Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Speaking of Change

My family and I arrived arrived in Fort Worth in 1982. 25 years ago. The oil business and the banking business were at a lowpoint. A struggling downtown was occupied by normal daytime business activity, a few leftover department stores from the 50's, like Monnigs, the Worthington, and a couple other hotels, a skating rink in the Tandy center, the Tandy shuttle, a few restaurants, shoe stores and the like, and not a soul to be seen at sundown. The once thriving downtown was suffering. Most American cities of respectable size were the same.

Enter into Fort Worth Sundance Square in the mid 1980's, and then a movie theater a year or two after that, and the downtown revival begins. Add an unexpected real estate boom cycle, a significant population migration to the south, and today, the natural gas deposits and Fort Worth is booming again. Sundance-type activity is moving south towards the post office and north with Uptown.

Long-term residents of Fort Worth speak of the stores and places they remember, most of which were struggling to survive when I arrived, here are a few of those 80's place I miss:

Mott's on Lancaster was an old 5&10 that wasn't alerted to the existence of Walmart. It had hardwood floors and a one window post office in the back. Its aisles contained items consistent with life's necessities: colored threads, sewing needles, socks, sneakers, a shirt or two, moth balls, soaps, assorted cutlery, bubble gum, candy bars, lingerie, Dickey jeans in a few sizes and one could walk those aisles without completing a marathon, with the pleasant sound of squeeking hardwood under foot. Of course, there were no electronics, but you could find a few board games like Monopoly or Life, and a deck of cellophane wrapped playing cards as well.

Taylor's Bookstore: the original, local, big bookstore. No coffee shop, nowhere to sit, but the books were good.

The original La Madelaine was a fine bakery and coffee shop. A great cafe with a limited menu, but fresh breads and pastries, flour bags stacked in once-open spaces, baking ovens, and a baker man, eyebrows, arms and baker's bib dusted with white flour -- and lots of happy customers.

The downtown Larry's shoes. Pushy, but knowledgable sales people who always said, "they look great, how do they feel ?" I still have a pair and wear them.

The old Texas Ranger baseball park. The aluminum cheap seat stands were fun to tap your foot on with the rest of the crowd. It was small venue and the baseball wasn't that great but the summer nights were perfectly hot for watching the games, and the beer was always ice cold. And occassionally you could catch Charlie Hough having a smoke in the dugout between innings.

Those few stores, notwithstanding, Fort Worth is a better place to live than it was in 1980. The parks are better, the restaurants are better, just about everything has improved but the traffic. The next 10 years will see expansion and growth similar to the last 20. Fort Worth is a great city to watch grow. As I have mentioned before, growth and improvement are not to be taken for granted. Just look at Detroit or Cleveland. They have lost half their population in 10 years with property values dropping as they go.

If you are an long standing resident of the area, here's a website with a lot of photos.

If you have a favorite 70's or 80's business or restaurant let me know.


Andrew said...

I miss that old Rangers' Ballpark. I know it is probably just nostalgia but I miss that ball park.

Francis Shivone said...

I do, too. Hey were's the post still in edit.

cwheat said...

This sounds really bad, but the one place I remember and miss is the old Colonial Restaurant on Berry St. My grandparents use to take me there to eat with them and all the other old folks. I was really young at the time,so the memories are shady and vague - but again, it is all about nostalgia.

Francis Shivone said...

CW -- I remember it well, by the time I frequented the Colonial it was on its last breath. The family that owned it were hard working local folks who built a good business. Actually, most of the cafeterias are gone, except Luby's, and they were bought out by Pappas Restaurants (Pappasitos).

hadji said...

I miss Merry Go Round Hamburgers, I know it's been at least 30 years but I can still remember that distinctive peppery taste.

rambler said...

When you got off the subway in the Leonard's Brother's basement, the bathrooms (first job on arrival) were to the left, and you had to pass the pastry counter, with their $.25 Napoleons. So then you went down to the old library to study and work on papers. On the way back, it was to Stripling's Brothers restaurant for a frozen malt, of which a Wendy's Frosty is a shadow. Monnig's had a tea room, and I have one of the coat racks from it, but I don't remember eating there.

I think it's the old library I miss most. It was on the point of land just above St. Patrick's. The old downtown theaters were wonderful, too, but the library was a special place.

Yes, Fort Worth today is a better place (hey, the traffic is better than Dallas!), but I do miss that library.

Francis Shivone said...

Great comments -- I agree not everything is better.

Steve said...

You talk about Mott's. When I was a kid there was no other place than Mott's. In my very young years my Mom would give my brother and I our 50 cent allowance and we would proceed to buy bow and arrows and such. Later on, Mott's became more and more important to my brother and I. We would go there every day for football cards, jolly ranchers, and the accoutrements of our WWII model plane hobby. We got to the point where the manager knew us so well, that he would let us run the front of the store, when he was in the back.
I had my time at Mott's, but they started closing all the stores. The one by my house at Hulen and Granbury held on for about a year before it met its untimely end.

So be it. There's a Goodwill dropoff there now.

Francis Shivone said...

Steve -- You and I are probably close in age. I understand your Motts story. Every city had its 5&10, usually owned and operated by a local family. The items sold were similar with local variations in candy and cakes. When I moved to FW the Motts had seen better days but it lasted until the late 80's, as I recall.

Great story, thanks.

I had completely forgotten about WWII model airplanes and ships.

One last thing: the 5&10 where I grew up had a model train section that did very well. They still are business, in the same shopping center, smaller store, but just selling model trains.

Anonymous said...

According to google, there's a Motts out in Lake Worth. And eat at Ginger Brown's while you are there.

Will said...

As a kid there was no greater treat than a trip to "Toy Chest" - a small toy store that is currently the Amish furniture store on Camp Bowie.

Also gone: The cage inside the old Montgomery Wards on 7th that housed little monkeys that you buy - hence the nickname Monkey Wards. That was in the 60s. You could also buy turtles.

Also gone from 7th Street: Carnations deli and ice cream.

And over on University...some great landmarks now gone: The Opera House Theatre and Jimmy Dips restaurant.

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks. The monkey story I had never heard. Imagine going to Sears today to buy monkeys.