Other Voices

The Fort Worth Stockyards deserves local protection

Star-Telegram/Paul Moseley

The myth of the Fort Worth Stockyards — cowboy-tough, hard-scrabble, Wild West — doesn’t fit the present vulnerability of this special place.

While this myth has been 150 years in the making, the Stockyards’ future rests with the Fort Worth City Council this winter. It’s an important moment in local history.

Earlier this year, the Stockyards made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Places” list, despite the Stockyards’ status on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

The national register provides no protection for buildings. Only the creation of a new local historic district can ensure that the Stockyards will be around for future generations.

City Council discussion of a local district proposal had a rough start last month.

“I believe in my property rights,” said one Stockyards building owner.

Another stated, “I don’t need anyone telling me how to preserve” property.

The mayor urged owners, preservationists and residents to remain calm.

Fort Worth’s can-do and civil spirit, Mayor Betsy Price has suggested, can prevail while the discussion proceeds through public hearings leading to a council vote in March.

The newly proposed local historic district begins to recognize that more protection is needed.

Yet the owner of Billy Bob’s Texas, which is housed in a converted 1910 cattle barn with a storied history, has asked for that property to be dropped from boundaries in the new local proposal.

Other owners made similar requests, potentially gutting the new district’s ability to protect important structures.

The Stockyards deserves better than the whims of individual property owners.

Like Billy Bob’s, the Stockyards has its roots in cattle, but is part of a more complex story.

The Stockyards became an industrial powerhouse supporting the nation in both world wars, speeding polio-vaccine delivery, streamlining cattle-processing technology and employing thousands across the decades.

Many industrial sites in the Stockyards have already been erased, yet some haunting pieces of the Swift company’s packing operations remain.

Demolition permits for many of these unique structures were issued last month, just before the new proposal was publicly presented to the council.

The largest development partnership in the Stockyards includes California-based Majestic Realty, which has little experience operating within a historic context.

Will Majestic see the value of structures slated for demolition or left outside the boundaries of the local district proposal?

We hope so.

We’d like to suggest that any structure within the national register district boundaries be reconsidered with new eyes, rather than as eyesores. They could be re-imagined as event spaces or pop-up festival venues.

Industrial “ruins” provide the core of many successful developments.

The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, built around the burnt-out core of the Gold Medal Flour Mill, is now an award-winning museum and venue for upscale events.

Successes like this can inspire a creative approach to the Stockyards’ so-called “Swift Ruins.”

We’d like to suggest that the city and the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission do a much better job of publicizing chances for public comment.

It’s difficult to find information on the city’s website about upcoming hearings concerning this district, including the promised public hearing this month.

We appreciate the mayor’s leadership style, invoking Fort Worth’s can-do spirit. Historic districts are all about “we,” not “me.”

The Stockyards is part of our shared story, our shared city.

Any one owner’s property is part of a larger community asset, one that deserves as much protection as we can give it.

Jacqueline Lambiase is a fifth-generation Texan who studies public-sector communication. Kathryn Holliday is an associate professor in UT Arlington’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs.