Thursday, January 30, 2014

What's Happening in Ft. Worth - Changes in Just Ten Years

Mural at Sundance Square, FT. Worth

Our family has long favored Ft. Worth over Dallas.  Its broad, brick streets, lively downtown, connection to the cattle industry, cowboy culture, and art scene appealed to my West Texas heritage and my husband’s laid back nature.  With a son attending TCU, many trips were made across the Metroplex but it had been ten years since the last visit. Changes were notable while, gratefully,  the charm remained.

The Cultural District, owned primarily by the City of Ft. Worth,  continues to expand its contrasting architectural wonderland.  Previous museums were designed by some of the world’s best known architects - Louis Kahn’s near perfect original Kimbell museum,  Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie’s addition to the Amon Carter Museum, and Tadao Ando’s serene Modern Art Museum.  The  Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s  building, opened in 2009 with south of the border tones by the father and son team of Ricardo and Victor Legorreta of Mexico City,  acknowledges the area’s Hispanic beginnings.  Add in the newest addition to the Kimbell Art Museum’s by Renzo Piano, opened in 2013,  and you have a very eclectic campus, a kind of “World Fair agglomeration” as Dallas Morning News Architecture writer, Mark Lamster, would call it.  He concurs you can get a real overview of modern design in a very short space.  Go for the architecture and stay for the art.

Montgomery Ward Development
One of the most obvious changes in the last ten years lies in the Seventh Street connection between downtown Ft. Worth and the Cultural District.  Once the largest building in Texas, a huge, regional mission style Montgomery Ward store and catalog warehouse had been empty,  surrounded by other vacant buildings and open lots.  Today, the West Seventh Street Urban Village is a happening place.  Condos, restaurants, and retail now fill the Montgomery Ward building, serving as an anchor for the area.  Across 7th Street are more new and old apartments, restaurants, stores and bars.  I expect this area to be a success with a Target store only two blocks away along with a new small Food Truck Park. 

Cafe Modern

After an evening meal at the superb CafĂ© Modern in the Modern Art Museum, we heard live music from that nearby Seventh Street District and walked over to explore.  Incandescent lights strung across streets encouraged the festive mood and the area appeared to be gearing up for a fun Friday night.  We decided to relinquish the sounds to a younger generation as a quiet drink in our downtown hotel bar sounded more relaxing.  In returning, we crossed the brand new 7th Street bridge with its 12 lit stainless steel arches, not realizing it only opened in October,
replacing the aging 100 year old bridge.

New Sundance Square
Sundance Square in downtown Ft. Worth was also just introduced in November, 2013 after two years of renovation.  Actually, renovation is too small a word.  The former square had only been two large parking lots that could be cleared for events or fairs.  It is so changed, I had to take a moment to get oriented. Two new office and retail buildings have been built on the east and west sides of the square providing a density that had been missing according to Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., a nonprofit advocacy group.  Between the two new structures is a more traditional bricked square with the now obligatory ground level 216-jet fountain  that lights up at night and four 32-foot-tall umbrellas to shade lunch time picnickers.  The only familiar item, the trompe l’oeil  Chisholm Trail Mural, continued as a focal point.   I have to admit I was underwhelmed by the finished product.  It wasn’t bad. I just expected more.  

I can’t note the changes in the last 10 years without mentioning a wonderful coffee house in Southside, another emerging urban design district south of downtown.  Avoca Coffee Roasters was named one of the best places for coffee in Dallas by D Magazine.  You read that right.  Dallas coffee shop owners were not happy to have a Ft. Worth coffee house win that distinction.  As you may recall, I’m very particular about my cappuccinos.  Our Avoca’s barista knew what she was doing and I was served a strong cappuccino with perfect proportions - worth the short drive from downtown.

