This documentary film will tell the story of an important time in the Fort Worth Stockyards. A time marked by a painstaking transition from once being the Southwest’s most prominent working stockyard and meat packing center to becoming an obsolete, massive and unused area facing plans of being bulldozed, and then, eventually arising again as an multi-faceted business district and major tourist destination.
This time period begins about 1971 with the closing days of the Swift and Company plant and cycles into the 1980’s with renovation of the Coliseum and the boom of the Billy Bob’s Texas honky tonk, which drew worldwide attention. The beat continued with the business, cultural and preservationist advances through the 1990’s well into the 2000’s and continues to the present with the anticipation of the new development by the Majestic Group out of California.
The story will document that people with concern for preserving the Stockyards came together in different ways to contribute to the saving of the historic area. At times, the task was slow and difficult with encounters from opposition. It required financial resources and vision to clean up, renovate, restore and re-purpose its use with an eye to the future.
There have always been “colorful” people associated with the Fort Worth Stockyards from its inception. Through a feature length documentary hosted by noted western author and performing artist Red Steagall, this film endeavors to present another colorful chapter in the Stockyards story where people took steps that have largely preserved the physical character of the district and brought about its modern-day usage on a remarkable scale. It was the efforts of individuals on a collective basis that went to work and brought about a new reality rather than leaving the Stockyards behind as a blighted area and allowing the eventual destruction of a great historic resource and era.
If this film project has a “cause,” it is to celebrate the salvaging of the stockyards district and its re-purposed business use while maintaining its authentic Texas character. The wood, bricks, buildings and standing history are important to all generations of Texans and visitors. Progress and investment are wonderful when balanced with preservation. With the advent of major development plans, it is obvious that the Fort Worth Stockyards must be elevated to a fully protected historic district if its authentic character is to have a guarantee of being perpetuated.
In the early 1970’s, the Fort Worth Stockyards was like an old cow pen that hadn’t been cleaned out in sometime and had fallen into disrepair. It turned a small supply town into the greatest livestock center of the southwest and gave Fort Worth its permanent western identity. Sadly, after its glorious 70-year orbit, it’s day had passed and what was left was an immense and obsolete commodity that was not easily distinguishable as to what could OR should be done with it. The silence that followed decades of boisterous activity was deafening. What loomed over this unique area were varying ideas of blunt force change. It wasn’t just the pens; the Coliseum and other iconic structures also needed repair. Aside from a handful of businesses, an overwhelming portion of Exchange Avenue and its surroundings had degenerated into a skid row inhabited by vagrants, winos and undesirables that made the area rough and unsafe, particularly at night.
The flow of what business that came to existing proprietors was countered by long periods of isolation. It was logical to consider that demolition to some scale was an appropriate option. Sadly, what hung in the balance was a tremendous slice of western heritage and culture, seemingly unnoticed and forgotten.
Today, a wonderful, vibrant and colorful district has emerged which draws international interest from people who come looking for western heritage and the image of the American cowboy. And they find it in the Fort Worth Stockyards. More the 3 million visitors a year and they keep coming. The area is notably marked by authenticity – which many assert is the prime characteristic that brings and maintains its continual interest and relevance.
In the previous documentary film “Wall Street of the West,” the history of the Fort Worth Stockyards was told in a precise and personal way. The film brought a new appreciation for the Stockyards to some, and perhaps many, who were not so well acquainted with it and its meaning to Fort Worth.
Efforts to produce “Preservation and Progress” began some 7 years ago, which drew less than a passionate response from a number of potential supporters who passed it off as a “tour-guide” type film. Just as any worthwhile story is marked by some degree of conflict and things tend to change in the Stockyards over time, the interest of producing the “Preservation and Progress” film has now been re-invigorated with the entrance of the Majestic Group into the Stockyards district with major investment plans.
Some current property and business owners of the Stockyards area see Majestic as a threat and are very concerned as to what might become of the district. After a series of divisive meetings during 2015 regarding the Stockyards development and the lack of disclosure as to what these plans are, the Mayor and City Council began to hear an outcry from concerned citizens that numbered in tens of thousands.
This seemingly prompted a fresh impulse to getting around to setting up the historic overlay district for the Stockyards. The Majestic Group continues to handle their affairs in a very private manner. Citizen responses to Majestic have ranged from indifferent to highly opposed to their development. Political pressure is swirling around the Mayor should Majestic be given a free rein to convert the historic and heritage-rich Stockyards into a “Disneyland” experience.
Preservation and Progress will celebrate and document the history preserved, the progress made and the re-invented use of the Fort Worth Stockyards. Effort will be exercised to hold content in as objective a manner as possible. Red Steagall will be our dominant personality and he will have a narrative to join an overall story with interview guests.