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A touch of glass - Brothers help put Texas & Pacific Terminal back on track years after they saw it in its glory

It was late in 1942. "November, I think," says J. Hulbert Smith. "I remember it was cold."

He and his brother, Gordon, were in the waiting room of the Texas & Pacific Terminal in downtown Fort Worth. They both were in uniform, sailor's blues, and they were leaving their hometown to go to war. There were parents and cousins, a few aunts and uncles, to see the boys off. Hulbert was on his way to Portland, Ore., to board a submarine chaser. Gordon was destined for San Francisco, then to the South Pacific aboard a transport ship.

The Smith family and its two young sailors were an unmoving island of long, intense hugs and tearful looks. As the crowds surged around them, they said what they thought might be their last goodbyes.

As the announcer's voice called the arrival of the Sunshine Special, the Smiths moved outside into the frigid morning. The wind howled as it blew in from the west, the trains screamed into the station and the chaos of people moving in hundreds of directions made it a frantic moment. For then, in 1942, the T&P station was the transportation hub in Fort Worth, like the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is today, with a constant churn of anxious travelers and business people. In 1942, there were also "thousands of military personnel. Fort Worth was a coffee-and-doughnut station for the troops passing through," Hulbert Smith says.

The Smiths boarded the Special. They parted in Sacramento, Calif., and wouldn't see each other again for three years. When they did reunite, they returned to Fort Worth, eventually going into business together.

More than 50 years later, they would once again stand in the center of the T&P Terminal, now a dusty, derelict wreck. They were there to help bring the stately building back from the brink of the wrecking ball.

This week, Fort Worth commuters get to pass through the doors of the restored T&P and see the work of Hulbert and Gordon Smith, now in their early 80s. The Trinity Railway Express extended its service into downtown Fort Worth beginning Monday, and a whole new generation of commuters and travelers will come to town and discover the grandeur of the terminal's interior.

The Smiths knew how beautiful the main waiting room could be. They didn't have to imagine it - they remembered it. So although it was an arduous task, and though glass lay in dusty shards on the floor after decades of decay, the renovation was meaningful for these two brothers.

All but one of the 54 small brass T&P medallions had been pried off of the doors. Metal grates were bent, gates were missing, two of the four giant wall sconces were gone. But there were enough pieces to re-create the room.

And that's what they did, restoring 13 chandeliers, windows, doors, metal grates, marble slabs, and all of the intricate glass work that made the central waiting room a thing of beauty.

The Smiths are in the business of glass, - artful, beautiful glass. At Smith Studios, Gordon, quiet and thoughtful, is the artist. The affable Hulbert does the deals. They have an easy partnership. Together, they have made most of the significant stained glass and slab glass windows in Central Texas. (Slab glass is a form of glass construction where 1-inch-thick pieces of colored glass are embedded in an epoxy ground. The spaces between the glass are greater than with traditional leaded glass, but it has a more contemporary look.)

Their windows stretch across the South and Southwest, and their renovation work on historic buildings is becoming sought after. As soon as the T&P work was finished, Smith Studios was commissioned to work on pieces for the Intermodal Transportation Center at Ninth and Jones streets in Fort Worth, another new stop on the Trinity Express.

For their work on the T&P, the Smiths have received many awards - for their craftsmanship, from the Texas Historical Commission; for the quality of their construction, from the American Institute of Architects; for their restoration efforts, from Historic Fort Worth. What they can do, very few others can. And the others are located nowhere near Fort Worth.

Smith Studios is one of Fort Worth's best-kept secrets.

Robert Adams, vice president of Fort Worth architectural firm Gideon Toal, hired Smith Studios to do the T&P renovation work. Gordon Smith and Adams go way back. "He is a living treasure," Adams says. "When I used to work for Preston Geren, we did a lot of churches, and when it came time to choose the glass artist, it was either Gabriel Loire in France, he did the renovation on Chartres Cathedral, or Gordon Smith."

Adams reckons there are few companies that have the expertise to do the new work and the restoration work demanded of the Smiths. "It's a very unique service they provide," and there is no other company in this area that can do what they do, Adams says.

When the T&P project came along, it ratcheted up the workload at Smith Studios, so Hulbert Smith's daughter, Linda Broiles, came to work for her father and uncle. "At first, I came to help them do errands - they would go out, come back exhausted and go home. I wanted to help so Gordon wouldn't interrupt his design day." The unpaid gofer job was a wage-earning position within six weeks. Broiles is the one who dogs the research, like finding the company that made the pale blue glass for the clerestory, and she scoured the black smith gatherings to find metal artists to make the sconces, gates and marquee.

In the Smith Studios workroom off Berry Street, shelves and bins of colored glass are stacked to the roof. Small glass squares, the color swatches in this trade, fill the windows. This is the rainbow palette from which church windows are made. There are cartons of slab glass and, in vertical bins, the more delicate glass used for traditional stained glass windows, "a process that hasn't changed since the Middle Ages," Gordon Smith says.

In the hall between offices and workrooms, the walls are covered in black illustration board with the painted sketches of more than 300 windows that Gordon Smith has designed.

In the course of his work, he has become a Bible and religion scholar. He knows which denominations are going to want traditional images of Christ, and which are likely to want a more contemporary interpretation. For every Holy Ghost, Trinity, Crucifixion, resurrection and fleece he has had to create, Gordon Smith conceives a new image. "I have never copied myself," he says.

Gordon Smith designed the windows for Ridglea Presbyterian Church in the early '60s and has been brought back to design 15 windows for a new tower. "There was only one artist as far as the donor was concerned," says the church's pastor, Warner M. Bailey.

Doing the research and finding what is appropriate for each religion is Gordon Smith's favorite part of the job. "I love to read and find the symbolism. Well, someone has to do it," he says with a sly wink.

Unfortunately for Fort Worth, the churches of North Texas and many local renovation projects, when Gordon and Hulbert Smith can no longer "do it," there won't be anyone who can.

"You know, I try and think about that sometimes," says Broiles. "Maybe Smith Studios will close up and be gone. It's very hard to predict."

Gaile Robinson, (817) 390-7113 [email protected]


Copyright 2001 Star-Telegram, Inc.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Gaile Robinson