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Like the mythical phoenix, which would be consumed by fire, and then rise from the ashes to live again and again, Texas & Pacific Railroad depots have been an enduring part of the Fort Worth landscape for more than a century.

There have been four Fort Worth T&P buildings, starting in 1876 when the railroad first came to the city.

The depot was moved to more elaborate accommodations, rebuilt after a fire, resurrected after being torn down and, most recently, restored to its former grandeur.

The first depot was a small frame building just west of Front Street (now Lancaster Avenue) and South Main Street. It was dedicated Sept. 2, 1876.

B.B. Paddock, editor of the Fort Worth Democrat and tireless city promoter, spoke briefly after the parades and music heralding the first train to huff into town. He then bought the first passenger ticket, which took him to Dallas and back.

In the early 1870s, businessmen K.M. Van Zandt, E.M. Daggett and Thomas J. Jennings donated to the city 320 acres, a parcel big enough to accommodate a large depot, roundhouse, car sheds and other railroad structures.

In 1899, a magnificent and imposing stone, 2-story, block-long Gothic-style T&P Union Station rose on the corner of Main and Front streets, and the original depot became storage space for equipment and tools.

Built for $150,000, the main building extended 160 feet along Main and 120 feet along Front. Adjoining the edifice was a 1-story, 400-foot-long L-shaped section, or ell, for handling mail and express parcels. A train shed covered eight parallel tracks. At the northwest end of the terminal facing Front stood a 7-story clock and observation tower that became one of the city's tallest landmarks of the day.

The terminal design included elaborate arched facades on either side. All principal entrances were surmounted by a uniform series of either towers or gables. The facades on Main and Front were identical except that there were more entrances on Main.

The terminal had a mosaic floor, marble wainscoting, frescoed walls and decorated ceilings.

Within five years, the terminal was destroyed by a fire that burned unabated for half a day, even though residents pitched in to help douse the flames.

The terminal was rebuilt in 1905, exactly as it had been, and it stood until 1937 when it was torn down to make room for new development.

The latest T&P Terminal, constructed in 1931 at East Lancaster and Main, is an almost block-long, 14-story building.

Soon after World War II began, the Army Air Forces 8th Training Command occupied several floors in the office tower. Lt. Gen. Barton K. Yount supervised flight training for all Army air bases in Texas and several adjoining states. Among Yount's second lieutenants were movie star William Holden and baseball great Hank Greenberg.

The T&P restaurant, near the front of the building, had dozens of tables and an almost 50-foot-long counter. T&P contracted with private managers to run the restaurant. Frank Carvey Sr. took over management in 1946.

"It was still a busy train station in 1946," south Fort Worth resident Frank Carvey Jr. said. "I joined him in the business after being discharged from the Navy. We operated the restaurant for 20 years. During our first eight or nine years, we did incredible business.

"In those days, we became known for our 85-cent lunch, which included a meat or fish entree, two vegetables, salad, tea or coffee and a dessert, usually homemade pie. And the entree changed daily so as not to get boring," Carvey said.

"But when passenger trains stopped running, our business really slacked up," Carvey said. "Also, most of the offices above us were empty after the air corps left. We had to end our operation of the T&P Restaurant in the mid-'60s."

An impressive $1.4 million renovation of the T&P Terminal was previewed before 800 guests in November.

"This isn't a replica, this isn't a phony," John Bartosiewicz, general manager of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, told the crowd. "This is what it looked like in 1931. And we're going to keep it that way for the posterity of this community."

T&P officials say they might rent the depot lobby for special occasions.

Once again, there is the possibility of a bustling terminal with riders traveling between Fort Worth and Dallas beginning in May 2001.

A lot of old-timers like the revival.

And many of us would also like to sit in the T&P's bustling restaurant again - even if the lunches cost more than 85 cents.

Sources: Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Morning Register; In Old Fort Worth by Mack and Madeline Williams; Texas and Pacific Quarterly, March 1899, and Fort Worth: Outpost on the Trinity by Oliver Knight.

Bill Fairley is a longtime Fort Worth resident interested in Texas history. (817) 390-7966 [email protected]

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Bill Fairley