Fort Worth's Historic Farrington Field
This article is an opinion piece of its author Thomas Maxwell Smith. Mr. Smith is a Fort Worth attorney. He attended Arlington Heights High School, graduating in 2010, and returned to the city after law school to open his practice. When he is not at the office, you can find Max helping out with his family’s small business or rooting on the Arlington Heights Yellow Jackets or the Texas Christian University Horned Frog baseball, basketball, and football teams.
Fort Worth's Historic Farrington Field has been a Fort Worth Independent School District icon since it’s construction in 1939. Thousands of Fort Worth natives have come to the stadium to play football, soccer, run track at the stadium. It has been more than just a sports arena and has put many others in the spotlight. From athletes to homecoming courts and cheerleaders to marching bands, it has been a place where people from all segments of our community, and all walks of life, have come together to show pride in their schools, families, and friends. The stadium’s cold bleachers and warm lights have witnessed hundreds of sporting contests at their purest form, at the amateur level, played by our city’s sons and daughters. For the last 80 years, and from generation to generation, bitter rivalries have been renewed each fall on Friday nights at Farrington Field. The article below outlines my thoughts on our stadium.
Let the People Vote on Farrington Field
By Thomas “Max” Smith, J.D., M.B.A.
The Fort Worth ISD, to its credit, has been working hard to revitalize aging infrastructure and find new sources of funding for its ambitious agenda. A centerpiece of a proposed plan to solve these issues has been to sell a number of properties, including historic Farrington Field, and put the proceeds towards the construction of smaller, modern stadiums on the outskirts of town and other projects.
This is one potential course of action, but so many questions about the sale remain unanswered, and enough Fort Worth history lives in the stadium, that the decision to sell should not be made behind closed doors. While the sale’s financial logic may appear solid at first glance, this should be a community decision, and it is complex.
The bottom line is that the people of Fort Worth, the people who attended Fort Worth ISD, and the people whose children currently attend our schools should have a say in what happens to their stadium.
It is true that Farrington Field sits on tremendously valuable land, perched halfway between beautiful Trinity Park and the bustling retail, entertainment, and cultural district near West Seventh Street. Certainly the property is a developer’s dream––in fact, I am sure more than a few developers have already made tentative plans for what they might do with the land if the stadium were to be torn down.
But Farrington Field looms large in other people’s dreams too.
Like countless other Fort Worth residents since 1939, I’ll never forget running out under those lights. As an alumni of Fort Worth ISD’s Arlington Heights High School, I spent many memorable moments of my young life watching games and lining up to play out on that field. I particularly remember one game in 2009 against the Celina Bobcats. During that game our head coach, Steve Hale, called for the unorthodox swinging gate formation on a two-point conversion. It was the first time we’d ever tried it before and the result was sure to be interesting.
As the holder, it was my duty to get everyone lined up correctly. I took my position beside our kicker, Bailey Shelton, staring down three Celina linebackers with no Offensive Line whatsoever to protect us. I called for the snap and immediately hightailed it, rolling out to the left, with the linebackers in hot pursuit. I could see my target, Fullback Theodrick Davis, about to spin clear of his defender and I prayed that I would be able to get the pass off in time. As the first linebacker closed in, it was clear to me that I would not––until Bailey came flying in out of nowhere at the final moment to throw a textbook cutblock on the Bobcat defender, the first and only of his career, allowing me to get the pass off to Theo for the score.
When I drive by Farrington Field, that is usually the memory that comes to mind. It also brings to mind the town of Celina, Texas and their football stadium. I think the town of Celina offers an instructive community success story that is relevant to our current discussion. In 2008, we played Celina on the road. As our bus drove down their tiny main street, almost every store we saw was shuttered for the game. It felt just like one of those Texas high school football movies. When we got to the stadium, it seemed as though every single family in town, and every child grades K through 12 was there. The community rallied around their young athletes to the point where the games had become a civic celebration of their collective goal which they had all worked towards. The football stadium in Celina was a place that brought everyone together and instilled a sense of local pride. Literally and figuratively, Celina’s stadium was at the center of the community, and I believe the town was better for it because it provided a place of common ground for the community to meet.
You may call me naive, but that’s the opportunity that we stand to lose if we sacrifice Farrington Field and relegate our stadiums to the outskirts of town. With youth athletics out of sight and out of mind, we may lose a powerful force for unity and for good. We might have one less thing that members of our community from all backgrounds can wholeheartedly rally around.
Sentimentality aside, Farrington Field is also an important cultural and artistic landmark. One of the largest and oldest high school stadiums in the state of Texas, it is a striking example of early-century art deco architecture. The celebrated bas reliefs on its imposing facade were sculpted by local artist Evaline Sellors, whose style was so influential in her time that her work has been widely-imitated and is still beautiful today.
Unlike other Fort Worth educational facilities, which were separate until well into the civil rights movement, Farrington Field was home to the football teams from all of Fort Worth’s schools. These schools included the Prairie View Interscholastic League powerhouses like Fort Worth’s IM Terrell, Dunbar, and Kirkpatrick. At the time, Farrington Field was a state of the art facility used by all of Fort Worth’s student athletes. In 1940, the stadium was the host of the first Prairie View Interscholastic League State Championship and since its construction it has been a place that holds memories in the hearts and minds of each and every segment of our community.
The structure itself is a monument to a time when Fort Worth residents, in the depths of the Great Depression, refused to be held down by economic hardship and chose instead to rally together to build their community up. It is a valuable reminder of what we can accomplish when we work and plan for our future together, even in the toughest periods of our history.
