Ten Years and Going Strong
Happy Birthday to us! The Weekly’s made it to the tweener stage, and we’re taking a moment to stagger along Memory Lane (see below). But enough about us — it’s been an important 10 years for Fort Worth, too, so we’ve asked a passel of other folks to take a few moments and tell us what Cowtown’s recent past means and its future looks like to them. Those reflections — rosy, angry, scared, hopeful, and funny — follow in the next several pages. Thanks for coming along for the ride thus far. — Gayle Reaves
“Won’t last a year,” huffed a friend in 1996 when she heard that Robert Camuto, a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, had launched an “alternative” (say what?) newspaper on the city’s West Side, out of a dreary little bungalow on West Seventh Street across from the Four Star Coffee Bar. It was called FW Weekly for the first five years of its life, until the New Times chain bought the paper in 2000 and changed it to Fort Worth Weekly.
Camuto’s original idea was to publish an arts, dining, and entertainment “supplement” for the S-T with a little Westside cultural gossip thrown in. (There was no “Star-Time” yet — that would come later as a response to the success of the Weekly’s arts and entertainment coverage.) Camuto, whose father owned the Nine West shoestore chain, wanted then-S-T publisher Richard Connor to fund the project, with Camuto as editor of a free but clearly identified S-T publication. Connor, so Camuto’s story went, agreed then inexplicably cancelled the project.
So Camuto borrowed money from his father, brought in another partner with more bucks, and launched FWW to compete with the daily not only in arts and entertainment coverage but hard news as well. He hired Fort Worth native John Forsyth, then with the Shreveport Times, as the paper’s editor, and together with calendar editor Mark Lowry, art director Meda Kessler, music editor Michael Powell, production director Peter Yeoh, receptionist Tiffany Robinson, and office manager Kay Ellis, they put out the first issue on April 11, 1996. The cover story was “Damn Rangers,” a history of the baseball team’s failed promise (“sometime after the All-Star break, [they] choke like a dog on peanut butter”) by freelancer Jennifer Briggs that could be reprinted with little revision today.
According to Camuto, the Star-Telegram tried to hamstring the Weekly by offering the daily’s advertisers discounted prices if they would not advertise in the Weekly. The Weekly’s newspaper boxes disappeared so regularly from in front of the S-T building that Camuto had to chain them down. He and Forsyth fought back with columns blasting the daily for everything from dull coverage to protecting Fort Worth’s sacred cows — and promising to be “irreverent about everything, including ourselves” and to never be dull. For the most part, both promises have been kept.
In that cramped gray house, all the little rooms — and the hallway — were filled with characters straight out of central casting. The paper’s first restaurant reviewer, Janie Harper, wife of a surgeon, called it a “cross between Animal House and Lou Grant.” It was a raucous conglomerate of gays, old hippies, cynical journalists, fresh-faced young writers, revolving-door sales reps, and tart-tongued receptionists.
Meda Kessler still remembers the first music awards show. With the bar packed with advertisers and clients, the obnoxious rap-rock group Pimpadelic opened the musical part of the proceedings. “They came on with the full-blown Pimpadelic act (very young, very scantily clad girls, very loud music, and lots of F-bombs),” said Kessler, now a writer and designer at the Star-Telegram. “The look on the publisher’s face was ... priceless.”
The hallway-cum-production-department was “not wide enough to fully pull out your chair,” remembers Alyssa Banta, who took photos for the paper before going off to cover stories in various parts of Asia over the last few years (and who created both pictures and text for the Weekly’s photo essay on Hispanic Fort Worth only a few weeks ago). One Thanksgiving, Banta remembers, she and Peter Yeoh carted a turkey around to various places to shoot pictures, probably for the paper’s annual Turkey Awards. After the shooting was done, “Peter and I decided to make it into the Thanksgiving turkey, cooked Chinese style” — and invited Weekly staffers and other “orphans” to share the feast.
It felt, Banta said, “almost like a student newspaper” — a thin student paper. “When it hit 26 pages, we thought it was huge. ... We were each other’s friends — working together, eating together, meeting for drinks after work together. It really did feel like we produced that thing out of our own hands.”
Betty Brink wasn’t one of the just-out-of-college staffers. She was a veteran newspaperwoman who came knocking on Forsyth’s door a few months after the Weekly got started, looking for a new job. She’d been writing on a freelance basis for the Star-Telegram’s northeast edition but also wrote a short piece for the Weekly criticizing the daily paper’s zoned editions and compartmentalized news coverage. “Pow! I got canned posthaste [by Star-T editors] the day the article appeared,” she said. “I walked into the Weekly’s office, found Forsyth behind a desk in the corner of what once had been a small bedroom, told him I’d just been fired by the S-T and by damn, he’d better give me some work.” He did, and the rest is history — at 73, Brink is now the longest-running Weekly staffer, winner of many awards — but not, as it turns out, the “oldest living alt-reporter” as she suspected. (Sorry, Betty, there are a few folks out there in their 80s, still turning over rocks.)
