6 – 9 April 2011
Texans often say, nice to have you here: what took you so long?! Well, finally after 32 years the Alliance set down in the Lone Star State – hosted by Rachel Leibowitz and her merry band of ‘mere mortals’ – and things may never be the same!
Fort Worth is a cultural and commercial crossroads, a unique blend of historic and contemporary traditions, cowboys and country clubs, and urban and rural landscapes. We were conveniently located at the Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa, adjacent to the Fort Worth Water Gardens and only blocks from the heart of the central business district and more importantly, the Flying Saucer.
Following a good board meeting and a successful ’round table’ on Wednesday evening, the conference kicked off Thursday with a presentation on the founding and development of Fort Worth presented by Dr. Robert Fairbanks, Professor and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Texas at Arlington. This fascinating overview was suitably complemented by local architect Mark Gunderson’s perspective on Modernism in Fort Worth. Historian Susan Kline – one of the co-organizers of the conference – then conveyed the story of the development of the City’s parks and gardens.
And, as is the tradition for Alliance gatherings, we were soon whisked out of the hotel and en route to our first outing: the Stockyards Historic District, situated north of the downtown core. Settled into a local restaurant, we were fed well and ready for the adventures that lay ahead.
Following a quick wander up and down Exchange Avenue, we then proceeded to Forest Park (near the zoo) for some insight to preservation issues associated with the swimming pool and the stairs (not to mention the loss of a significant view due to unfettered vegetation growth). Councilman Joel Burns and Susan Kline were key in describing the challenges. [The Alliance would also like to acknowledge City parks employee Martin Bass for his assistance in making this happen.]
From Forest Park, we proceeded to Heritage Park, nestled between the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Trinity River bluffs at the north end of the downtown core. Considered a ‘master work’ by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the site was dedicated on July 4, 1976, to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial, and opened to the public in 1980. While it has been closed to the public since September 2007, Heritage Park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in May 2010 at the national level of significance, the first of Halprin’s works to be individually listed.
Again, Councilman Burns, Mark Gunderson and local historic preservation advocate, Lisa Lowry, provided us further insight to its series of interconnected rooms through which water once flowed in a series of channels, pools, and water walls: an elevated walkway over the bluffs allows visitors to enjoy magnificent views of the Trinity River’s confluence of the West and Clear forks.
Thursday afternoon ended with the indefatigable Mark Gunderson leading us through the magical Water Gardens, designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee in 1973, with landscape architect Robert Zion. Set within a part of the city long known http://www.icoiimplants.org/online/ as “Hell’s Half Acre” – bulldozed during the 1960s in the name of urban renewal – it boasts active and quiet spaces and a variety of water features some of which were undergoing repair. AHLP members were particularly taken by the cypress trees in the “Quiet Pool.”
Following a robust morning of papers, including an update of the La Bajada story (AHLP 2010) by Carrie Gregory, we ventured to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, where we were welcomed over lunch by Henry Painter, Director of the gardens, and his ‘boss,’ Sandra Youngblood, Assistant Director of the City Parks and Community Services Department. Developed between 1929 and 1935, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden is the oldest of its type in Texas. The Municipal Rose Garden, designed by the firm of Hare and Hare in the 1930s, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, at the national level of significance, in 2009 (thank you Susan Kline!)
Following a wander through the rose garden, we ended up at a massive pecan tree, where it was felt that the six students should be suitably photographed!
Rachel and Susan allowed us enough time to experience the Japanese stroll garden, established in 1970 in collaboration with Fort Worth’s sister city, Nagaoka, Japan. Designed in the Edo period tradition (1600-1868), this wonder sported a stroll garden, a tea garden as well as a ‘hill-and-pond’ and a meditation garden; numerous ponds filled with hundreds of koi completed the experience. It was a highlight of the afternoon.
We capped off the tour with a special visit to the home of Ruth Carter Stevenson, a legend in these parts. Her residence was designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris in 1955, but more importantly for this group, the property was designed by Thomas Church, with characteristic detailing. While we were not able to meet Mrs. Stevenson personally, we were honoured by the opportunity to stroll freely through this magnificent ‘period piece’ with Mark Gunderson.
The third and final day of the Alliance’s dalliance with Texas once again commenced with a broad range of papers. The morning culminated with a vigorous discussion about historic landscape preservation education – the students front, center and engaged – led by Dan Nadenicek of the University of Georgia.
This day would continue by bus with an exploration of historic sites along the Paluxy River in both Hood and Somervell counties southwest of Fort Worth, including the stark contrasts exemplified by the towns of Granbury and Glen Rose. Historic preservation consultant Mary Saltarelli – a graduate of one of the conference sponsors, Goucher College – provided running commentary during the bus tour and led the walking tour of the Hood County Courthouse Square in downtown Granbury.
Joining our bus tour in Glen Rose, two local preservation advocates – Karen Richardson, a local landscape designer and a member of the city’s preservation board, and Betty Ward Gosdin, Director of the Somervell County Heritage Center and Archives – narrated the Lanham Mill area en route to the Madole ranch property.
En route we made a stop at Sycamore Grove, the location of a former filling station constructed primarily of petrified wood. Susan and Luke Madole, in their generosity, allowed us to spend some time at their family’s ranch. Of particular interest there was a 1933 petrified wood house and outbuildings.
On return to town, we visited Oakdale Park and the Oakdale Plunge, a place well known for welcoming visitors over the decades. A quick visit across the road to Big Rocks Park on this particularly warmish day allowed us to witness locals (and some Alliance members) refreshing themselves in the Paluxy River.
The town of Glen Rose, the seat of Somervell County, was widely known for its therapeutic mineral waters, and during Prohibition was widely known as the "whiskey woods capital of Texas." Again, Ms. Saltarelli conducted a tour of the courthouse square, with dinosaur prints on display in the town square bandstand. Many of our members took a quick tour of the quaint Somervell County Museum, kept open late by Mary Lee Lilly.
A pre-dinner reception was then held at Barnard's Mill. Pat Barrow, President of the Somervell History Foundation – the non-profit organization responsible for the restoration of the 1860 grist mill – explained that it was the first structure ever built in Glen Rose. The generous reception was sponsored by the Glen Rose Preservation Board, the Somervell County Historical Commission, and the Somervell History Foundation.
The closing banquet featured an homage to Lyle Lovett and toasts to the Riverhouse Grill (and the Olejnik family). Words of thanks were then generously dished out to Rachel Leibowitz and Susan Kline without whose efforts this wonderful Alliance gathering would never have happened.
For further details of this conference, see pre-conference information.