Star-Telegram leaves its Fort Worth headquarters after 90 years

Posted Sunday, Oct. 02, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Energy magnate Bob Simpson has been enamored with history since boyhood, when his mother taught him an appreciation for older things. And what in Fort Worth could be more historic than the offices of Amon G. Carter, legendary oilman and publisher of the Star-Telegram or the Star-Telegram building itself, where the great events of a century were chronicled?

It was thus no surprise that last fall, Simpson's search for new corporate headquarters led to the corner of Seventh and Taylor streets, the Star-Telegram's address since 1921. The building was on the market as part of the newspaper's transition into the digital age.

"Amon Carter is an icon of Fort Worth, maybe the most prominent man in Fort Worth's history," Simpson, founder and former chairman of XTO Energy and part owner of the Texas Rangers, said last week. "The fact that those offices were pretty much original was the cornerstone of the attraction. ... Imagine all the history that went through there, whether it was World War II or the dropping of the A-bomb or when Kennedy got shot. History not only happened there, but it had to be written about and was published.

"I felt I could be happy there just like I was in the Waggoner Building," Simpson said, referring to his former office in another downtown landmark. "This was going to be a great place to live."

A few months after Simpson's first visit last year, the sale was finalized. And on Monday, in a moment of great transition downtown, Simpson officially takes possession of Amon Carter's old edifice. After extensive renovation, the building will be home to Simpson's new oil and gas company. The Star-Telegram will open for business Monday in new offices a block away, in what was the Commerce Building on Throckmorton Street -- right across the street from where the original Star-Telegram building was more than 100 years ago, 815 Throckmorton.

'Such great memories'

The looming change inspired much nostalgia in recent days, particularly among generations who had worked at the newspaper. But for many, that wistfulness is tempered by Simpson's penchant for restoring several other Fort Worth landmarks.

"That building has such great memories, so many important people have passed through its doors," said Wes Turner, Star-Telegram publisher from 1996 to 2007. "FDR. Eisenhower. LBJ. Governors. Senators. Heads of state. Will Rogers. And all tied to one person, Amon Carter. It stands there as an icon with the courthouse and the Fort Worth Club. The thing I'm most happy about is that it was sold to someone who has a wonderful appreciation of old architecture and the great buildings of Fort Worth."

Beginning Monday, the relocated newspaper will occupy five floors of what will now be known as the Star-Telegram Building, which includes a state-of-the-art newsroom on the fourth floor.

"Everybody understands that you need to have an infrastructure that fits your size, and this building no longer fits our size," Star-Telegram Publisher Gary Wortel said last week. "It also doesn't have the technological nuances that we needed for the future. This new building is the right size, and it gives us the technology."

But Wortel said he came to appreciate the importance of the location in the heart of the city and the paper's history going back to Carter.

"With the newspaper's roots in Fort Worth, having a visible presence downtown means more here than in a lot of other metropolitan markets," he said. "It's a very close-knit city. Business leaders work closely with government leaders. That's why we have such a great downtown, and the newspaper is in the center of that. It also speaks to why it's important for us to stay downtown."

Honoring the past

When it opened, the building was heralded by Editor and Publisher newspaper in New York as the "Finest Newspaper Plant in the Southwest." The Star-Telegram building was expanded in 1948 and again in 1968, eventually taking up two blocks along Taylor Street and sprawling across Sixth Street.

Fewer and fewer survive to recall weekend nights like those in the 1950s, when moviegoers at the Hollywood Theater next door lined up around the block for tickets and paused to watch Star-Telegram presses roll behind two-story windows. The Hollywood is long gone and the old pressroom windows covered over in stone. Since the 1980s, the paper has been printed at a distribution plant just south of Fort Worth.

During the paper's last week at Seventh and Taylor, former employees returned to the building that has grown more and more empty as the Star-Telegram downsized. Photographer Jerry Cabluck joined the paper in 1960 as a 19-year-old and was among the first journalists at Parkland Hospital on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. He remembers the newsroom chaos in Fort Worth that day but also good friends, other big stories and many happier times.

"I came to say goodbye, to close the door," Cabluck said during a final visit to the building. "It's really nice closure for an era."

As the transition neared, Carter was at the heart of most reminiscences. The publisher made a fortune in oil and was a noted art collector, philanthropist and confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrities such as Charles Lindberg. He died in 1955 and was later succeeded as publisher by his son, the late Amon Carter Jr.

"He was building an empire is what he was doing, and he had to have a home for it," Carter's daughter, Ruth Carter Stevenson, said last week. "His office was elegant, all wood-paneled, bookcases on one side. He had photographs of his mother and one painting -- I think it was a Remington. He had personal photographs all over the place, signed by people. And of course pictures of Amon and me. His desk was always a mess, but he knew where everything was. He could put his hands on it.

"I don't even want to think about it, it's so sad," Stevenson said of the newspaper's relocation. "I think he [Carter] would find it heartbreaking, frankly. Somehow that corner will always be there. But the Star-Telegram building stood for something. It was a centerpiece."

Cissy Stewart Lale, who joined the paper in 1949 as a writer in the women's department, said it was always apparent when Carter was in the building.

"The minute the elevator door opened the most divine fragrance came wafting through," she said. "He had an aftershave that came directly to him from Paris. It was like an apple orchard in full bloom. Young men had not taken up fragrances as they have today. As in many other things, Mr. Carter was a futurist. He was ahead of his time in that, too."

Simpson said Carter will remain a tangible presence in his renovated building. In recent years, Simpson bought a 1902 Cadillac that once belonged to the publisher and plans to feature the car in the restored lobby. Simpson has also come across a 1925 photograph of Will Rogers driving the same car, with Carter a passenger in the back seat.

"I want to get that picture blown up and put it in the back seat," Simpson said. "That car with the picture of Will Rogers driving will be super cool now, an interesting thing to have in the lobby."

Simpson said that whatever the future name of the building, the newspaper is likely to be part of it.

"It's been an icon newspaper," Simpson said. "That's why the name of the building will certainly be Star something or other. We'll figure out something that does it justice. ... We're going to treat it right."

Tim Madigan, 817-390-7544

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