Pictured above is Montgomery Ward’s Fort Worth, Texas “Mail Order Catalog House”, opened in 1928, as it appeared in an early 1930’s photo. This was the company’s fourth major mail order plant, preceded by their Chicago, Oakland and Baltimore units. Wards, who claimed a customer base of “500,000 Texas families, or more than half the customers in the state”, according to a December 1927 Wall Street Journal article (which also references Wards’ special edition of their catalog for the Texas market – I’m picturing “Lone Star” curtains, among other things), could now service them out of one facility. Prior to this building’s opening, Wards operated out of four different locations in the Fort Worth area – two warehouses, a three-story former Chevrolet plant and some rented office space in a downtown building.
Half a million square feet and eight stories high, lined with store display windows on the first floor and an entranceway that emphasized its Spanish-style architecture, the building made for an impressive sight. The photo also shows the botanical version of the company’s original “MW” logo, which was in use until Wards’ image overhaul in the late 1950’s when it was replaced with a more contemporary rendering.
Having finally ramped up their store construction program in the late 1950’s, Wards decided to construct a store distribution center adjacent to the mail order plant in 1961. Two years later, the retail portion of the main building was expanded (a large two-story portion was added) and completely reconfigured to match the company’s new look, including blue-glazed brick and modern signage. The resulting look was a bit odd – a Mid-Century Modern ground floor with seven stories of Spanish design “sprouting up” from it. Something for everybody!
The Fort Worth facility continued on as a Wards retail location even after the demise of the legendary Montgomery Ward catalog in 1985. In 2001 it closed, along with the rest of the chain.
After sitting vacant for a couple of years, the building began to attract the interest of developers, who saw the historic old building as an ideal candidate for renovation and conversion into a combination of condominiums and specialty retail, as had been done with Wards massive Chicago catalog facility some years earlier. The project ran into controversy when preservationists objected to plans to remove sections of the front and rear of the building, essentially creating a road through it, a move that was considered necessary by retailers and potential condo buyers who wanted additional window exposure. When the project lost some preservation grants due to the proposed modification, the city of Fort Worth stepped in and saved the day, guaranteeing loans on the construction costs.
Additional plans included the teardown of the 1961 warehouse and construction of a SuperTarget in its place, which opened in 2005. The main building, now called “Montgomery Plaza”, was completed this past fall. I saw it recently, and feel they did a very tasteful job. Amazingly, the general contractor that built the original 1928 building, Fort Worth-based Thos S. Byrne, fulfilled the same role in the renovation project.
Here are a couple of very interesting links – a series of posts on the “Fort Worth Forum” site showing great views of the 2004-5 demolition work on the project (you'll have to click down into the thread to see the many pics, but it's well worth it!), and the main Montgomery Plaza website. Click on the “History” tab for a great progression of 1928 construction photographs and other details.
The photo above appears here courtesy of the Tarrant County College Northeast Heritage Room Collection.