Bank’s 50-year-old time capsule reveals Fort Worth’s state of mind in 1964

08/27/2014 4:36 PM

08/27/2014 4:47 PM

Bank customers, neighbors and students from St. Rita Catholic School and Eastern Hills High School mopped their brows Wednesday morning and became witnesses to 50 years of Fort Worth history.

A time capsule interred near the entrance of Bank of America at 5651 E. Lancaster Ave. was opened amid ceremony and curiosity, revealing a trove of items that had been encased for posterity on a late winter morning in 1964.

“All the Kennedy things that had been going on right before then, it was an impressive time, it was a frightening time,” said Grace Rhoden, a Handley Neighborhood Association member with deep roots in east Fort Worth. “My two children were 6 and 8 then, and it was a little bit overwhelming.”

Rhoden watched the event from the shade of her umbrella along with 50 to 75 community members, students and passers-by.

The bank building opened 50 years ago as an office of the City National Bank of Fort Worth. Though the name has changed, the brick structure has always served its original purpose.

Then Mayor Pro Tem Willard Barr, Chamber of Commerce manager Milt Atkinson, bank President W.A. Craig and board chairman Earl R. Waddell Sr. oversaw the capsule’s sealing on Feb. 26, 1964.

There would be no tampering with this collection in the decades to come: The steel capsule was lined with lead, the lid was welded shut, and the capsule was placed in a concrete vault.

On Wednesday, the cap was broken and the contents were transferred to a black metal box. Mike Pavell, Bank of America’s Fort Worth president, opened the box.

Sure enough, the contents were heavily influenced by the times. A WBAP-TV newsreel of President John F. Kennedy’s last speech, in Fort Worth on a rainy morning in November, was there, along with a copy of a commemorative newspaper section on President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Councilwoman Gyna Bivens pulled out the first artifact, a small copy of the New Testament and Psalms.

There were copies of the day’s Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Press, still crisp and unfaded after their long hibernation; a black-and-white Polaroid taken that day of Barr, Atkinson, Craig and Waddell; and some undeveloped film.

Pavell held up the box’s most curious item, a man’s brown sock stuffed with “something squishy” and tied at the cuff.

“A … dog toy?” Pavell wondered, then quickly dropped it back in the box. Later, it was discovered to contain silica gel beads to prevent moisture damage.

Pictures of the 23,000-square-foot building’s groundbreaking were included, along with a City National Bank balance sheet and income statement from Dec. 31, 1963, some spare change, and business cards of Barr, whose son Kenneth would one day become mayor.

“This was just a nice place to live, a nice family neighborhood with lots of trees,” said Rhoden, who has seen a lot of growth and change over the years. She worked for the late Tom Vandergriff’s auto dealership at first and later as his administrative secretary when he was Tarrant County judge.

The most touching items will be seen by only a few select people. Several sealed envelopes of correspondence were addressed to the children and future grandchildren of those present at the capsule’s sealing.

“Honestly, I think the video reels, the personal correspondence and Mayor Ken Barr’s father’s business cards are my favorites,” Pavell said after the ceremony.

Building owner Ramin Siroosian didn’t know about the time capsule.

“It’s very exciting,” said Siroosian, who is developing the back of the building into medical offices. “I’ve never been a part of a time capsule before.”

The artifacts and the ceremony were a good thing for the neighborhood, attendees agreed.

“I think it's a wonderful tribute,” Rhoden said, “and a sign of our times from every angle.”

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