall and uses political pull to intimidate and prevent other downtown property owners from competing against his projects - well, then I would agree that is a huge problem and one that needs to be corrected.

So, to sum up, I agree that downtown is largely one man's vision. The primary reason it is so is because that vision has been successful and a great many people support that vision by patronizing various Bass projects - and because nobody else has come along and offered an alternative vision that has proven to be as financially viable. There is absolutely nothing stopping someone else from putting such an alternative forward and seeking investors to back it. And to the degree that one regards the influence of the Bass vision over downtown as a concern or problem, that is the approach that one should take in order to address it.
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#13 bhudson

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 03:04 PM

Sheesh, I'm not reading that whole thing. I don't think what I said was so controversial/confusing to have deserved two rambling lectures (over 3000 words), especially if one is about grammar and communication devices. Tell safly Hello in the ignore bin. smile.gif

Seriously, I'd like to buy you a beer sometime. You could use one. I'm downtown every day.

#14 djold1

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 04:28 PM

Let's consider something else perhaps with a little less verbosity and heat...

In spite of its repuation in the eyes of its detractors as a laid back cowtown, Fort Worth has been a considerable city in anybody's estimation for a long time. At least since the early 1900's. For whatever reasons.. the railroads, the stockyards, Camp Bowie, a strong jingoistic newspaper, the oil boom that lasted most of the 1st half of the 19th century, the aircraft industry, military bases and a good underlying agricultural base have allowed the city to progress steadily in population and infrastructure. Fort Worth has not suffered many of the setbacks of other similar cities. It has always been a city with those of active wealth that use their resources for profit and/or community benefit. When things do go bad with the economy, Fort Worth has always had a tendency have enough resources to keep from totally falling off the edge and to be able to recover within a reasonable time.

As far as the Central Business District (CBD) is concerned, events have happened in phases or cycles probably caused by economic trends and/or strangulation of the CBD by boundary restraints or restrictions. Fort worth is a river city although not in the classic shipping sense. The business district is bound on the north by the bluffs on the south bank of the Trinity and the historic unwholesomeness of the flood plain on the north bank. The T & P with its large reservation effecively limits CBD growth to the south as do the several railroads to the east. And there are definite river-defined boundaries to the west.

For the CBD to remain viable in any era, changes tend to destroy what was in place to make way for the new. It seems to me that these changes happen like an earthquake occurs underground. When the pressure of one tectonic plate becomes too much then there is slippage that causes a jolt. To carry the simile a little further, you might say that one section or another of the CBD comes inder pressure and tends to subduct under a new or more poweful plate with a resulting earth movement and shock.

As I mentioned in a previous post in this thread, something similar happened in the early 1930's when the access to the CDB from and to the south became almost impossible because of the Front Street and T & P railroad situation. Huge pressures to fix the situaiton developed and the result was the removal of the T & P shops and yards from the south side of the tracks, the construction of a new Terminal and Freight house, the total elimination of grade level street crossings and the eventual opening of Front Street (Renamed Lancaster) through to Camp Bowie Boulevard by the end of WWII. The effect of Fort Worth of this project, which happened before any of the Depression construction, probably has lhad as much affect as Sundance Square has in our era.

In the same way the postwar tectonic growth pressures produced the now-infamous but once much admired Convention Center development in what was probably a life saving effort to get and keep business in downtown Fort Worth. It was built for the same reasons that we have recently expanded and improved that facility and have new hotel and convention facilites coming. The Gruen plan was contemporary to all this.

More recently in response to more tectonic pressure to relieve pressure on the CBD the old freeway was taken down after much strife and the south CBD is about to arise again from the rubble. The economic effect is yet to be seen, but there is good potential in this area if everything works out. Once again, for better or worse, Fort Worth fed on the old to create the new.

Now the ground is rumbling again and the strain gauges are trembling. Time and circumstance has offered the possiblity of finally getting some more room for the downtown to expand. The Trinity River Vison of developing the old deadland to the north of the Trinity looks possible. If it happens and if the development is done carefully, it will produce a tectonic shift of enormous economic power. It is one of those opportunities that seems to come to a lucky city like Fort Worth. What happens will be in the future. But the future at least has some promise.

In all the tectonic economic and cultural shifts above, there have been individuals, groups of individuals and government bodies involved. In some cases individuals have more effect, in others it will take a larger unified group action. Each time that something major transpires there are supporters and detractors.

But at least in Fort Worth, history tells us that there has been and will be movement with the possibility of improvement. Not all cities can say this...

