Metropolis: Wednesday, August 29, 2002
Uncovering History

Artistry emerges as railroad depot windows are restored.


The outlines of the dog were barely visible when Linda Broiles began her painstaking work. Over the weeks, he appeared bit by bit — skinny, grey-white, the size of a bird dog, following a Conestoga wagon pulled by a pair of tawny oxen, beneath a huge dark-blue sky.

The work was slow because it was delicate — cleaning a hundred years of soot, grime, and neglect from painted glass panels. Her only tools were cotton swabs, distilled water, and patience.

Taylor Gandy saw her handiwork for the first time on Monday. “This is amazing,” he said. Gandy, a Fort Worth developer, and his wife, Shirlee, own the Santa Fe passenger depot on Jones Street, where three huge stained glass windows, with painted center panels, hung for most of the last century — and will hang again. But he’d never seen the beauty beneath the grime until his visit to Smith Studios just off Berry and South Main streets, where Broiles and other workers are restoring a bit of Fort Worth’s past.

The arched windows, about 10 by 5 feet, depict scenes from Fort Worth’s transportation history — the Conestoga wagon, a Pony Express rider, and a steam locomotive that seems ready to leap off the glass. The scenes were painted on round medallions of glass about three feet in diameter, then fired. Around the medallions are intricate designs in stained glass — the pattern different in each window.

“Even filthy, dirty, they were gorgeous,” said Broiles, whose father, Hulbert Smith and uncle, Gordon Smith, started the acclaimed art-glass studio in 1962.

But the windows themselves have been on something of an odyssey in recent decades. Gandy and Broiles believe the panels were probably installed when the depot was first built in 1899. Broiles’ research indicates the original depot, called Union Station, burned about two years later, but was immediately rebuilt using the original brick and stone. Because of the intricate artistry of the windows, Broiles believes the windows may have survived the fire, rather than being ordered and installed as part of a hurry-up re-build.

However, the details of that history are as obscure as the details of the windows themselves were until recently. Broiles’ research, for instance, has not turned up the name of the artist. She’d hoped to find a signature hidden, perhaps in the intricate brushwork of prairie grass. The Santa Fe Railroad used to employ company artists, and she is exploring the possibility that one of those artists produced the painted portions of the windows.

The windows remained high on the walls of the lofty station through the decades when Fort Worth and its transportation system underwent various transformations — including the years when the depot held a popular restaurant. Then in 1969, about the time that Amtrak moved into the depot, the panels — which had been covered for years to protect them from the elements — were removed and donated to the Pate Museum of Transportation, on U.S. 377 southwest of Fort Worth. The windows were supposed to be displayed at the museum, but it never happened, Gandy said.

“I have no idea why those windows were removed,” Gandy said. “I don’t know that there’s anybody still alive who would have the answer.”

The windows were stored for three decades in a warehouse on North Main Street owned by the Texas Refinery Corp., the company that had been owned, like the Pate Museum, by the late A.M. “Aggie” Pate Jr.

Jim Teel, vice president of Texas Refinery, said the windows were placed in storage instead of being displayed because there was no room for them. “We planned on adding on to the museum at one point, but we never did.”

Gandy said that, after he bought the depot building, Bob Adams, an architect with Gideon Toal, called to tell him about the windows. “We contacted Texas Refinery and said, ‘We understand you have these windows,’ ” Gandy recalled. “They said, yes, they’d had them forever. We asked, if we promise to restore them and put them back [in the depot], will you give them to us? They said yes.”

At that time, about two years ago, the Gandys had received a $2 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to restore the depot, including the windows. Amtrak was moving its operations out, and the Gandys said they intended to donate the historic building to a nonprofit organization, to be used possibly for a railroad museum or restaurant. However, the Gandys felt that more money was needed to complete the project, and when they didn’t find it, they backed off on the restoration.

They eventually decided to go ahead with restoring the windows anyway, at a cost of about $100,000. “When we found out how much it would cost, we coughed a little bit. But we finally decided it was important enough to do,” Gandy said.

There are still are no definite plans for the depot, although the Santa Fe freight terminal next door, also owned by the Gandys, has been renovated into the immediately popular Fort Worth Rail Station, filled with produce vendors, cafés, and other shops. On the other side of the freight terminal, the city’s Intermodal Transportation Center serves as a stop for city buses and trolleys and the Trinity Railway Express. Five minutes away, the Trinity express and Amtrak trains exchange passengers at the old Texas & Pacific terminal — whose renovation was also done by Smith Studios.

Broiles said restoration of the windows should be finished around December. Currently the windows are disassembled, the stained glass and painted glass sections being cleaned separately. New frames will be built because the old ones are no longer sturdy enough. Gandy said he’s not sure whether the windows will be immediately re-installed in the vacant building or stored until such time as the terminal is renovated and re-occupied.

The medallions were probably painted on large round sheets of glass, fired, then cut into pieces, Broiles said. With the medallion showing the Conestoga wagon assembled on a light table, Broiles ran her fingers over the pieces, showing where soot and grime had stained them, and where paint had worn away. It might not be possible to replace missing paint flecks, she said, because the new paint would then have to be fired, “and I’m afraid if we put it in the kiln, it would go phffft.” Only this window is missing a piece, which would have shown the top corner of the wagon with hills and sky beyond. Broiles and her father and uncle have not decided how to re-create that piece.

At this point, Broiles and Gandy are not even sure what the arrangement of the three windows was. The answer may lie in someone’s old photo album, but for now, the few photos of the depot they have found do not show the windows with any clarity.

Hulbert and Gordon Smith watched with evident pride as Broiles explained the restoration work and carefully moved the pieces of glass to assemble the medallions. She noted the details — the “500” number on the locomotive, the blur of wheels that showed the train was in motion, the portions of the Pony Express painting where cleaning has not been finished, and horse and dirt colors are still blurred together.

“This was very beautifully done,” she said.

Naureen Shah contributed to this story.

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