Longtime Mayor William D. Tate always enjoys taking his wife Betty on a holiday sight-seeing tour through the city in December, a tradition that not only highlights Grapevine’s growth, but showcases the historic ambiance and magical scenery of the self-billed “Christmas Capital of Texas.”
Tate is proud of what he sees, saying, “It’s a unique city.”
Tate, a practicing attorney with an office on Main Street in Historic Downtown Grapevine, has seen many changes over the decades in a teeming tourism-friendly city with a population of about 50,000 that has been designated a World Festival & Event City award winner by the International Festival & Events Association.
The lifelong resident of Grapevine is fond of saying he liked the town in its earlier days “and I like it now.”
He is proud of contributing to the newer version.
“We have what other cities would like to have,” he said last week. “There’s a hometown spirit and a feeling of camaraderie.”
One issue that has been a high priority dates to Nov. 6, 2012, when voters approved a general obligation bond issue for the proposed sale of almost $70 million in bonds for two projects.
Proposition No. 1 was for bonds to construct a 108,000-square-foot public safety building to house the city’s municipal court, police detention center, law enforcement facilities and fire headquarters. The groundbreaking will be in the spring.
Proposition No. 2 was for bonds to add 60,000 square feet to the recreation center. It will include a senior center, indoor pool, multipurpose rooms, game room, lockers, meeting rooms and other amenities. Plans are to construct a state-of-the art senior activities center there — something Tate has been a huge fan of since its inception. At a recent City Council meeting, the new site was dubbed “THE REC,” which stands for recreation, education and community. It is scheduled to open this spring.
For his thoughts on the coming year, Tate started with Day One. Gordon Douglas and Annie Louise Tate lived in Grapevine, but the lack of a local hospital led to his birth in a Fort Worth hospital.
“They brought me home and I stayed,” he said, noting that the three-bedroom home on West College Street has been home to five generations of his family.
His father, who graduated from Grapevine High School in 1929, was a merchant whose endeavors included furniture, hardware and grocery stores. He served on the City Council and as mayor. A fan of Abraham Lincoln, he told his son he had aspirations of becoming a lawyer. But that avenue wasn’t available to him.
During the younger Tate’s years at Grapevine High School, he said his father’s dreams “inspired him” to become a lawyer and he graduated from the University of North Texas in January 1965 with a bachelor of business administration in accounting and from law school at the University of Houston in January 1968.
He married his wife and future mother of their five daughters on June 7, 1969. Later that month, he opened his private practice in Grapevine. He said he enjoys being “a general practitioner” who deals with many aspects of the law.
Tate found fulfillment through the job, but also had a hankering to find reward in politics, as his father had. He remembered how when he worked at his father’s hardware store as a young man he would watch men at the then-City Hall across the street sit in chairs and whittle while discussing town goings-on.
He also saw soldiers returning from World War II who spoke of aspirations unfulfilled — of things they wished they had done.
“I wanted to be able to say, ‘I’m glad I did,’” the mayor said.
So when then-mayor Willlis Pirkle asked him to serve as city attorney, he took the job from 1969 to 1972.
He enjoyed it, but said a drawback was, “I would have an opinion about everything but I couldn’t vote.”
So he ran for City Council and was elected in June 1972. Then, he said, when the mayor decided not to seek reelection, he ran for the post and was elected mayor in June 1973.
“It was a real transitional time for Grapevine,” Tate said. “We listened to everything they wanted to say.”
Among the major boons was the 1973 dedication ceremony of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Part of the airport is located within Grapevine city limits, which had a major impact on this North Texas sleepy town.
Bolstered by airport revenue and other factors, Grapevine was poised to make some changes.
“We designed our city different from most,” Tate said, citing examples such as more residential plans and tough zoning requirements.
The mayor served until 1985, when he lost, he said, because he had decided not to run and only chose to do so just before Election Day. He was beaten by about 70 votes.
Next time he made sure people knew he wanted the elite position back. He was re-elected in May 1988, a post he had continue to hold uninterrupted.
Tate was quickly back at work helping plan the future of his native city.
“Grapevine didn’t try to become the biggest city or the fastest-growing city,” the mayor said. “It has a small-town quality with big, family-style entertainment features.”
Tate said the city boasts “more jobs here than people living here.”
“People have moved here from every state and from many foreign countries,” Tate said, citing the arts, festivals and parades among the many highlights. “They love it.”
Tate said that he takes the job seriously, and basically has two “jobs,” mayor and his career. He tries to be available when needed for both, and often can find himself working on legal documents at midnight.
He said it leaves little time for diversions such as watching television. He does enjoy spending time at his ranch in Southwest Texas.
But he’s not ready for retirement — politically or professionally. His name will be on the ballot this May for the mayor’s race, which carries a three-year term.
“It’s a big job being mayor in this town,” Tate said. “You’re not just a figurehead.”
But the city leader said it’s never been a burden.
“It cost me a lost to be mayor all these years, but I’ll be remembered,” Tate said.
The mayor said he often thinks of those who helped him get his public service start years ago in a city whose downtown was marred by businesses with lackluster white paint and tin or wood awnings. Telephone poles and neon business signs pockmarked Main Street.
Today, the city features a downtown district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Gone are the tacky storefronts and in their place are renovated buildings that have the look and feel of the Old West. Wineries, quaint shops and bistros compliment the historic feel.
“I think [deceased people who embraced Grapevine] would be amazed at what our city has become,” Tate said. “Even my parents would be amazed.”
But this is one mayor who is not going to rest on his laurels.
“I want to try and create more excitement,” Tate said, “and continue to build on this uniqueness — the something special.”
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367