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#15 bhudson

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 07:31 PM

You're right on that Fort Worth's economy has come and gone in waves. And in a way, I think that the frequency and duration of the troughs has allowed this city to preserve much of it's character. In other words, if this city had been "blowin' and goin'" throughout the 20th century, we'd have a bunch of muddled 50's - 60's architecture, Baker-building remodels, etc. I don't think a little obsolete building like W. T. Waggoner could have survived if Fort Worth hadn't had so many lean times. I know there have been a lot of regrettable teardowns in this city, but I would argue that we have at least as much of our original architecture as anyone else.

There is still a lot that has survived into an era where the history is respected. I may be surprised, but I'm pretty sure the Waggoner building, the Sanger building, Electric Co., Flatiron, Anderson cotton exchange bldg, our brick streets, etc have survived into an era where they will not be at risk for a long time.

Anyway, thanks for posting those images and sharing the article, Pete. It was fascinating to read that while some things have changed with the times, the politics of Fort Worth really never did.

#16 John T Roberts

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Posted 20 December 2007 - 08:40 PM

Bhudson, I'm now putting on my preservation hat and also sounding like a broken record. The buildings you listed are probably not at risk for demolition; however, only the Electric Building and the Flatiron have any legal protection against demolition. The others are designated Demolition Delay, which only will grant a maximum protection of 180 days against demolition.

#17 Dismuke

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:00 AM

QUOTE(bhudson @ Dec 20 2007, 05:04 PM) View Post

Sheesh, I'm not reading that whole thing.


That is certainly your prerogative.

QUOTE

I don't think what I said was so controversial/confusing to have deserved two rambling lectures (over 3000 words), especially if one is about grammar and communication devices.


My remarks in response to your claim of use of a devil's advocate argument were entirely justified and appropriate. This is especially true given your emphasis in bold face type of the word "devil's advocate." If I was somehow supposed to know that your remarks were intended as a devil's advocate argument - well, exactly by what means was I supposed to know given that you provided zero indication of it?


QUOTE

Tell safly Hello in the ignore bin. smile.gif


Well, cute little drive-by potshots have zero impact on me.

You are implying that I am the one who is somehow getting bent out of shape in this thread and "needs a beer" when, in fact, the exact opposite is true. You are the one who has now, on two occasions, gotten in a huff about this. You are the one who resorted to a borderline character attack when you accused me of unjustly "belittling" your posting and "inventing" stuff out of whole cloth when I had, in fact, done no such thing.

Exactly what have I done in this thread to provoke this sort of reaction from you? I read your posting. I took your remarks seriously and gave them consideration. I disagreed with what I understood your position to be. I put up a thoughtful, detailed and intelligent reply thoroughly explaining my disagreements and put forth my own positions on the matter. If you wish to call that "rambling" - well, go right ahead. Being thorough about one's positions is a virtue, your rude insult to the contrary not withstanding.

If you disagree with the opinions I express, then by all means say so and demonstrate using facts and logic where and how I am wrong. But don't accuse me of "belittling" or "lambasting" you when I have done no such thing simply because I have disagreed with you.

If you think I have mischaracterized your positions - well, please speak up and correct me on that. That is the very last thing I wish to do with anyone. But it is going to happen from time to time. The only evidence that I have available to me here about where you stand on matters is the words that you write. And if your written words do not express your position clearly or accurately - well, I have no way of reading your mind in order to know otherwise. Perhaps if you "rambled" and "lectured" a little bit more - i.e., explained your positions more thoroughly - people would be less likely to misinterpret your remarks. Regardless, it is absolutely uncalled for to immediately accuse me of dishonestly "inventing" arguments you did not make without considering the possibility of misunderstanding or honest error. Now, if I were to continue to mischaracterize your positions once you have corrected me and set the record straight - well that would be a different matter and you would then be fully justified in calling my intellectual integrity into question.

Taking ideas seriously is a virtue. Taking the time and effort to explain one's points carefully and thoroughly is a virtue - and something that is absolutely mandatory if one takes one's ideas seriously and has respect for the intelligence of one's audience. I have held this to be true ever since I was a kid - and I endured a certain amount of ridicule as a child on grounds that I was "too serious" and therefore, somehow, "uncool." I saw such nonsense for what it was back then and I sure as heck am not going to change my attitude on it all these years later because someone on a message board gets in a huff and tells me that I "need a beer."

The value of forums such as this one is that a very wide variety of viewpoints are welcomed and discussed. If one is going to put forth an opinion in this or any other public forum - well, one had better be darned prepared for other people to subject it to serious analysis and criticism and for them to post replies accordingly. If one is not prepared for this or is too thin-skinned to deal with it - well, perhaps one ought to think twice before hitting the "add reply" button. And I am certainly not the one here who "needs a beer," thank you.
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#18 bhudson

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 09:37 AM

QUOTE(John T Roberts @ Dec 20 2007, 08:40 PM) View Post

Bhudson, I'm now putting on my preservation hat and also sounding like a broken record. The buildings you listed are probably not at risk for demolition; however, only the Electric Building and the Flatiron have any legal protection against demolition. The others are designated Demolition Delay, which only will grant a maximum protection of 180 days against demolition.


