Metropolis: Wednesday, November 28, 2002
‘A fire in this building wouldlikely spread very quickly. ...’
Another Skyscraping Candidate for Disaster

Landmark Tower ownerswant to change a fire hazardinto high-rise condos.


The poor pitiful Bank One building has the misfortune of being located on a block with a clear, unobstructed view from just about any approach to downtown. A sore thumb protruding from the skyline, the 35-story tower is empty and ugly and has been since the March 28, 2000, tornado.

However, Fort Worth’s tallest and most famous downtown eyesore is by no means its only one. Just a few blocks to the south and east is the building now known as the Landmark Tower, which was empty and ugly long before the tornado of 2000 worked it over. The storm just pummeled the building from bad to worse.

A recent city inspection noted missing doors, open sewer lines, exposed wiring, peeling wallpaper, lots of birds and rodents, litter, and demolition debris. City officials, concerned about the fire hazard created by well-weathered plywood covering broken windows, have given the owner until the end of the month to devise a repair plan or face fines that could total $4,000 a day, records show.

A spokesman for the building’s owner told Fort Worth Weekly earlier this month that an announcement about Landmark’s future was imminent. No such announcement has yet been made.

If Landmark has a cobbled-together appearance — an aluminum skyscraper perched atop a granite base — that’s because it is an aluminum skyscraper perched atop a granite base. The building began its life in the early 1950s, according to architect Preston Geren, as the five-story Continental National Bank building. A few years later, the bank’s president, the late George Thompson, decided “Fort Worth needed a tall building’’ and ordered one up.

“As Mr. Thompson elected to go 30 stories, it was necessary to change the exterior material from brick to aluminum to decrease the dead load,’’ Geren recalled. The 30-floor tower became downtown’s tallest building and a defining element of the skyline.

The structure was later renamed the Texas Building, and then Landmark Tower. During the last 20 years, it has been bought and sold at least eight times, according to property records. When the current owner, FWTX Building, L.L.C., bought it in 1996, it had already been sitting empty for several years. The building and the land on which it sits have a tax value of just over $2 million — a fraction of the site’s potential.

The building’s history is well known in real estate and development circles, but its plight hasn’t captured the public attention as Bank One has. That is likely due, in part, to its out-of-sight, out-of-mind location. The building is obscured from the east by the Carter-Burgess Plaza, from the south by the W.T. Waggoner Building, on the west by the Fort Worth Club, and from the north by Executive Plaza.

Today, dust and debris seen through a window show the building is a long way from being ready for anything except perhaps a wrecking crew or a massive infusion of capital. A demolition permit is taped to the entrance door. Plywood like that long ago removed from Bank One continues to cover Landmark’s windows.

City officials, through research, identified the owner as FWTX Building, L.L.C., but could not find corporation records for that entity. A 20-page executive summary of the building plan, distributed earlier this year, shows the actual owner is Scott Christensen of New Canaan, Conn. Christensen, according to an attached bio, is a real estate investor who has worked on Wall Street and as a real estate asset manager. At press time, Christensen had not responded to questions e-mailed to him by a reporter.

According to the Landmark summary, Christensen originally planned for the tower to be “an apartment-only project,’’ but “many wealthy Fort Worth families ... approached the (d)eveloper to inquire about buying a floor or part of a floor for their own condominium.’’

As envisioned in the summary, the project would encompass the renovation of the existing tower and construction of an adjacent 20-story building, with projected construction costs of $61 million. Together, the developer boasted, the two towers would offer the “most luxurious and only high-rise residence in Fort Worth’’ with a swimming pool, fitness center, state-of-the-art electronics, and units of up to 6,000 square feet with 12-foot ceilings. The status of financing for the project is not clear.

City records show that, as late as last month, FWTX was mired in litigation with its insurer over damage from the 2000 tornado and was still trying to arrange funding for the project. But city records also report that, “If funding doesn’t occur, they plan to sell.’’

In a Nov. 14 e-mail to Code Enforcement Supervisor Gail Tidwell, Fire Captain Brian Hannah said he was “quite impatient with the situation.’’

“Combustible materials (in the building) have been allowed to accumulate to an unacceptable level,’’ he wrote. “A fire in this building would likely spread very quickly and easily overwhelm our ability to respond. It does not seem like any true demolition is occurring. ... I have never been able to observe more than one person on this job site. ...’’

Tidwell and Hannah were part of a team of inspectors who checked on the building Nov. 18. As a result, the city gave the owners until Thanksgiving to come up with an acceptable plan to make repairs or face possible criminal prosecution, civil litigation, and other sanctions. On the same day, Hannah delivered a notice to Al Meeker, the building owner’s representative, telling him that all combustible material must be removed from the building or Hannah would “begin issuing citations.’’

Fort Worth’s second-tallest eyesore is in a competition of sorts with the owners of its tallest. The Landmark summary says the renovation of the derelict tower would make it “most comparable” to Ed Bass’ tony Sundance West project. And one of the options for the old Bank One, which is owned by a Bass-led partnership, is to turn it into condominiums.

So could Fort Worth conceivably replace its two high-rise scrap heaps with high-rise condos? It could, but both possibilities right now seem to be pie-in-the-sky — and neither ready for a Thanksgiving table.

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