Kristian Lin is another staffer who’s hung on at the Weekly through three owners and those black days when New Times, for several months, took away the movie critic duties that are Lin’s lifeblood. He arrived after the paper moved in 1998 to its current digs — still on West Seventh, but several blocks closer to downtown. Our space seems cramped now, but back then, he said, it seemed “cavernous.”
Lin and Brink both remember the tension between Forsyth’s and Camuto’s views of what the paper should be. “John knew that an alternative publication needed to go after unrepresented minority readers — gays, blacks, Latinos,” Lin said. “Robert was on board with that, but he kept pulling the paper in the direction of young, educated, middle-class readers looking for the next hot place to shop or wave of restaurants.” Camuto also liked humor, and the early Weekly ran columns like Vicki Novikoff’s “Beauty Shop Talk,” which had some rabid fans, and a satirical music story on which bands were secretly gay (The Backstreet Boys — “a euphemism if we’ve ever heard one”).
The battles over editorial content, Brink recalled, were “legendary and loud. John won more than he lost.” And when he lost, she said, “the results often made a mockery out of the term ‘alternative.’” Camuto wouldn’t agree to a cover photo of Johnny Cash with his middle finger stuck defiantly in the air. The compromise: The finger was blurred, “making us a laughingstock among alternatives and local readers,” Brink said.
There were other lows: The swimsuit edition. “Pervert Patrol” — a romp through Trinity Park with Fort Worth cops as they busted prostitutes of both sexes.
And there were the highs — stories on various bovines from the city’s herd of sacred cows, which drew enough attention that the paper was accepted as a member of the Association of Alternative Newspapers after only one year of publication, a rare feat. The Weekly wrote about the “Bass cameras” watching everyone in Sundance Square and the (many) dark sides of Fort Worth’s then-new and highly touted school superintendent Thomas Tocco. There were the shenanigans of the sheriff who couldn’t think straight, and stories about the school board president’s slum properties.
The paper grew professionally and began to pull in its share of journalism awards. By 2000, however, Camuto was seeking a buyer. Overnight, it seemed, the Weekly became part of what Forsyth called the Evil Empire — Arizona-based New Times, which owned about a dozen alternative papers across the country, including the Dallas Observer. The company had a rep for hot journalism coupled with a cold business eye that could decimate a staff in a Tucson minute if a paper were losing money. Camuto sold for about $2 million and, not long thereafter, moved to France.
New Times enlarged the staff and recruited people like Gayle Reaves, a Pulitzer Prize winner from the Dallas Morning News, and top-notch writer Jeff Prince from the Star-Telegram. (Prince’s job interview with Forsyth consisted of drinking beer and tequila in a downtown bar until 2 a.m.) It was a roller coaster ride with New Times, though — a couple of ups, a couple of downs, and they were gone. A painful layoff left staffers worrying that the Weekly experiment might be nearing its end; instead, the chain sold the paper, after only a year, to current owner Lee Newquist, a former publisher of the Observer and other New Times papers. Forsyth was fired— “He’s not what I envision for the paper’s future,” Newquist told a staffer — and the new publisher moved Reaves to the top editorial spot. (Forsyth went on to an editing job with The New York Times.)
Reaves was left with the difficult job of revving up a newsroom demoralized by a very tough year. She did, bringing on board Anthony Mariani to oversee arts and entertainment coverage. Now associate editor, Mariani probably knows more about “the scene” here than any three other journalists in town. And Dan Malone, another Pulitzer-carrying investigative reporter, added his talents and decades of Fort Worth experience to the mix. It helped that Newquist, unlike Camuto, respected the strong wall between the editorial department and publisher. In the four and a half years since then, the publisher has almost never asked to see news content before it goes out the door.
So the Weekly went back with a vengeance to its job of critiquing the emperor’s new clothes, with stories like that of the WorldCom whistleblower whose revelations triggered the investigation that forced that giant company into bankruptcy; the long list of men who came forward to accuse one of the city’s most prominent realtors of molesting them over a period of decades; the stories of our country’s “disappeareds,” the people in immigration jails that the U.S. government refuses to account for; DynCorp employees who were running their own little sex shop out of Bosnia; the questionable — and sometimes fatal — uses of Tasers by Texas law enforcement agencies; and the health care horrors at the nation’s only hospital for female federal prisoners. Writers Dan McGraw and Peter Gorman and some talented freelancers are adding their own spices to the brew, the Weekly has forged important connections to college classes that are helping extend our journalistic grasp, and every year another crop of eager, bright interns arrives — all helping give the paper more depth, maturity, and a wider array of stories without taking away from the Weekly’s other purpose, stated in its first issue: “We’re having fun. ... And we plan to be around for a long, long time.”
— Compiled from the ramblings of current and former staffers
I applied to the Fort Worth Police Department sometime in 1976. I failed the physical agility test the first time, since it was designed for a 5-foot-8-inch man, not a 5-foot-3-inch woman. After training for a couple of months, I returned and set the women’s record for the exam. Part of the agility test (which was timed) involved dragging a 180-pound dummy for a while and then putting it on a cot. Since then, the record has been broken many, many times as more women applied.
