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T&P Station returned to former opulence

FORT WORTH — A new century will breathe renewed life into the Texas & Pacific Station at Throckmorton and Lancaster streets when the Trinity Railway Express begins service during the summer of 2001 — a modern version of its original function.

Next week marks a milestone for one of the city's grandest Art Deco structures when the $1.4 million restoration project is unveiled. The 68-year-old train station's main waiting room and adjacent small waiting room — which will be used as a board room — has been restored to its original state from the marble floors to the stenciled ceiling panels and from the nickel-plated doors to the brass grills.

Gideon Toal's Robert Adams is the project's architect, and Austin-based architect Donna Carter was an adviser. The bulk of the T & P Station is owned by Halden Connor's T & P Partners, and the T owns the main lobby and the board room, as well as easements throughout the ground level. New restrooms also were built to accommodate future passengers.

Function and historical design

Fort Worth-based Beckman Con-struction is the general contractor, and this was the firm's first foray into historic restoration, said William Doyle of Beckman and the project's superintendent.

The station is on the national registry of historic places and it received landmark status in 1980. It was built in 1931 and designed by Wyatt C. Hedrick with architect Herman Koeppe. The building's architectural scheme is Art Deco with Zigzag Moderne motifs, said Judith Singer Cohen, author of Cowtown Moderne.

“It's one of many tremendous examples of Art Deco in Fort Worth,” she said.

Cohen wrote in her book, “Both the exterior and the interior of the building are richly encrusted with a mélange of geometric zigzags, chevrons and ziggurats, as well as curvilinear cloud, fountain and plant forms such as ferns, gladiolus and roses. Flower urns, volutes, ellipses, blind trefoil tracery and textured brick patterning also appear in abundance. All of these decorative details are massed in the manner first seen at the Paris Exposition: in octagons, triangles and oblong medallions; in borders, pilasters, corbels, spandrels and window and door surrounds. An admixture of Egyptian, Classical, Gothic, neo-Baroque, American Indian and hard-edged machine motifs are expressed in metal, stone, terra cotta, brick, plaster and wood.”

The building has a three-story base with a 10-story office core capped by a carved frieze. Two “cubistic eagles stand with out-stretched wings at the center of the ornamental friezes above the main entrance and at the roofline,” she wrote.

The station's main waiting room is “the most spectacular surviving Zigzag Moderne interior in Fort Worth,” Cohen wrote in her book. “... the room is a tour de force of Moderne designs derived from the Paris Exposition of 1925. The focal point of the spacious room is its intricate 30-foot gold-leaf and enameled cast-plaster ceiling. Hanging from this decorative maze are 11 frosted glass and metal elongated prismatic chandeliers ...”

Labor of love

Beckman and its team of subcontractors and craftsman put in thousands of man hours on the intricate ceiling.

The team had to clean the ceiling, recast some of the plaster, remove layers of peeling paint and repaint the maze of designs with period colors.

“Henson Plastering, a father to son to son operation, did all the plaster work on the ceiling which took a couple of months,” Doyle said. “Then the painters recreated the ceiling which was a multilayered process.”

Painters painstakingly made a test area of each individual color on the ceiling and had to abate several layers of paint, including lead paint, Adams said.

“The ceiling had been repainted some garish colors during a remodel done 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “It was no easy task. We had huge scaffolds for the painters painting dozens of designs and colors while others were on the ground with laser pointers like a color-by-numbers game.”

Adams observed, “This was the Sistine Chapel ceiling of Fort Worth.”

The 11 glass and metal chandeliers were cleaned and some of the glass was repaired and the windows also were cleaned with some pane replacement.

The fixtures were rewired and two wall sconces were recreated from two original sconces, Adams said.

Recreating the past

One of the biggest challenges facing the contractors and Kirk Lee, the project's chief engineer, was matching some blue glass along the top of a set of windows, Lee said.

“We searched nationwide for that glass,” Lee said. “We went as far as New York and Chicago, but we couldn't find the exact match. We finally found some used glass here in town that was as close as we could get.”

Some decorative grilles were recreated while others were restored.

Fortunately, the contractors had at least one of everything to use as a template except one bronze gate near the ticket counter, Doyle said. However, the metal contractors used architectural drawings as a guide, he added.

Sugar cane tile — used for acoustics — adorned the walls of the large waiting room but some were missing, Adams said. Contractors found some above the ceiling and used them as replacements. However, there wasn't enough to use the tile in the board room.

And in the spirit of attention to detail, the Texas & Pacific emblem was recreated and placed on all the doors. Designers had one original emblem to go by, Adams said.

No matter what task materialized, there was an experienced contractor on the job, Adams said.

“These are more than subcontractors, they're artisans,” he said.

This restoration project was not a typical construction job because of the craftsmen present, Doyle said.

“I've learned a lot from this job,” he said. “I'm very fortunate to be a part of this project — it's a one-of-a-kind experience.”

Another aspect that differed from the typical construction job was the amount of decision makers involved, Doyle said.

“Usually there is the building owner, the architect and the contractors,” he said. “With this job there were others such as the historical society making decisions.”

Adams called the project a “true preservation and restoration” due in part to the input of the Texas Historical Commission. He also praised the T for its vision.

“The T is to be commended, and the community should be indebted to them,” he said.

But not all elements of the two rooms had to be restored or replaced.

“Some things were not touched and left intact like some of the column caps,” Adams said.

Whether elements were left in tact or restored, the project was intensely documented, Adams said.

Contact Rodda at [email protected]

The Ft. Worth Business Press
Kelli Rodda