Friday, July 12, 2013

Once Again.. Tarrant County College Shows Its Contempt For The History Of Fort Worth

The sad condition of the historic old 1912 TXU/Tesco/FWPL power plant at the base of the Trinity Bluffs under the Tarrant County Courthouse is the direct result of the utter contempt that Tarrant County College District holds for most aspects of Fort Worth and Tarrant County history.

TCCD is supported by the tax dollars of Tarrant County residents and supposedly operates for their interest and benefit.

TXU Windows At Sunrise.. Courtesy Brian Luenser
The iconic old TXU plant which was originally built by the Fort Worth Light & Power Co., has been universally praised for its classic design since it first went on line in 1913. It quickly became a showplace of Fort Worth.  Thousands of postcards were printed and sent all over the world.  The juxtaposition of the TXU plant and the Paddock Viaduct were impossible for photographers and artists to ignore.

1929 North Main Power Plant <click image to enlarge>
The plant grew and added capacity & smoke stacks to a total of four. The land to the east of the Paddock Viaduct was also part of the property, all of which touched on the Trinity River or its levees. But technology changed and TXU, the final owner, mothballed the plant and then abandoned it around 2000, putting it up for sale.  The buildings ceased to be maintained and all the gear that was movable was sold or scrapped. The smoke stacks, which visually defined this part of the Trinity Bottoms area began disappearing without much notice for what were called "safety" reasons. The plant property, while historic, had serious soil contamination problems that made preservation much more difficult.  As a private corporation, this didn't bother TXU much because there was very little that the public could do about preservation or restoration in the face of private property rights.

In about 2004 the TCCD made the decision to build a downtown campus on Bluff Street east of the Courthouse on property that ran from that street all the way down to the Trinity. The grandiose plans envisioned a bridge from the main site to another set of buildings across the Trinity and to the north of the existing levee. They apparently wanted this over-the-river property enough that they let TXU, by this time in serious financial straits, blackmail them into forcing the College District to take the west side land and buildings as well.

1924 TXU & Paddock Viaduct <click image to enlarge>
While it was not widely known, the original plans for the College buildings on Bluff Street essentially called for ripping out the entire archaeologically significant Trinity Bluff area from the south front of the main building down almost to the river level. Inserted in this deep cut were to be structures that were self-described as "world class architecture".  But which later turned out to be among the most expensive classrooms ever built anywhere, encased in a dull concrete container that some have called "The Alcatraz on the Trinity".

Since all of this construction involved the Trinity River basin  and floodway, both the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE) had to be dealt with.  This involvement added a lot of regulations and guidelines that would not have been a factor in building off of the waterway. This led to extra expense and redesign. And ultimately, because of problems crossing the levee on the north side, destroyed the idea of the little bridge.

It also led to the  designation of the entire Trinity Bluffs, for the 1st time, as historically significant in the view of the federal government. 

<click image to enlarge>
 
Time passed. Along with the remaining smoke stacks many of the outbuildings which were deemed unusable,, unsafe, etc., just disappeared. And the main old generator building just sat, the basement filled with water, the roof leaking, masonry falling and with many of the windows knocked out.

Unlike a private business, TCCD is public institution.  It is accountable to, has a responsibility to Tarrant County and its citizens. And if nothing more than being just the owner of the power plant buildings, it has the responsibility to maintain them so that the district can sell them and so that they do not become a public nuisance. even if they have no interest in history. 

In the period when the Trinity Bluff was being desecrated, public meetings were going on, chaired by the COE & TRWD in the main construction offices which had been located just to the north of what remained of the TXU buildings.  These meetings were comprised of what are termed "stakeholders", and were to receive progress reports and to answer questions about any possible irregularities.  Eventually a number of serious violations were found by the COE and TRWD. The College District was required to "mitigate" these by performing offsetting tasks or functions since most of the violations could not be reversed in place. Negotiations began..

However..

Since 2008 there has been no public mention from the USCOE of what "mitigation" the College District was to perform or if any ever was imposed on the District.  There certainly is no public record of the College District ever performing any mitigation of any kind. 

So again, it looks like the TCCD got away  free.

1927 <click image to enlarge>
During the meetings, the TCCD officials (most of which have since meandered on) were quite pious about their belief in the historicity of the old Power Plant buildings and that they truly wanted to find a buyer that would put them to good purpose. They implied that they knew that the only way that the buildings would ever sell would be if they were in good enough shape to restore.  But it was also clear that the TCCD would not apply for any historic designation because they felt that it would stand in the way of a sale to private ownership.

Over five years has passed....  Its 100th birthday passed unnoticed...

In that time, the TCCD has not done one thing to protect the buildings...

It's very obvious that the TCCD is using a policy of not-so-benign neglect to allow the buildings to crumble and then declare them beyond repair. Which is a common practice in Fort Worth.  This would conveniently allow the eventual demolition of this historic place and make way for an easier sale of the raw land during the TRV expansion to come.

This shows a great deal of condescension toward and contempt for Fort Worth, Tarrant County and its historical places..

What's the next piece of our history that will get in the way of the TCCD and be tossed aside without a thought?

-Thanks to Brian Luenser for his great picture of the windows in the power plant.  All other images from my personal collection.. 

7 comments:

  1. Typical "Trinity River Vision" desecration :-(

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  2. A great article about a beautiful landmark! - Lacey Z.

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  3. Well presented Pete. Have you ever considered a place on the city council?

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  4. I have a panoramic photo of the 1922 flood hanging on a wall in my house. It was taken from the Paddock Viaduct April 25, 1922.

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  5. Sad, sad, sad. What can we do?

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  6. Typical of TTCD to allow deterioration of basically a "work of architectural delight". The possibilities for the building and property are endless. It would fit in with plans by TRV for that area of the river. The way TCCD spends our tax money is questionable at best. Restoration of the electric plants structure and it's conversion into a useful retail store or museum of some kind would be terrific. Let's not waste it.

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  7. Thomas WiederholdJuly 17, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    The building is large enough to house a Texas size market place, museum for Tarrant County and stores. There is no reason for the building to sit neglected.

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