My training academy class had nine women, but I don’t think even half stayed on the force long enough to reach retirement. I remember the police academy range master telling the women that we were taking the place of men and we should stay home — try learning to shoot pistols and shotguns with an instructor like that. Similar voices of dissent arose as we became rookies in the field. Some men refused to ride with women for several reasons: Wives didn’t want them to, we weren’t trusted to do the job, etc. During the years I served on patrol, however, as one of a few Spanish-speaking officers, it became clear that I was trusted — and needed — to do many jobs in the department. I assisted in interrogations, DWIs, and lie detectors tests. I was used all over town and not just in my district. In later years I was instrumental in helping establish the first Spanish proficiency test given to city employees for extra pay. Having been the first Hispanic woman on patrol, the city asked me to help recruit women and Hispanics for the police department, and I was sent to various colleges around Texas. I also spent time in the schools — I was glad to be a role model to the Hispanic students, especially the girls. A woman in a police uniform, especially a Hispanic woman, was an oddity in the 1970s. Working security at North Fort Worth Bank part-time was exciting to say the least; macho Hispanic men don’t easily take orders from Hispanic women.
Around 1985, I took the promotional test for detective/corporal and got promoted, becoming the first Hispanic female detective for the city, another oddity. I helped serve warrants — I always got doors opened by unsuspecting felons (mostly men) because I looked nothing like their vision of a police officer. By the time I took the sergeant’s exam in 1987, women were beginning to appear in the city in uniform more and more. I remember how proud I was to attain that rank, as I was not just the only Hispanic woman sergeant, I was the only minority female of that rank. Even then it was still evident that male officers did not feel comfortable working for a woman or Hispanic. I was very fortunate to have many supervisors who believed in me and gave me opportunities to become a “first.” I was the first gang unit officer and helped establish that unit; I was the first sexual assault detective for that new unit; and as a supervisor, I established the bike unit.
Since I retired in 1996, I’ve watched women and Hispanics make even more strides. That range master who criticized the women recruits? He retired. The woman who now holds that position still outshoots everyone. I saw the first female motorcycle officer beat many seasoned men at the police motorcycle Olympics. I understand there is a female supervisor in the SWAT team. Our police chief is Hispanic.
There have been many positive changes in our police department, and I have a positive outlook for the future. The training at the academy is top-notch (and the last I heard it was headed by a female captain). Our officers are better educated. Women have proven that we can do the job if given the opportunity. It makes me proud to see Hispanic men and women in uniform. I hope to see many more of them rise in rank. I will always be grateful for those who encouraged me in my early years, including Capt. Earline Kennedy, Lt. Olive Wood, and Lt. Arlene Rachels, all retired now. We still meet for lunch every month or so to talk about the old times — they were hard times for all of us, but I would do it again in a minute.
Aagghh! Let the ladies split out wide
Grab your pardner - go hog wild. Aagghh! Now, now, now;
Big Ball’s in Cowtown
We’ll all go down
Big Ball’s in Cowtown
We’ll dance around.
Let Dallas have all the Deep Blue New Bohemian Polyphonic trendiness it wants. In Fort Worth, we like it thinking-about-getting-lucky-on-a-Saturday-night real. And we always have — that’s no Burden Brothers paean to doing the nasty up there, but rather a minor hit, “A Big Ball in Cowtown,” for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Who knows how many of our parents or grandparents were conceived within an hour of that song being played? (I know, ewwwwwwwww.)
If there’s a common thread in the Fort’s musical history, it’s that essential grittiness, that certain basic primal something, genre be damned. From Wills during the Depression to the Jacksboro Highway dives in the postwar years to the old Cellar club in the ’60s to Delbert McClinton and Robert Ealey in the ’70s to the Hugh Beaumont Experience and the Ejectors in the ’80s to Woodeye and the Toadies in the ’90s to Pablo and the Hemphill 7, Goodwin, Chatterton, and a host of others today, in Fort Worth we’ve always managed to keep it visceral even as the beats and ties kept shifting shape. But then, Fort Worth has always been the working-class counterweight to Dallas’ glitz and Denton’s abstract intellectualism. The music has merely reflected that reality.
With that in mind, it’s easy to predict that the music here will continue to mirror the culture of the city. And no matter how many fancy downtown lakes our city fathers may have in mind, as long as there’s a Haltom City, there are going to be Me-Thinks or something like them. As long as there’s a Lake Como, there will be a Blue Bird or at least the spirit of it. Further, the relative ease with which Fort Worth embraces racial diversity may turn out to be a building block for musical innovation — if Daniel Gomez were to start writing lyrics in Spanish, for instance, Goodwin might revolutionize Spanish-language radio with a unique blend of Who-influenced power pop and trilled r’s. If J.D. Jimmerson’s Lake Como hip-hop were surgically implanted on top of Confus-a-tron’s infectious jazz/funk groove, that could send the whole country into paroxysms of streetwise dance. Who knows?
