Downtown Fort Worth has changed since first parade

In 1983, downtown Fort Worth was not on any must-shop list.

Two department stores were struggling. New shops in Sundance Square weren't drawing a crowd.

There was no Reata, or movie theater, or Bass Hall.

But there was a Parade of Lights.

Today, at the 30th annual city parade, it's amazing to think that the first parade weaved past sales windows at long-gone Dillard's and Monnig's.

Afterward, the crowd went to what is now the Renaissance Worthington hotel for dessert and coffee. Or the curious might have wandered into a new nightclub: the now-gone Caravan of Dreams.

"We had this bright, lighted downtown, but nobody down here at night," remembered Ken Devero, now retired but then the president of the Downtown Fort Worth Inc. business promoters.

"Our goal was just to get people downtown."

From a 25-unit parade featuring Fort Worth public school bands and art-class-project floats, the Parade of Lights has grown to a 100-plus-unit event drawing a crowd of more than 100,000 plus a KTXA/Channel 21 audience.

When that first parade turned down Main Street in front of the courthouse, a switch was thrown and the streetscape and trees glimmered with twinkle lights.

Most of the downtown buildings still glowed with the old amber holiday lights strung between 1959 and President John Kennedy's visit in 1963.

Afterward, the crowds walked blocks to Burnett Park for the Christmas tree lighting.

Not until 1986 was it moved to Main Street, first to General Worth Square and more recently to Sundance.

"The clear view down Main Street with all the lights was really something," Devero said.

Todd Holzaepfel, still a Downtown Inc. vice president, was on the original committee.

He remembered how the first parade relied solely on volunteer help, and how a vacant bank lobby was converted for a weekend holiday crafts fair that raised $2,000 to help cover costs.

The parade didn't come soon enough to rescue some downtown retailers.

The elaborate window displays at Monnig's went dark in 1988; it's now a Sundance parking lot. Dillard's followed in 1991.

But months later in 1991, the opening of a movie theater finally sparked nightlife.

Nobody worries anymore about drawing crowds downtown.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.


Twitter: @budkennedy

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