When Dallas ISD chose, under similar circumstances, to demolish historic P.C. Cobb stadium in 1981, they acted swiftly and with little transparency, feeling the pinch of a perceived financial need. Today the site of that stately Works Progress Administration era stadium is occupied by something called the Infomart, a garish office block housing data servers. Plans to develop the site further never fully materialized.
Without careful long-term planning and public input, Farrington Field is likely to suffer a similar fate. There may very well be a scenario in which a sale of the stadium would be beneficial to the students of Fort Worth ISD and to the community at large, but the community must be apprised of the entire plan and should have a voice in the matter.
If the sale of the stadium is not put to a public vote, our community will suffer from the lack of dialogue. Without debate, important questions may go unanswered.
It has been stated that the facility is aging, and will be prohibitively expensive to refurbish. This may be true or it may not be. I am unconvinced, though, that all available options have been explored to acquire financing for the necessary renovations. The stadium is a historic structure and it has also been stated that, as a result, there might be considerable funds available at the state and federal level to subsidize a renovation. A transparent analysis and public discussion of renovation options is necessary to lay the groundwork for a good decision.
One argument for the stadium’s sale is that it is underutilized, but this is not for want of potential. Squarely in the center of Fort Worth’s cultural district, it gives the students who visit an opportunity to become familiar with the beautiful museums, theaters, parks, gardens, and event centers surrounding it. The stadium’s location provides an excellent opportunity for educational partnerships between the school district and the cultural district––opportunities likely lost forever if the stadium is sold.
The stadium’s location near the city center is not, as some have argued, a negative feature. It may be true that Fort Worth ISD students increasingly live in the suburbs, but geographically, it’s difficult to find a more convenient location from which to service a widespread circular metropolitan area than from the center of the circle.
Rather than selling out, the district could consider a long-term investment in the location. The site would be a prime location for an extended Fort Worth ISD campus that could specialize in magnet and trade school programs. It is centrally located between the UNT Health Sciences Center, TCC’s downtown campus, and the TCU campus. It would be an excellent location for partnerships with these collegiate institutions as well as the numerous other institutions in the immediate area.
If fully appreciated, Farrington Field and the surrounding location could provide an incredible opportunity to establish a world class trade school campus. An athletic stadium hosting football games, soccer games, track meets and more would be a perfect location to expose students to kinesiology, physical therapy, nursing, and other pre-medical related fields. Another potential partnership could be found with the museums and theatres of the cultural district, providing a campus for specialty programs in science, natural history, theater, and the arts. A partnership with the Botanic Garden in the fields of gardening, botany, and landscape architecture would be an investment that would endeavour to keep our city beautiful for generations to come. And finally, what about the crown jewel of the cultural district of Fort Worth, a city that is colloquially referred to as Cowtown: The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, with whom a partnership could provide a unique opportunity to bring Future Farmers of America programs to the students of Fort Worth ISD’s more urban schools.
These are just a few ideas that I have heard from Fort Worth’s residents. The possibilities for the Fort Worth ISD in the cultural district are vast and the potential for symbiotic relationships between the museums and institutions near Farrington Field is considerable. There are roughly 85,000 students attending Fort Worth ISD schools and a serious presence in Fort Worth’s cultural district would be an excellent opportunity to expose every single one of them to all of the benefits that it has to offer. And, to be blunt, the institutions in the area would be fools to miss the opportunity to directly “market” to such a large segment of our city’s population.
Just like in Celina, we have an opportunity to create an institution that could be the heart and soul of our community and give it a goal to collectively work towards. Our stadium is no different from theirs. It’s just bigger. Our town is not so different either. It is just bigger, and its larger size gives us the opportunity to make it about more than just football. The educational needs of the populace are continuing to evolve and expand and our way of thinking needs to expand with it. It would be a shame to sell the stadium without considering any of these other opportunities.
Admittedly, none of these investments would be easy. I am certain, though, that the leaders and officials of our community, the leaders of our institutions, and our populace in general possess the necessary capabilities to complete the task and that the benefits of Fort Worth ISD’s continued presence in the cultural district would benefit our community immensely.
Ultimately, I am writing this article because I feel compelled to. To quote Amon Carter in Dave LIeberman’s new play Amon: The Ultimate Texan, “A man cannot live off his community. He must live with it.” I believe this to be true and I believe that Farrington Field’s presence in Fort Worth’s cultural district has always had and will continue to have a positive effect on our community.
The beautiful thing about our American system of government is that the decision of whether to sell the stadium or not is honestly not a difficult one. There is a simple process by which consequential decisions that affect the entire community can be made. The process involves seeking expert opinions, weighing costs against benefits, considering the potential negative externalities of each course of action, and ultimately holding a vote on the issue. I would urge the school district to put the decision of whether or not to sell Farrington Field to a vote.
In the United States we elect (and hire) leaders to execute decisions. We grant our leaders a wide degree of latitude to accomplish their task, but ultimately the path that our community’s leaders take us down should reflect the wishes of the people. A vote, in this instance, easily ensures that.
Again, I urge the school district to put the issue to a public vote. The children of our community are its future and every one of us have some responsibility to the next generation. Our community should honor those from our past who saw the value of investing in their future, investing in us, and we should pass that forward. Please don’t sell this important part of our community heritage without public input, behind closed doors. Unless we carefully consider the consequences of trading away this piece of architectural and cultural history, we may wake up down the road and realize that all we’ve received in return are just more problems for another day.