What we know with certainty is that Fort Worth is a sleeping giant. The drowsiness is obvious every time one of our top-shelf local bands plays to a half-filled club; to ascertain the size of our beast requires only a quick look at the census. Fort Worth, believe it or not, is bigger than Boston, bigger than Cleveland, bigger than Denver, bigger than Seattle. And that’s without adding Arlington into the count. One of these days, this town will finally wake up and quit looking east to Dallas for live music, instead supporting its own musicians in proportion to their talent. It’ll be a big ball in Cowtown, and we’ll all go down. We’ll dance around. Aagghh!
I pulled up to the dusty (OK, it wasn’t dusty, but it sounds so poetic) outpost of Fort Worth in my little Pontiac five years ago. After driving for three days and two nights, singing my lungs out to the musical hits of my college days, and trying to keep myself awake as miles of scrub-strewn wasteland passed outside my windows, I had made it to my new home. And boy, was I freaking out! A single girl from Southern California moving to Fort Worth, Texas, to take a job at the world-renowned Kimbell Art Museum — which, I remind you, was in Fort Worth, Texas! Of course, all my friends back home kept saying things like: “Why would you ever move to Texas?” “Where the heck is Fort Worth anyhow?” “Everyone there carries a gun, and they hate Californians.” And of course, “Just keep your opinions to yourself when talking to people. This is Texas, not California, you know.” (That was from Mom. Thanks for looking out for me. You know me too well.)
I figured I’d last a year at best, and then I’d head back to California. I couldn’t understand how the Kimbell Art Museum had landed in this alien territory, and I had no clue that there were other museums in town besides it. When I worked for the San Diego Museum of Art, I never heard a mention of anything in Fort Worth other than the Kimbell. Actually, I thought Fort Worth was the Kimbell. I hadn’t even heard of the Amon Carter Museum, and I had no idea that Fort Worth had a Modern Art Museum. I mean, what did people in Fort Worth know about art? These people were gun-toting, Bible-thumping conservatives who would be shocked by a naked figure in a painting, right?
Five years later, I’m still here, working for the Kimbell, and it’s the best position I’ve ever held. So what would keep me around Fort Worth for so long? Well, the Cultural District is one of the best museum districts in the world. The people of Fort Worth actually support the museums and have much more of an interest in art than a California girl would have thought. I’ve watched Fort Worthians turn out in droves for our special shows at the Kimbell, from Egyptian and Impressionist exhibitions to an exhibition of Islamic art that could have been ignored due to the current political climate. But people surprised me — so many came to the exhibition and left a bit more educated about another culture.
I’ve met with reporters from all over the world who come to cover the art and architectural masterpiece that is the Fort Worth Cultural District. They are always telling me how lucky Fort Worth is to have such a stellar collection of museums and how much they’ve wanted to come visit. These are people who have thousands of years of history in their own backyards, but they really want to come to Fort Worth — to see our Cultural District! In just the past five years, I’ve seen wonderful changes in the area, with the opening of the larger Amon Carter Museum and the addition of the Ando-designed Modern Art Museum. And there’s more to come.
I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised anymore. Some of the greatest cities in the world want to emulate our Cultural District. And Fort Worth isn’t as backward as I once thought — people here are interested in arts and culture, even if some of them do carry a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other. Now, if I could just find some real Mexican food (sorry, Tex-Mex ain’t Mexican) and a nice beach to hang out at, I’d be set!
Mindy Riesenberg is the head of marketing, development, and public relations for the Kimbell Art Museum.
Ten years ago Dr. James Watts, chief of staff at Plaza Medical Center and a person dedicated to saving the medical district, asked me to consider implementing the strategic plan to make that revitalization happen. My friends said, “You’re going to do what? And where? And why?” And so it began.
In the early ’90s, folks in the near South Side were losing hope. Five acute-care hospitals were considering disinvesting in the medical district. St. Joseph’s Hospital was closing. Investors and developers were finding better opportunities elsewhere. Property values were declining, while values in the rest of the city enjoyed double-digit increases. About 30 percent of the land area was vacant. Thirteen crack houses and transient pedestrian traffic generated criminal activity. Residents in Fairmount, Mistletoe Heights, Berkeley, and Ryan Place worried about the future of their neighborhoods. Harsh realities and uncertainties about the future concerned everyone.
Much has changed in the last 10 years. Optimism has replaced uncertainty. Marketplace influences are taking over. New investment and construction activity are everywhere. More than $437 million has been invested by the private sector at 96 new facility projects, and another 16 projects valued at $236 million are under construction, with others in the developmental pipeline. The nonprofit, private, member-funded development company, Fort Worth South, Inc., created in 1996 to drive the effort, has matured and now has the capability and credibility to assist in the next phase of redevelopment.
To me, the most notable development over the last 10 years, and a harbinger for things to come, was the adaptive reuse of the decaying former high school building on Jennings Avenue and the adjacent former elementary school on Terrell Street. These wonderfully redeveloped historic buildings became a 192-unit apartment complex called Homes of Parker Commons. This project is visible from afar and shouts to everyone that the neighborhood is coming back.
