Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Created | Updated Jan 28, 2002
In the minds of many people the name Fort Worth is synonymous with two things: cowboys and beef. Businessmen wearing three-piece suits with their cowboy hats and boots are a common sight downtown, but the modern visitor to Fort Worth, Texas, USA, will see very few cowboys. The city hasn't forgotten its past, however; constant reminders of Fort Worth's heritage are everywhere. Carved reliefs of longhorn steer heads with golden stars decorate the bridges and overpasses around downtown. An excellent trompe l'oeil1 painting of a cattle drive faces Sundance Square2. Museums of Western art are everywhere, and the Stockyards are just a few blocks from downtown. The residents call it 'Cowtown' for a good reason - this town was built on beef. Modern-day Fort Worth owes much to the far-sighted efforts of businessmen, mostly ranchers and cattlemen, to promote commerce and the arts.
Fort Worth was originally an actual fort, built by the army. It was founded in 1849 to protect white settlers from attacks by the indigenous peoples. By this time cowboys were already driving cattle along the Chisolm Trail towards the bountiful grazing land west of Fort Worth. In the 1800s, this land was covered with grasses up to a horse's belly, and the nearby Trinity River was an excellent place for watering the cattle. Driving cattle is hot, dusty work, and after a hot day of wrestling steers to the ground and removing their testicles with a sharp knife, there's nothing a cowboy liked better than a cold beer. This was available at the Fort. Being the last major stop on the Chisolm Trail - home to settlers, soldiers, cattle drovers and outlaws - Fort Worth grew rapidly. Inevitably, like most Western towns of that era, the growing town acquired a reputation for being rough-and-rowdy. The Sundance Kid, an infamous outlaw of the 1880s, frequented 'Hell's Half Acre' (now known as the Stockyards) during his brief, violent career.
Trains, Beef and Oil
When the railroad was completed, in 1876, it transformed Fort Worth from a stroppy cowboy town into a major shipping centre for livestock. Meat packing companies moved in and Fort Worth became the second largest livestock market in the country. Chicago, at the other end of the rail line, was the largest. When oil was discovered in West Texas3, Fort Worth became the place to go when stocking up on equipment, supplies and manpower. As a result of all this industry and cattle-trading, many people became wealthy.
Fortunately for today's citizens, many of these newly-rich people were interested in increasing Fort Worth's assets. Fort Worth would not be the city it is today without them. Two individual philanthropists stand out from the crowd: Amon G Carter Sr and Sid Richardson, and, more recently, the Bass brothers.
Amon G Carter Sr
Civic leader, aviator, and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Amon G Carter Sr is known as the man who invented the cowboy - at least the glamorous cowboys of the movie screen and wild west rodeos. Western movie stars Gary Cooper and Will Rogers were frequent visitors at his Shady Oak Farm. Carter, an avid aviator, was on a first name basis with flying legends Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindberg. He was instrumental in bringing the first aeroplane to Fort Worth, in 1911, and talked Franklin D Roosevelt into building a facility for building aeroplanes in Fort Worth. A little later Carter convinced the army to have their architects extend the plant by 29 feet, making it the largest aircraft factory in the world. Through his negotiations, Carswell Air Force Base was established in Fort Worth in 1941.
By 1945, more aircraft were being built in Fort Worth than any other place in the world. Amon Carter is also one of the reasons why a feud exists between the twin cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Many of the deals that Carter made were behind the backs of Dallas civic leaders. He was a founder of American Airlines, and a major stockholder - it's said that he stole American Airlines away from Dallas. He died in 1955. His legend lives on - many of the disputes between Dallas and Fort Worth today trace their origins to battles Amon Carter started.
Oil, cattle and land developer Sid Richardson was not a flamboyant businessman in the manner of Amon G Carter Sr. Richardson made his fortune from oil, cattle and land. Land, one of the most precious possessions in Texas, is sometimes drilled for oil, sometimes used for grazing cattle on, and sometimes it is the perfect location for a shopping mall or a suburb that needs to be built. Richardson made good use of the land he owned. He began to drill exploratory wells in West Texas in 1935. Perry R Bass, his only nephew, joined him two years later. They extended the drilling into New Mexico and Louisiana. The Sid Richardson Carbon Co was established 11 years later. The Texas oil industry was by no means a stable one, but Richardson persevered:
I guess my philosophy of business life is: don't be in too big of a hurry, don't get excited, and don't lose your sense of humour.
He died on 30 September, 1959 after a full day's work. Richardson's greatest legacy is the collection of Western art by Charles Russell and Frederick Remington. A foundation was created to preserve the works and add to the collection. At the time of writing the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art was undergoing expansion and renovation.
The Bass Brothers
Perry, Lee, Sid, Ed, and Robert Bass remain the most enigmatic of all the benefactors of Fort Worth. Inheritors of Sid Richardson's fortune, they've managed to turn it into an even larger group of holdings, including ownership of the La Quinta chain of hotels, and a 15% interest in entertainment conglomerate Disney. They're responsible for turning downtown Fort Worth into a successful business area, which has continued to expand. One of their first entrepreneurial successes was the Caravan of Dreams (a kind of theatre) in Sundance Square. The Bass Brothers also played a hand in the revamping of the poorly-designed highway system around downtown. A benevolent despotism, their history reflects a desire to effect change and growth through spending money wisely. Recently they attempted to make a US$20 million donation to Yale University, but were turned down because of the restrictions placed upon the use of the money.
