Shells of Our City: Fort Worth Public Market

Classic farmers market sits waiting for redevelopment

Theresa Wilcox,

Late 1929 was the beginning of the Great Depression, the economic crisis that would cripple most of the world’s economy in the decade before the Second World War.

But less than a year later, in February of 1930, the city of Fort Worth issued the year’s largest building permit to John J. Harden to build the Fort Worth Public Market.

The project was largely privately funded and cost the heady sum of $200,000, which would be about $2.7 million today. All this made it building of the market very important to the city commercially during the early stages of dark financial times, according to the Texas Historical Commission.

When the market opened, on June 20, 1930, over 20,000 people were in attendance, there was music from Michael Cooles and his orchestra, and Fort Worth Mayor William Brice addressed the crowd.

For a time the Fort Worth Public Market boomed, by 1931 fourteen business operated out the main building, most of the farmer’s stalls were rented and the market even had its own weekly radio program on WBAP.

However, by 1936, the market feeling the full effect of the Great Depression, with only one business remaining in the main building and only 12 stalls rented. Once a sign of hope in unstable times, the Fort Worth Public Market succumbed to the economic instability of the time and was forced to close in 1941.

Later the building would house an aircraft manufacturer which built planes during World War II as well as other tenants, notably Cadillac Plastics.

The main building has been empty since aviation manufacturer Photo Etch left in 2004. The Pantagleize Theater Group has occupied a separate structure since 2009.

The Public Market was designated a Texas Historical Landmark in 1980 and Historic Fort Worth has placed the building on its list on most endangered places three times. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July 5, 1984.

The city of Fort Worth has placed the building on "Demolition Delay," a protection that would provide a 180 day window between a developer filing a permit for demolition and the actual demolition taking place, in order for anyone opposed to make their case for saving the structure.

In 2010, the building which once housed the farmer’s stalls and wrapped around the building’s south and west sides was destroyed by a fire.

Despite being spared from fire, and reported redevelopment plans the building admired for its Spanish Colonial style architecture -- and once named one of the area’s best building by the Fort Worth chapter of the American Institute of Architects -- has fallen into disrepair.

During a walk around the building we noticed cracks in the concrete with weeds growing out them and graffiti. There were also numerous broken windows, some with what appeared to be bullet holes. The remains hollowed out of the burned former farmer’s stalls sit just yards from the main building. What’s left of the burned building -which runs along the south side of the main building-, bares a no trespassing sign the back wall is gone, with just a gate to keep people out. The part of the stalls which ran along the south side of the main building is gone.

We spoke with Edmund Frost, whose family has owned the building since 1944. He admits there have been some issues with vandalism in recent years. However, despite the fire and the vandalism, he believes the building still has great potential.

“We still believe that after renovations it will be wonderful architecturally and is still wonderful structurally," Frost told NBC 5. "We will hold out for someone who will do a good job and will make it an excellent addition to the city again.”

The site and structures are currently up for sale, waiting for a new developer to help the site that stood through hard times regain its former glory.

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