Job and residential growth projections for the Metroplex suggest almost a doubling from current levels within the next 25 years. Economics, logistics, and transportation issues will change the way we work and live, and the central city will enjoy its share of growth in a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly form.
In 10 years time, Fort Worthians will be amazed with all the changes, and in 20 years, they won’t recognize the area. The near South Side will again become an active, viable neighborhood. People will live, work, and play there without needing to get into a car. Development will occur in a mix of commercial and residential forms that will maintain the historic character while encouraging new contemporary developments. Fort Worth South will develop its own character — like Downtown, West Seventh, the Cultural District, the Stockyards, and the Trinity River Vision/Bluffs.
In 10 years we’ll begin to see larger buildings designed to accommodate an expanding urban sector, with better links to public transit. The economic revitalization of the medical district will serve as a catalyst for new private-sector development in adjacent neighborhoods including east of I-35 along Evans Avenue and into the neglected southeast quadrant of the city. It will be fun to watch.
Don Scott is the former director of Fort Worth South, Inc.
When he married my mom, Jim Wilson was the assistant city manager of Austin. He navigated the storms of Austin city government, reviled by environmentalists who rightfully valued our green and wild spaces but refused to understand that growth, like life, happens.
In 1969 he was tapped to lead the newly formed Texas Mass Transportation Commission. He was tight-lipped about his feelings when the state legislature red-lined the entire budget of the commission, leaving only his salary intact. A Fort Worth member of the House stated publicly, “We don’t need no mass transportation in Texas.” Now, there’s your Texas-style visionary leadership during the 1960s and ’70s. And, with few exceptions, the leadership hasn’t gotten any better, and neither has the exponentially deteriorating quality of air in Texas (with the Tarrant/Dallas County area being among the worst).
In 1973, against the pleadings of my mother, Jim accepted the position of deputy state comptroller under a volatile Bob Bullock. He and Bob locked horns, mostly because my stepdad was prickly over silly issues like ethical behavior on the state time clock; it cost him his job and made him an unemployable pariah for over a year. My parents’ savings dwindled. While he would never admit it, so did his self-esteem.
The job offer to come to Fort Worth as the city’s industrial development coordinator in 1977 was the elixir that gave him back his pride . He would sing loudly as he sat in his khaki pants and white t-shirt in the evenings, “On the muscle of my arm is a red and blue tattoo. It says, ‘Foat Wuth, Ah LUV YOU!’” He was serious — not about the tattoo, but about the sentiment.
Trust me, Jim had faults that I still pay analysts to help me sift through. But he understood that there is only so much available space, only so many resources. I watched him dream about the development of a bullet train on a triangular route between Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio and Austin. He dreamed about a light rail system between Dallas and Fort Worth — a true light rail system not dependent on railways owned by Missouri Pacific like the Trinity Railway Express, the sad shadow of his dream. Had his dream been implemented, it probably would have already paid for itself and been able to move thousands of people quickly and cleanly between the two cities. I was so young — I didn’t understand about eminent domain or easements. I only knew that, when he explained that we needed to think outside the box and begin planning for the future, it made sense to me. The consummate public servant, he always had his eye cocked to the future. Air quality, water quality — he understood that when those diminished, so did the quality of a local government and the life of its citizens. The business of running a city suffered.
He was serving as the lead lobbyist for Fort Worth when he suffered a massive heart attack in August 1988. If his destructive two-pack-a-day habit (a classic disconnect between private practice and what he thought should be public policy) had not ruined his heart, looking at today’s air quality in the city he loved would have broken it. Lowering the quality of life in a city was intolerable to him — and bad city management. A knuckle-dragging KZPS DJ rambled on recently about how “everything, even air, will eventually kill you.” Apparently he never took a good statistics course and learned that correlation does not necessarily imply causality. Air does not kill you — at least clean air doesn’t. However, the aging process eventually will, and so will government leaders who lack vision — because of the polluted air they are forcing us all to breathe, among other things. Jim, a Republican, knew that, while growth happens, life has to be part of the equation.
Rollyn Carlson is a fourth-generation Texan, activist, and currently Tarrant County Democratic Party field director.
Welcome to Fort Worth! The city added about 37,000 new residents last year, and if you moved here or visited here voluntarily, you’re probably thinking Cowtown’s a friendly place.
But what about the folks who landed in Fort Worth through no desire of their own — in fact, by being annexed against their will? A lot of them don’t think they’ve gotten a very nice welcome. Unless you call higher taxes, burdensome regulation, and, in some cases, reduced services friendly.
Statistics from the North Central Texas Council of Governments confirm that Fort Worth last year continued the rapid growth it has enjoyed for a number of years. In fact, if it snaked around the incorporated towns in its way, Fort Worth could someday grow to the Oklahoma border, under current annexation laws. Hey, why stop at the Trinity? Why not make the Red River the new Fort Worth waterway? That may seem far-fetched, but consider the fact that the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction, the five-mile-wide band just outside city limits, already extends well into Parker, Wise, Denton, and Johnson counties. Leaders of big cities traditionally have taken the position that they must be able to continually extend their boundaries or see their future sources of tax dollars choked off. (Why they can’t develop the vacant land they already have, I don’t know.)