Fort Worth Attractions
Fort Worth used to be known as 'Panther City'. In the 1800s, a visitor from Dallas commented that downtown was so quiet, a panther was seen sleeping in the middle of the street. Today it is full of upscale apartments, movie theatres, restaurants, and bars, most of which are centred around Sundance Square. The Main Street Arts Festival is held every year in Sundance Square. One of the best (and largest) free festivals in the Southwest, it features local and national music acts and excellent arts and crafts. The Museum of Science and History has an interactive area where children can play and experiment with simple physics.
The Bass Performance Hall
The newest landmark of downtown, the hall is graced by two enormous stone angels with golden horns. This beautiful, expensive world-class facility is home to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the Cliburn Concert series, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, the Fort Worth Opera, and special productions of Casa Mañana musicals.
This Philip Johnson designed-park features a spectacular complex of sculpture and fountains representing a mountain and waterfalls, where visitors stand 38 feet below street level and experience the sight and feeling of 1,000 gallons of water cascading down a 710-foot wall. In times past, the most notable feature of the Water Gardens was the pervading smell of urine, but since the Bass Brothers have made some attempt to make downtown an attractive and profitable enterprise, this is now a pleasant place to visit.
Stockyards Historic District
In days-gone-by this is the place where cows were herded off the trains, sold to the highest bidder, and turned into food and clothing. Often the two highest bidders in these auctions were Armour and Swift. They were fierce rival companies, which dominated the Stockyards during Fort Worth's cattle years. Today, the Stockyards can be a tourist trap for those innocent people from abroad who want some authentic cowboy boots or a somewhat tacky picture of a windmill with bluebonnets. A museum of Fort Worth history can be found in the old Exchange Building. The Armour Meat Packing building is now a Spaghetti Warehouse and Swift Meat Packing sits in ruins directly across the street. The wooden sidewalks are a nice touch of nostalgia, and line many of the streets in this area. The original railroad tracks are still in place and a few boxcars (railway wagons) have been kept for posterity's sake. The only train that runs there on a regular basis is the Tarantula4.
Even though the Stockyards best (working) days have passed, it's still a good place to go for a steak, a pair of boots, or a beer. Of the numerous steakhouses in the area H3 Ranch has the best-tasting steaks; however, their side dishes are disappointing. Cattleman's and Saltgrass Steakhouse vary in quality from great to pretty good. The Stockyards is also known for its great Tex-Mex meals. La Playa Maya, Esmerelda's and Los Vaqueros serve excellent, tasty dishes. Some of the wildest Western clothing ever is displayed in the shop windows. Forget style; enjoy the moment and select something to remind you of your visit.
If you're in the mood for sensory overload, top off the evening with a visit to Billy Bob's Texas, the 'world's largest honky-tonk'. This is a tourist trap. Some unsuspecting victims have entered Billy Bob's and come out holding their hands to their ears and staggering slightly. Top national acts perform here - Billy Bob's is capable of handling an enormous crowd. If you're wanting something a little less extreme, visit the White Elephant Saloon, an authentic Old West saloon, named 'One of the Best 100 Bars in America' by Esquire Magazine. Or make a visit to H3 Ranch to enjoy some of their 'Buffalo Butt Beer', while resting your butt on one of the saddles along the bar.
The Cultural District
The third largest art district of its kind in the United States this is a must see for any visitor to Fort Worth. The Omni theatre (a super hi-tech cinematic experience) at the Museum of Science and History is a wonderful place to spend a hot afternoon5. The Museum is the largest one of its kind in the Southwest.
Will Rogers Memorial Center
Every January, thousands of people from across the state come to the Southwestern Exhibition and Fat Stock Show held in the Center. Some are there to show off their prize livestock; others are there to watch the bull-riders and rodeos. Vendors from across the nation gather to peddle their vacuum cleaners and never-sharpen knives.
The Amon Carter Museum
This was established by Amon G Carter Sr, so he'd have somewhere to store his collection of works by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Since then, the museum has acquired over 300,000 works of art, and is currently undergoing renovation and expansion.
The Kimbell Art Museum
Exhibits range in period from antiquity to the 20th Century and include masterpieces by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, Caravaggio, El Greco, La Tour, Rubens, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Houdon, Goya, David, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Mondrian. The Kimbell's architect attempted to use natural light whenever possible to optimise your viewing of the art and as a result this museum has a very light, open feel. There's been talk of expansion, but the museum cannot be added on to without destroying the architectural integrity.
This lush, well-maintained garden is a good place for picnics in the spring and fall, and every year, from June to July, Concerts in the Garden are held - featuring regional and national acts, with a fireworks finale every Saturday night.
A Selection Of Excellent Bars
Downtown: The Flying Saucer - 'The Best Beer and the Wurst Food' - carries hundreds of beers from all over the globe, some on tap, some in bottles. Frequent visitors are advised to join the UFO club. After a member of the UFO club has sampled every beer that the Saucer has to offer, a gold plate with the member's name is hung on the wall.
Cultural District: Ye Olde Bull & Bush has a small cosy British pub atmosphere. There are no televisions or barstools - just a jukebox and darts out the back. It's a great place to have a conversation over a beer. Run by an ex-bush pilot from England named Nick; if it's a slow night, he may regale you with stories of Africa.
South-west of downtown: J & J's Blues Bar is the blues venue for Fort Worth and Dallas. They claim to be the hottest blues bar in Texas, and in times past have featured Albert King, James Cotton and other blues legends.
In March of 2000 a tornado struck downtown Fort Worth. Two people were killed and there was several million dollars worth of property damage. None of the buildings were completely destroyed though many were stripped of their windows and exteriors. Luckily, the historically significant buildings remain intact and await your visit.