There will be a historic district in the Stockyards


Visitors cross East Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards on Wednesday. The City Council has approved a historic district for the area.
Visitors cross East Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards on Wednesday. The City Council has approved a historic district for the area. Special to the Star-Telegram

The City Council has decided to protect a core 60 acres of buildings and other remnants of the Fort Worth Stockyards as a local historic district, but not a broader 139 acres the livestock market occupied during its heyday from 1905 until the 1950s.

The difference between what will be protected and what’s not is mainly dirt, plus some crumbling ruins of the former Swift & Co. meatpacking plant.

Historic preservationists campaigned hard for the broader district, both to save those Swift ruins and to capture the immensity of what the Stockyards once were.

They are understandably disappointed, but they shouldn’t overlook the very bright side of what the council did Tuesday night.

There will be a historic district where, for decades, Stockyards structures have been in decay.

Fort Worth has been “Cowtown” since the cattle drives that followed the Civil War, and pens were built to hold cattle here after the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived in 1876. A decade later four stockyards were in operation. The massive 258-acre Union Stock Yards came along in 1889.

That’s history worth preserving. Now it will be. The fact that the preservation area could have been larger should not take away from what will be there.

And the council is on track to do more. The city has hired Austin-based Code Studio to create development standards and guidelines for the historic district and a “form-based code” to ensure that what’s built in the broader Stockyards area will be compatible with the historic district.

Mayor Betsy Price and council members have said repeatedly that they felt compelled to balance competing desires for historic preservation and viable commercial development.

The property in the Stockyards is privately owned. If preservation is to replace continued decay, it must be supported by income from development.

Clearly, with their vote Tuesday night, the mayor and council decided to give significant leeway to that development while establishing guidelines for historic protection and compatible uses. That’s worth appreciating.

Finally, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has notified the Army Corps of Engineers to protect Marine Creek, which flows through the Stockyards, from environmental impacts during any demolition or development.

Ironic, isn’t it, that a creek that received a century’s worth of effluent from hundreds of acres of livestock pens would now be so prized as to be used as a lever in protecting the very memory of those pens?