Folks who chose to live outside Fort Worth, on the other hand, feel like they’re in the path of a bulldozer. Through voluntary and forced annexation, the city’s population is growing faster than the city can provide municipal services. Mayor Mike Moncrief has admitted that Fort Worth is experiencing growth pains. Populations are moving in faster than fire and police forces can be trained to protect them. This resource-stretching will endanger new and existing residents until funding is provided for a better emergency infrastructure.
Many of the current residents of Fort Worth are looking with a jaundiced eye at the attention given to these new areas. The newly annexed lands are soaking up council interest and funding that would otherwise go to their neighborhoods. Existing properties are languishing while pristine six-lane boulevards extend northward. Are they being left behind because they cannot bring significant new property tax dollars to the table? Meanwhile, the forcibly annexed citizens see the taxes they now have to pay being used as leverage money for central-city projects like Trinity Uptown, a convention center hotel, and tax breaks to big corporations.
What I’d like to suggest is that Fort Worth — and other annexation-ambitious cities — think about partnering with neighboring cities, looking for regional government solutions rather than giving rural residents only the options of moving further out or forcibly becoming Fort Worth citizens.
Annexation is supposed to be a method for controlling growth near a city’s boundaries, but it is being used by Fort Worth to spur growth beyond its current city limits. It is feasible that within my lifetime I will see a sign that reads “Now leaving Weatherford. Welcome to Fort Worth.” That will not be a good day for county residents or current residents of Fort Worth.
Philippe Lalonde lives in northwest Tarrant County and fears he will someday be a reluctant citizen of Cowtown.
Last century, we knew if we could just survive the millennium, we could fix the world. That’s what it felt like to many of us as the world prepared to enter 2000.
In the 1990s — although there were devastating exceptions, Rwanda being an extreme example — there arose at the grassroots level around the world a growing expectancy and excitement of a green future coming, like we were this close to shaking off and leaving the ugliness and hatred behind. If we could get into the next century, we could make it.
The year 2000 would be the sea change, the heralding of the Golden Future when we would leave our immaturity and violent, selfish adolescence behind to create a sustainable, just civilization based on bedrock principles of cooperation, peace, and ecological interconnectedness.
But something — or a combination of somethings — happened in the last six years to cut our guts out, and that hope for a global catharsis has been replaced by a new level of ugliness, damage, uncertainty, and a sense of everything out of whack like never before.
Now, instead of the world rapidly humming along toward repair and healing, we’re in disarray and largely doing nothing. An ugly war for oil in the Middle East has made the U.S. a pariah in the world while causing so much damage, death, and global danger. The President’s War on the Environment has caused immeasurable loss to our Earth — such a small planet, and we have no evidence of any other like it — and to our children, with decades of hard-won protections weakened or reversed. Pesticides are now discovered in nearly every creek, river, and stream in America; old forests have been logged; grasslands turned to unnatural desert; virgin areas opened to development. Hummers roar down the street with giant WARM THE GLOBE stickers plastered to their back windows. In Canada, seal slaughterers bash in the heads of hundreds of thousands of two-week old baby seals, while the ice gets thinner each year. Incredibly intense storms have arisen, phenomena that are being called “atmospheric bombs.” NASA scientists studying global warming warn of an impending ecological tipping point if we don’t act now.
Here in Fort Worth, we’ve watched our remaining native prairie ecosystem meet the vicious bulldozer. People who hate these things have largely allowed themselves to be rolled over, their spirits simply sapped out. Meanwhile, people who thought that all or some of this was good news suddenly find themselves flummoxed by the realization that they too will be home when the chickens come to roost.
The last 10 years have taught me a lot about how to deal with horror, grief, anger, and loss, and I’ve come away with a tenacity of hope and action. The questions Americans now seem to be asking themselves are: Does this mean I have to do something myself? Can we make it? Or should we just go shopping?
I’m actually optimistic. Fort Worth, of all places, provides evidence for this. I no longer believe that the majority of people are intrinsically hateful or selfish. The majority of people do want a healthy, just, equitable society. And when pushed to the wall, faced with common danger, people can work together and care about more than just themselves. If everybody decreased her or his impact on the planet, it would add up. Forming a community or neighborhood association to learn about environmental and global issues and act on them here at the local level is a strong option. Driving less and eating healthy vegetarian meals are other ways to enjoy life positively while using fewer resources. Work with children, be informed, get involved in the public process, honor the past, feel OK to grieve (but not for too long because there’s good work to do), and always remember the old adage, “Action is the antidote for despair.” There is not too much time, but just enough time, if we act now.
This past Sunday, I was coming home through the airport and passed a group of young cats wearing baseball caps and jackets with military pins in them and ARMY written across the back. They were saying goodbye, dapping each other off in the old homeboy way. They were all in wheelchairs. I shook my head, thinking not of just them, but all the civilian mothers and sons on the other side of the world too. Ruined lives, all sacrificed for power and consumption.
