Will Rogers Coliseum, Auditorium and Pioneer Tower – Lancaster

Dominating the low skyline of the West Side, the Will Rogers Auditorium, Coliseum and Pioneer Tower symbolize Fort Worth’s civic pride in the midst of the Depression. Hurriedly promoted by Amon Carter, Sr. in 1935 for the upcoming 1936 Texas Centennial celebration, the structures and grounds were built with federal city relief funds at a projected cost of $975,000. Following Will Rogers’ death in 1935, the structures were designated as a memorial to the beloved figure. The memorial structures have served as the home of the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show since 1944.

The architectural firm of Wyatt C. Hedrick was responsible for the design of the three structures in a mixture of Classical Revival and Moderne styles. Engineer Herbert M. Hinckley staked his reputation on his structural plans for the Coliseum; designed without visually obstructing interior supports, the massive dome is supported by arched trusses joining at a monitor ridge. The buff-yellow brick-veneer Coliseum and Auditorium exhibit almost identical facades. Both structures feature a curving portico of six massive fluted limestone piers, surmounted by an entablature frieze depicting the history and products of Texas. The frieze of polychrome tile was designed by Kenneth Gale and executed by the Zanesville Tile Co. of Ohio. Recessed between the monumental piers of the Coliseum and Auditorium facades are aluminum-framed double doors with surrounds of grey granite; these are surmounted by tall windows of glass brick. The Auditorium lobby is sheathed in simulated shellstone, while the Coliseum lobby is highlighted by Art Deco stenciling on the ceiling and bronze plaques illustrating cowboy themes. Between the Coliseum and Auditorium rises the 208 foot tower from a high limestone base to a brick, stepped silhouette with articulated corner piers. A shiny aluminum and glass lantern caps the tower, and glass lanterns perch atop each of the corner piers. Vertical glass brick panels projecting upward on each side of the tower now are covered in corrugated metal siding. Early photographs of the site at night show that the corner lanterns and brick panels were illuminated from within and the upper portion of the tower outlined in lights, making the tower a beacon visible for miles around. On the grounds, decorative fencing and two ticket offices harmonize with the style of the primary structures (“Will Rogers Riding Into the Sunset”). Changes to the structure include a covered walkway leading to the tower, which harmonizes with the style of the buildings but obstructs the view of the tower, a lowering of the ceiling inside the Auditorium, and most regrettably, the sheathing of the glass brick panels of the tower.

Constructed for the 1936 Texas Centennial Celebration and to house the southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show, the livestock exhibit halls replaced the outdoor facilities of 1902-10 on the North Side. Built between 1935-55, Works Progress Administration funding covered the costs in the first years and employed local workers as part of the relief effort. Wyatt C. Hedrick, architect, and Thomas S. Byrne Construction Co. were responsible for the structures; Hedrick designed the livestock exhibit buildings in a style harmonious with the Will Rogers complex. The north elevations of the eight joined structures are of buff-yellow brick veneer with cast-stone trim, steel frame windows, and central projecting porticos balanced by projecting end bays. Each blocky portico features a polychrome tile frieze panel illustrating the livestock exhibited within; metal letters applied above the portico indicate this as well. Above the portico, a parapet hides the monitor roof behind. Barrel-shaped corrugated metal roofs are supported by bow-string trusses. The exhibit buildings were constructed of cast concrete and steel to reduce the risk of fife and for hygienic purposes. Complemented by the 1984 Amon Carter Exhibit Hall and the 1987- 88 Equestrian Center nearby, the massive complex remains a vital part of Fort Worth’s heritage, and appears eligible for listing on the National Register.

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