Leonards subway car returns to downtown Fort Worth

Posted Tuesday, Nov. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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As a giant crane hoisted the fully restored M&O Subway No. 1 car onto its new display pad, a light morning rain fell Monday in downtown Fort Worth, causing the old vehicle’s fresh coat of light blue spruce paint to glisten.

“It’s just beautiful,” Scott Atkinson, general manager of engineering for Spire Realty of Dallas, said Monday as the car was carefully unbuckled from the crane and rolled into place at its new permanent home. The subway car will be the centerpiece of a museumlike display at One City Place, a retail/office development built by Spire Realty that is scheduled to open in January at the former Radio Shack headquarters in downtown Fort Worth.

For decades, the tiny, privately owned M&O Subway line shuttled shoppers from a parking lot near the Trinity River under West Belknap Street to the Leonards Department store downtown. The store site later became the headquarters of Radio Shack and featured a Tandy Center mall — all of which have since closed and become a collective footnote in Fort Worth history.

The old subway line stopped running in August 2002, but a piece of that history, car No. 1, is now fully restored. When One City Place celebrates its grand opening in mid-January, passers-by will be able to step into the enclosed area near Third and Throckmorton streets and get an up-close look at the vintage rail car, which is believed to be at least 70 years old.

The display area will be surrounded by restaurants and shops on the ground floors and office space in the 20-story tower, Atkinson said.

The idea for the restoration came from officials at Spire Realty, which bought the old Radio Shack property, and from Marty Leonard, a Tarrant Regional Water District board member and descendant of the department store family.

Spire Realty asset manager Ryan Johnson wanted to decorate the ground floor of the new shopping area at One City Place with memorabilia from the Leonards store. The kind of memorabilia he had in mind was photographs, but when he contacted Leonard she asked him whether he would like to have an entire subway car.

Car No. 1, which was built between 1937 and 1944, had been out of service for decades, Leonard said. The car, built by St. Louis Car Co. and used in Washington, D.C., before finding its way to Fort Worth, had been given to Leonard by a man who had bought it years ago for a song.

“He bought it for $400 worth of scrap metal, or we wouldn’t even have it,” Leonard said. “He took it to his house in Blum, and his kids played on it.”

Leonard said the renovation cost about $50,000, split between Leonard and Spire Realty. However, she said, Spire Realty paid for moving the car back to Fort Worth.

Renovation was handled by Marcum Paint and Body of Ennis. The family-owned company specializes in restoring antique cars, muscle cars and boats — but this was its first subway car.

A handful of workers used historical photographs to restore the car as accurately as possible, right down to its vinyl upholstery and leather hand straps, owner Jim Marcum said.

“We had to do a lot of rehab,” he said. “A lot of it was just gone, just because of the rust.”

New windows and siding were installed in the 24-ton, 100-passenger car.

The subway system got its M&O name from the initials of the brothers who owned the store — Leonard’s father, Marvin; and her uncle Obie.

The car will be on display a few feet from the former Tandy Center shopping mall and skating rink. The 1,400-foot subway tunnel is still there, 40 feet below ground.

The subway connected the complex to a 5,000-car parking lot off Henderson Street north of the current RadioShack headquarters and Tarrant County College campus.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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Video: Leonards M&O Train returns downtown

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