This miasma doesn’t have to define us. There are lots of exciting new advancements, even right here in Fort Worth. The next 20 to 30 years will be a roller coaster ride from hell, but the century and millennium are still very young. We can do this, if everybody rolls up their sleeves.
Jarid Manos is executive director of the Great Plains Restoration Council.
Fort Worth started as a fort but didn’t remain that way for long, morphing quickly into a cattle town. And the action was on the North Side. Wild cowboys and wild longhorns were so common that by the time the Civil War was over, Fort Worth had earned the nickname it carries today — Cowtown. A good cowtown had to have railroads and packing houses, and those things came along directly.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and the packing yards and cowpunchers vanished. So why does the Stockyards still exist? We know that travelers and cowboys once flocked to the Stockyards looking for action: food, drinks, entertainment, and lodging or, more colorfully, saloons, gambling, and bordellos. Today’s visitors (now locals and tourists) seek pretty much the same, and they want it to feel real. Our visitors are not looking for Disney World or Six Flags. They want the real West. And while bordellos won’t be making a comeback, a reintroduction of gambling would be a great thing. No doubt about it, legalized gambling will be passed — the state’s always broke and looking for ways to get money. When it happens, it will bring a lot of tourists down here.
In the 1960s, Fort Worth basically went out of the cattle business, and the Stockyards area became dilapidated and filled with riffraff, with only a few good guys staying put. One good fire could have wiped out the whole shebang. Cattlemen’s Steak House and Theo Yardanoff’s restaurant were mainstays for good food, the Spaghetti Warehouse was open, and Joe T. Garcia’s always brought people north, but the Stockyards was not a family-friendly place.
Then the Stockyards got lucky. Steve Murrin, Jane Schlansker, Billy Bob Barnett, and others helped bring back the glory days. They invested their money and convinced our elected officials and our own Mr. Speaker, Jim Wright, in Congress, to bring funding to the table for public improvements. Things began to happen. Activities at Billy Bob’s and Cowtown Coliseum, as well as improvements at the Livestock Exchange Building, attracted folks. Holt Hickman really poured money into the area, and we woke up and found that visitors felt safe again and still wanted to experience the Old West. The Chisholm Trail and Pioneer Days events, the introduction of the Herd, and Red Steagall’s cowboy poetry gatherings all contributed to the rebirth. And the sky is the limit. Think about it. We’ve got the oldest coliseum in the Southwest, longhorns, a rodeo, cowboys, the Trinity River behind us, great hotels, world-famous restaurants, the best Early Texas Art collection in the state, a wagon museum, the Tarantula steam engine, the train station. All the sticks are in place. This sumbitch could be better than Disneyland, and the city’d be bubbling over in tourist dollars. This is a beautiful uncut diamond.
Imagine if everyone left their cars parked on the outskirts of the Stockyards and only horses and buggies could carry you around down here. Beer delivered by wagons only. All we need is a charismatic leader and a team to polish this jewel into the greatest draw in the Southwest. The Basses have done a great job rebuilding downtown and making it a great place to live and work, but the Stockyards will be the city’s great tourist attraction.
A.C. “Ace” Cook is a Stockyards character and business owner “who loves the city of Fort Worth and everyone in it.”
Fort Worth has always thought of itself as a city, even when it mainly consisted of lies its founders were telling the world in order to attract settlers, which was how much of the American West was won:
“Fort Worth will be a great seaport! There will be thriving commerce up and down the Trinity River!”
“We have 42 miles of sewer pipe already!”
“Best whorehouses and saloons on the Chisholm Trail!”
“Our college will grow into a great university rivaling Harvard and Oxford!”
“Fort Worth is where the west begins!”
Fort Worth had a powerful will to become.
A wonderful metaphor for what I hope is the heart and soul of Fort Worth is Oakwood Cemetery, the old graveyard perched on the bank of the Trinity River that’s been receiving the remains of local citizens since the late 19th century. Most of Oakwood’s graves are those of whites. There’s a section for Confederate soldiers and one for Union veterans; there are neighborhoods of Protestants and blocks for Catholics. There are foolishly grand monuments, the gathering place for members of the Tarrant County bartenders’ union, and some unmarked graves for the very poor. Black people buried before the 1970s are all together, segregated from whites. But Oakwood Cemetery is all one place, and I think that it’s not impossible for Fort Worth again to become a common habitat, a city where all kinds, conditions, classes, and colors of people rub shoulders with and have to do business with one another as a matter of course.
This is going to take work. The suburbanization of Fort Worth that began in earnest after World War II has diluted the city’s character. As is the case everywhere in the United States, a generalized corporate culture has taken root and flourished. There are thousands of people here who think that Don Pablo’s serves Mexican food and have never heard of, say, Benito’s on West Magnolia Avenue, people who think that McDonald’s serves hamburgers and have never tasted the real stuff at Kincaid’s and Tommy’s. A lot of these people are career transients who won’t be in Fort Worth long enough to discover the difference, much less teach their children why the difference matters. For “Mexican food” and “hamburgers,” substitute anything local and authentic, and see what is not being learned.