Aside from the fact that they may not be protected in a Historical Preservation sense, those buildings are safer now than they have been in a long, long time. Just by virtue of the fact that they are restored & utilized in an era where people generally appreciate their uniqueness and value. Get ready to add the Transport Life building to that list. In my somewhat ignorant opinion, the most powerful tool in preserving historic downtown architecture is to keep the buildings relevant (usable/up-to-date) and utilized.

For different reasons, in the next 10-20+ years I'm much more concerned about the Jett building and the Land Title Block. Regardless of current protection status (if any), if these buildings aren't torn down I can certainly envision them in sitting inside an alcove of a newly built monstrosity. Have you seen what they did to Fire Station #1? These are tiny buildings that hinder development of otherwise empty downtown blocks. They aren't making new empty blocks downtown (XTO aside). Historic protections, if any, can change. There's precedent for that, and it worries me.



#19 Fort Worthology

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 11:09 AM

I read every word of Dismuke's posts - he's a sharp guy and I love reading them. Keep it up, my good man.

- Architecture/urban planning/transit blogger, Fort Worth Weekly

Fort Worth District 9 Zoning Commissioner


#20 Sam Stone

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 01:29 PM

I just want to offer a point of information to the debate (largely) between Dismuke and bhudson.

I think that the Bass family downtown real estate interests (I'll just refer to them as Sundance) have themselves evolved and learned a great deal over the last 25-30 years. The projects that they took on in the late 70s and early 80s were very different than the one's they did 10 years ago and those are different from the ones they will likely do in the future. For example, we'll likely never see buildings like the City Center towers or the Worthington again. And I don't think that this is a matter of changing tastes or fads. I think that Sundance has slowly come to embrace New Urbanist design principles. New Urbanism didn't really exist in the late 70s early 80s and at that time there was no really good model of downtown revitalization. I think they were just sort of copying projects like RenCen in Detroit (the day that Detroit is model of something good to copy is the day that hell freezes over). Gradually, though, New Urbanism became fleshed out and organizations like Urban Land Institute started providing more concrete advice for urban developers. My point is that what Sundance does, builds, and manages has changed a lot over the years and has gradually been improving. I think a lot of us probably think it is too gradual.

Another point is with respect to concentration of ownership. I've heard through the grapevine at different times that Sundance actually wants a more diverse mix of owners and developers in downtown. The reason being that concentration of ownership puts too much of a burden on them for future development. The problems, though, are that 1) Sundance can play hardball and can use financial muscle to acquire property and 2) wanting ownership diversity and doing the things that actually promote are two different things. XTO is a prime example of the new players in the game and I think as south downtown starts to open up we'll see a lot more players.

To bring this all back to the Gruen Plan, I think it's best to think of it as another example of how the world went collectively mad for a few decades. Read Jane Jacobs! She devotes several pages to it.

#21 Fort Worthology

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:25 PM

QUOTE(Sam Stone @ Dec 21 2007, 01:29 PM) View Post

I just want to offer a point of information to the debate (largely) between Dismuke and bhudson.

I think that the Bass family downtown real estate interests (I'll just refer to them as Sundance) have themselves evolved and learned a great deal over the last 25-30 years. The projects that they took on in the late 70s and early 80s were very different than the one's they did 10 years ago and those are different from the ones they will likely do in the future. For example, we'll likely never see buildings like the City Center towers or the Worthington again. And I don't think that this is a matter of changing tastes or fads. I think that Sundance has slowly come to embrace New Urbanist design principles. New Urbanism didn't really exist in the late 70s early 80s and at that time there was no really good model of downtown revitalization. I think they were just sort of copying projects like RenCen in Detroit (the day that Detroit is model of something good to copy is the day that hell freezes over). Gradually, though, New Urbanism became fleshed out and organizations like Urban Land Institute started providing more concrete advice for urban developers. My point is that what Sundance does, builds, and manages has changed a lot over the years and has gradually been improving. I think a lot of us probably think it is too gradual.


I think you're very correct, Sam. The difference in quality between the early (new construction) projects like the Worthington (garbage) and City Center (barely any better) and the Chase Buildings, Carnegies, and Sundance Wests of today/recent past is astonishing. I think the Basses have been learning a lot over the decades, and a lot of that education undoubtedly came from David Schwarz, who is a HUGE devotee of the New Urbanism and is very highly respected amid New Urbanist circles and players such as the CNU, the Institute of Classical Architecture, and Robert A. M. Stern (despite what modern architecture geeks in FW/D might think, Schwarz actually has a big following amongst New Urbanists).

