Railroads made Fort Worth – and were as important as the cattle and defense industries. Many stories exist about the efforts to bring the Texas & Pacific Railway to town after the financial meltdown during the Panic of 1873. If Fort Worth had not succeeded in that regard on July 19, 1876, the small town could have easily withered away as communities that had access to railroads eclipsed it.
The first two T&P passenger stations were small wooden buildings built in 1876 and 1882. As Fort Worth grew – the city’s population increased by 400% between 1880 and 1900 – passenger rail became the easiest way to move between cities. The 1882 wooden depot went up in flames on May 26, 1896, accelerating the movement for a new passenger station.
During this period, the T&P generally used staff architects to design its stations, and Otto H. Lang of Dallas drew the plans for Fort Worth’s 1899 Romanesque Revival passenger depot. It opened to great fanfare, with a parade, speakers, and a crowd estimated at 25,000 that nearly equaled the city’s population. The Fort Worth Morning Register boasted that, “the number of passengers [the depot] can house is so large that it will meet the demands for many years to come.” It was not to be.
Although the 1899 station seems to have done its job, including staying open while the roof was replaced following a 1904 fire and subsequent wind storm, the booming oil economy of the 1920s doomed it. In 1929 the Fort Worth City Council, led by Mayor William Bryce, and T&P President John L. Lancaster (for whom Lancaster Avenue is named) announced a project that would build new and enlarged passenger and freight stations, relocate railroad tracks, and construct a series of streets, bridges, and underpasses separating railroads and vehicles.
It did not help that the Victorian-era passenger depot looked woefully out of date as Art Deco design defined the modern era – and the desire to “modernize” was strong. However, unlike in 1896, Fort Worth was too large to go without a passenger station, so the 1899 building continued to operate while the new passenger terminal was built.
Local architect, Herman Paul Koeppe who worked for the architectural firm of Wyatt C. Hedrick, designed the new passenger terminal, while Preston M. Geren was the chief engineer. As the economy worsened following the September 1929 stock market crash, local workers were eager and able to jump into action. Construction began during the summer of 1930.
Although the new station looks bigger than the 1899 depot in the construction photograph that accompanies this article, that is a photographic “trick” accomplished by placing the new station in the foreground and the old T&P station in the middle ground. Office tower aside, the footprint of the new terminal wasn’t that much bigger than the abandoned 1899 station, though the roofed concourse behind the main building (visible in the construction photo) did provide a lot of additional space.
The soaring Art Deco station, formally dedicated on Nov. 2, 1931, was beautiful, both inside and out. The T&P anticipated that railroad office staff and other railroad-related services would use the offices above the waiting rooms and restaurant. However, that did not happen. The Great Depression brought a different type of office tenant – government agencies.
Once the new station opened, work began to demolish the old one. On its site at the southeast corner of Main and Lancaster rose another familiar Fort Worth business – a Frank Kent automobile dealership, which opened in late 1939. Initially a Ford dealership, the facility became the city’s first Cadillac dealership in 1953. Frank Kent Cadillac moved to Southwest Boulevard in November 1984, but continued to store new cars in the building.
On the morning of March 12, 1986, workers hit a gas line adjacent to the old Frank Kent building, causing natural gas to build up under it. The trapped gas exploded, destroying the building, injuring 22 people, and breaking windows throughout the area. That lot has been vacant ever since. The now-historic 1930-31 T&P Station thrives, with an event venue in the lobby, the T&P Tavern in the old café space, loft apartments in the tower, and continued rail service - as a stop for both the Trinity Railway Express commuter line and TexRail airport service.
Carol Roark is an archivist, historian, and author with a special interest in architectural and photographic history who has written several books on Fort Worth history.