The good news is all the great draws of Ft. Worth are still there - the beautiful Bass Performance Hall, Ft. Worth Zoo (far superior to Dallas’), Japanese Gardens, free downtown Sid Richardson Western Art Museum, Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Food, the Historic Stockyards, Cattlemen’s Steak House, TCU football, etc. With its plans for Urban Villages and Design Districts, Ft. Worth’s forward thinking should keep it worth many more visits, even if they’re spaced a decade apart.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Seattle’s Space Needle - Forty Seven Years Later

Seattle's Space Needle from Below - 
 I spent my 16th birthday on an unseasonably cold evening at the revolving restaurant in Seattle’s Space Needle.  Four years earlier, The World Fair of 1962 had spawned this intergalactic structure based on a napkin doodle made by Eddie Carlson while visiting a restaurant atop a TV tower in Stuttgart, Germany.  The idea of a revolving restaurant came from the project’s architect, John Ridley, making it the second such moving eatery in the world.  Construction began a mere one year before the fair opened - indicative of a different era of contract deadlines.  Despite the last elevator part arriving one day before, the Space Needle opened on time.  

President Kennedy signaled the start of the Fair by tapping a telegraph  key that triggered a radio telescope in Maine, which picked up an impulse from a star 10,000 light years away. This impulse was directed towards the fairgrounds to start the festivities.  The future had arrived - thus the theme of Century 21.  

View of Seattle from Space Needle
Forty seven years later, I again rode the Space Needle’s 10 m.p.h. elevator to the observation deck and joined a very international crowd absorbing the 360 degree view.  Eddie Carlson would have been shocked at the twelve dollars needed to buy a ticket as he couldn’t believe people would willingly pay to ride an elevator in the German tower.  It’s well worth the price just to get oriented in Seattle where the Pacific Ocean meets the Olympic and Cascade mountains with lakes interspersed.  Ferries laden with cars trundled across Puget Sound,  cruise ships lay below awaiting late afternoon departures to Alaska, traffic was surprisingly fluid on Interstate 5 through downtown, and snow covered Mt .Rainier could be made out in the haze.  

Little of the original fair remains.   Seattle was smart to maintain the Needle and the Monorail as they are heavily used by tourists.  Next door is the Pacific Science Center, former United States Science Pavilion, which started the now common trend of a museum established for science purposes.  Dallas’ newly opened Perot Science Museum is a direct descendant.   On a previous visit, we were highly entertained by getting to pose  as a rock band at the nearby Experience Music Project Seattle, founded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.  As I hammered the keyboard, my husband played the guitar and we sang “Wild Thing” before a video camera.   No scouts were impressed.

World Fairs continue today although the name has morphed through World Expositions into World Expos.  They began in Paris, France in 1884, used first to promote industrial inventions and products.  The 1893 Chicago and 1904 St. Louis fairs were of this genre.  Later emphasis was place on cultural exchanges as well as science and Seattle fit in this category.  Today, countries use the expos to showcase their accomplishments and demonstrate the ability to organize such an event as well as  attract visitors.  The next big expositions are set for 2017 in Astana Kazakhstan and Dubai in 2020.  Remnants of world fairs are found all over the world - Paris’ Eiffel Tower, St. Louis Art Museum (originally Palace of Fine Arts), Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Atomium in Brussels, and the Unisphere in Queens, New York.  Many of these icons are dated but still hold their charm.
View of Space Needle through Isamu Moguchi's sculpture

The Space Needle is beloved by Seattle residents and has been protected from encroachment of tall buildings, making it visible for miles around.  It’s a wonderful landmark.  We could easily spot it from the ferry docks  and as we sat on the old Gas Works Park, north of downtown Seattle.  At the Volunteer Park Conservatory,  artist Isamu Noguchi placed the view of the needle in the opening of his Black Sun outdoor sculpture.  The needle definitely deserves more than its  #35 ranking on Travel Advisor’s places to see in Seattle.

Other than being a bit smaller than I remembered, the Space Needle provided  a step back in time.  I discovered I was in good company in 1966 when  11-year-old Bill Gates, now Microsoft chairman and co-founder, won a dinner at the Space Needle restaurant offered by his pastor. Gates had to memorize chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew, better known as the Sermon on the Mount, and he recited it flawlessly.  He probably wasn’t there the night of my birthday but  I got a great meal and a lovely watch.  I later forgot my watch in a bathroom in Bolivia but I have never forgotten the Space Needle birthday experience and it’s still worth the cost of the elevator ride.

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