Since the middle of the 19th century, a steady stream of wealthy people who love the city have given money to enrich its life. Kay Kimbell’s museum is a recent example. Will we be able to train up new generations? This is a scary problem now that the enterprises that were the sources of local wealth have been sold to corporations largely indifferent to the quality of life here. John Justin is dead and the sources of his fortune have been sold to corporations whose only concern is the bottom line. There’s not going to be anything like the Justin Equestrian Center any time soon. The Bass family is doing pretty well by Fort Worth — so far. But only Ed Bass is in the class of benign and grand eccentrics we need.
With the sale of successful businesses started and based in Fort Worth, thousands of jobs have followed “the giant sucking sound of jobs going south.” And it’s not just jobs. The current owners and managers of RadioShack didn’t see the logic of necessity of maintaining the vast — free! — Tandy Center parking lot that had served the city so well for more than 40 years. Now the land is just real estate.
There are hopeful developments. The enormous ghost of Amon Carter Sr., publisher and editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “Mr. Fort Worth,” shaper, salesman, and boss of the city for half of the 20th century, is fading rapidly, and something like working democracy is beginning to develop. Fort Worth is becoming more porous, admitting more (but not enough) people of color and people with fresh ideas.
Fort Worth still has a powerful will to become. The question now is to become — what?
Journalist Samuel Hudson grew up in Fort Worth and keeps coming back
A few weeks ago, I read an article in The New York Times that seemed to me to explain so much about what is going on with black men, young and old, that I felt like reprinting it and putting it in every mailbox in Tarrant County. It is about this society’s past and present — and for better or worse, it describes a future that we’d best either set about trying to change with all our heart or preparing for with some very grim realities in mind. To me, it describes perfectly the “twilight zone” in which most black men in this town, like so many others, too often find themselves.
As a native Fort Worthian, pastor of a small church, and strong advocate for education reform, I see the realities of this story played out every day in our communities and our public schools. The story in the Times described in detail, and backed up with social work research and expert opinions, what we and other black leaders have been trying to explain — and to get our people and our leaders to do something about — for years now.
According to Harry J. Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University, the 1990s was a bad decade for young black men, even though it had the best labor market in 30 years; by 2004, 50 percent of black men in their 20s who lacked a college education were jobless, as were 72 percent of high school dropouts. This huge pool of poorly educated black men is becoming ever more disconnected from mainstream society.
How does that play out here in Fort Worth?
Let me tell you what I see on the streets of Rosedale, Evans, and East Berry and in the public schools and playgrounds. I see people whose lives have been twisted and scarred by abuse, wrongful treatment, convictions, and hopelessness. I see increasing numbers of our black brothers in the grip of drugs and street life — in some cases because they see themselves as having been shut out of any real chance to get ahead with legitimate work. I see many of our black boys failing in school and using behavioral outbursts as the only way to get attention. I watch as the very talented but often misguided hip-hop culture draws a new generation toward that same end, by glamorizing drugs and crime and leaving out any respect for education or family values or hard work. In black families, prison is not what happens to other people or on cop shows. It is what happens to seemingly every third family they know.
In the 1990s, many people hoped a rising economy would float all boats. A couple of decades earlier, we thought civil rights would fix this, that black citizens would have gained more political power by now. Yet Fort Worth is still the only major city in Texas with over 500,000 population that has never elected a black or Hispanic to the Texas Senate or the U.S. Congress.
So much for the past and present. But what about the future? What can we do in Fort Worth to break the curse of societal rejection for black men? (And by us, you understand, I don’t mean just black leaders in this town — I mean everyone.).
First we must allow parents the right and opportunity to choose a school, public or private, that will meet all the needs of our black students. People who support quality education should support new options for children. Fort Worth needs a school system to improve the academic and behavioral performance of some of our most challenging students, most of whom happen to be black boys. Although the traditional school districts in the area have enthusiastic teachers, principals, and school board members, too many of our black boys still have difficulties attaining success in school. Perhaps they would benefit from smaller schools and classrooms and additional instruction in values, compassion, and empathy — and in incorporating these lessons into their own lives. Many of these children have no options and will eventually drop out of school, thus the need for new educational delivery systems that work. Many leaders are prepared to establish a new system the moment we are able to secure funding support. I support charter schools and vouchers that provide better education for black children. As many have said, we need more education for our money and not more money for education.
We can also do a better job of helping those young black men who are re-entering society from prison find jobs and skills and ways to cope. We must help our children get a better start in life. We shall continue to fight the institutional racism that works all too often in this town to deny blacks equal access to capital, housing, living wages, and small-business development that will change the hillside view of our community.
If Fort Worth doesn’t change its policies and how it deals with its black men, the burden on the city could be severe. Instead of one of the nation’s most attractive communities, it could come to be viewed as one of America’s Most Unlivable Cities — and the twilight zone will continue for black men and the black community.
The Rev. Kyev Tatum, a graduate of Trimble Tech High School and the University of North Texas, is the pastor of the Servant House Baptist Church in Tarrant County and president of Ministers for Education of America, a grassroots education advocacy group.
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