The Basses, at this point, are more than just billionaires. They have truly become urban planners, though perhaps not in the formal sense. They've learned what works and what doesn't. Dismissing them as anything less than that is, I think, completely inaccurate.

QUOTE
Another point is with respect to concentration of ownership. I've heard through the grapevine at different times that Sundance actually wants a more diverse mix of owners and developers in downtown. The reason being that concentration of ownership puts too much of a burden on them for future development. The problems, though, are that 1) Sundance can play hardball and can use financial muscle to acquire property and 2) wanting ownership diversity and doing the things that actually promote are two different things. XTO is a prime example of the new players in the game and I think as south downtown starts to open up we'll see a lot more players.


I think that in the area from SoDo to Lancaster we're going to see a lot of new players enter the game over the next several years. Other areas of huge potential that are severely underused are the Upper West Side and the east side next to the ITC.

QUOTE
To bring this all back to the Gruen Plan, I think it's best to think of it as another example of how the world went collectively mad for a few decades. Read Jane Jacobs! She devotes several pages to it.


The collective madness is very true. Fort Worth is fortunate that we didn't have more of it inflicted on us. The worst it got here were things like Burnett Plaza, the Hell's Half Acre architecture massacre, and the like.

- Architecture/urban planning/transit blogger, Fort Worth Weekly

Fort Worth District 9 Zoning Commissioner


#22 cberen1

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:37 PM

Someone correct me here if I mis-speak. It seems like master plans for large commercial area tend to fail in some respects because they can not anticipate the changes in design tastes and business needs that occur over the 20+ years needed to execute the plans.

I'm a big believer in organic, market driven growth, which by its nature will tend to be a little eclectic. I think a benevolent influencer like the Basses is a valid market force within that theoretical construct. If the unrelated owners of property can't create momentum by themselves, a concentration of ownership (morally acquired) may be what it takes to make it happen. However, much like a benevolent dictator, you have to hope and pray a little bit about motive and what happens "after".

I have also heard that the Basses would like to see a few more interests active downtown. I think they always have. With them and XTO, you really only need about two more moguls to really heat up the market.

#23 bhudson

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 02:49 PM

QUOTE(cberen1 @ Dec 21 2007, 02:37 PM) View Post

Someone correct me here if I mis-speak.


You can be certain of that wink.gif

Regarding XTO, I love the fact that long after they have sold, or merged, or outgrown their current digs, they will have left behind a LOT of preserved architecture. Waggoner, Petroleum, Simpson, Transport Life, Binyon OKeefe (which is apparently being converted to office space), Swift office... I'm sure I've left something out. Now if they'd just get ahead of themselves space-wise and give up some of those ground floors...

#24 Fort Worthology

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 03:12 PM

QUOTE(bhudson @ Dec 21 2007, 02:49 PM) View Post

Regarding XTO, I love the fact that long after they have sold, or merged, or outgrown their current digs, they will have left behind a LOT of preserved architecture. Waggoner, Petroleum, Simpson, Transport Life, Binyon OKeefe (which is apparently being converted to office space), Swift office... I'm sure I've left something out. Now if they'd just get ahead of themselves space-wise and give up some of those ground floors...


Regarding that last point - it's been stated by XTO, in private of course, that they do have plans to add ground-floor retail to their historic buildings when the day comes when they're not straining for office space. Simpson & company are big on downtown like the Basses.

- Architecture/urban planning/transit blogger, Fort Worth Weekly

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#25 ramjet

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 10:02 PM

Just an aside to this thread - it's one of the most interesting I've read in a while. BTW, I actually think the Worthington Hotel is a very cool and prominent piece of architecture in Fort Worth. And I applaud the Bass brothers for their LONG TERM commitment to downtown FW. It could have well been some flash in the pan like Dallas' West End or Deep Ellum. Instead, it was a patient, strategic, and thoughtful urban planning concept that weathered many trials and succeeded in a spectacular way. Read this weeks FW Business Press article about downtown FW's national prominence and recognition:

http://www.fwbusines...lay.php?id=6824



#26 gdvanc

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Posted 21 December 2007 - 11:25 PM

I've read this entire thread now (although I didn't plan to) and I'd like to declare myself the victor of the "Most In Need of a Beer" contest. Perhaps a Berliner Weisse mit Gruen. Or a Bass Ale. Must I wait 180 days to get demolished?

#27 Austin55

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Posted 23 July 2016 - 02:08 PM

Not sure if this has been discussed, but the Library has some additional PDF's about the Gruen plan that I'd never seen before. 

 

http://cdm16084.cont...on/p16084coll18






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