By Andra Bennett, APR
Rescued from the ravages of time, the 208-foot-tall Pioneer Tower overlooking the Will Rogers Memorial Center once again glows with the radiant glory she displayed when completed as part of Fort Worth’s elaborate 1936 Frontier Centennial celebrating Texas’ 100th anniversary.
The Tower went dark in the late 1970s as structural damage mounted. Her signature lights were turned off. Shattered glass-block columns were shuttered for decades with metal panels.
More than 40 years later, Pioneer Tower is gleaming again and even more stunning after completion of anextensive $4.7 million City of Fort Worth refurbishment project in 2019 – an achievement that recently earned Historic Fort Worth’s 2022 Preservation Project Award.
“Pioneer Tower is an irreplaceable, historic treasure,” said Mike Crum, director of the City of Fort Worth Public Events Department. “It’s an iconic landmark recognizable by generations of Fort Worthians and millions of visitors. The tower has been an inspiration in many ways, including the design of Dickies Arena. We applaud the vision and initiatives that have saved Pioneer Tower and we will continue to invest $52.8 million in planned capital improvements across the Will Rogers Memorial Center campus in the next few years.”
“Thanks to leadership from the City of Fort Worth that began with a successful National Register of Historic Places nomination in 2016, Pioneer Tower is once again restored and shining brightly,” said Jerre Tracy, Executive Director of Historic Fort Worth, Inc. (HFW). “As the beacon for the Will Rogers complex, Pioneer Tower is a symbol of civic pride, and this project has rekindled that pride for current and future generations.”
Designed during the Great Depression by Fort Worth architects Wyatt C. Hedrick and Herman Koeppe, Pioneer Tower was art-deco sleek, chic, and dazzling at night on all sides with bright columns of light shining through glass-block glazing and huge “lanterns” atop each corner. She became the developing Cultural District’s beacon, but natural forces began to pull her apart.
John Roberts, AIA, past chairman of HFW, nominated Pioneer Tower for the award. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Roberts said the tower was damaged from shear movement and deflection, causing the structure to twist. There were no annual inspections back then as the City of Fort Worth will conduct from now on.
“The main challenge,” he wrote for the HFW award presentation, “was to stabilize the tower inside using a fiberglass reinforcement system at the walls where shear forces were highest by repairing and replacing several turnbuckles.”
Restoration project architects were Fort Worth-based firm Elements of Architecture. General contractor Muckleroy & Falls of Fort Worth carried out the renovations.
The team corrected a wide range of infrastructure issues, sandblasted the exterior brick and limestone and restored the clear glass-block columns that extend from the 13th to the 27th floors on all four sides of the tower. The columns required more than 6,210 pieces of 6x6x4 Argus glass blocks that were custom manufactured in New Zealand to match the original glass blocks.
While great care was taken to assure architectural integrity and accuracy, one new 21st-century internal feature tapped Pioneer Tower’s potential as a showstopper: a programmable LED lighting system that produces colorful light shows to mark holidays and special events.
Andra Bennett, APR is Marketing Communications | Public Events Department for the City of Fort Worth.