Fort Worth's Cultural District has a history dating back to earliest days of our city. When the fort was established in 1849, the area was open prairie land often visited by Native Americans because of the nearby Trinity River. The first important settler activity in the area was by K.M. Van Zandt, an early community leader. He had a farm which included all of the land now constituting the Cultural District. The Van Zandt farm cottage still stands at its original location along Crestline Road on the eastern edge of today's Cultural District.
Today's Cultural District includes the land from Camp Bowie boulevard on the north, I-30 on the south, Montgomery Street on the west and University Drive and Trinity Park on the east. However, the Cultural District of today evolved gradually over many years. Major historical events, along with leadership from key Fort Worth citizens, created the Cultural District which we know today.
Park planning and development was the first element of the Cultural District to be established. In 1909, the City hired George E. Kessler, a nationally known landscape architect, to plan city parks wherein he developed the plans for Trinity Park along the river. Over the following years, numerous groups and organizations created additional detailed plans and new park features for the Trinity Park area. These park developments created the southern area of what has become the Cultural District.
In World War I, all of west Fort Worth became Camp Bowie, a large U.S. Army training camp for the Texas-Oklahoma 36th Division. The camp, which operated from 1917-1919, trained a total of 100,000 soldiers on its 2,186 acre site who then fought in the last year of the war. The camp area had a rail line into it that was used for the cavalry remount station and for ammunition supply trains. After the camp closed, the extensive utilities and roads in the area were used for many residential and commercial developments on Fort Worth's west side.
The 1936 Centennial was next major factor moving the city toward a cultural district. Civic and business leader Amon Carter was determined not to be out shined by Dallas, the city selected to be the celebration headquarters for the Texas Centennial. Carter vigorously lobbied for and received Federal funding for the building of the Will Rogers Memorial Center (WRMC). Some of Carter's critics called the WRMC project "Amon's cowsheds."
Carter also led a group of community leaders to sponsor a major celebration in Fort Worth called the Texas Frontier Centennial. It was held on the land immediately east of the WRMC and placed under the direction of Billy Rose, the famous Broadway producer. The large area of the event was filled with frontier-looking buildings which were used for various activities and performances. Numerous well-known performers were featured in Fort Worth's extravaganza, including Sally Rand, Paul Whiteman and many others. The original Casa Manana, a 2,500 seat outdoor theater, was a part the 1936 production, as well as Sally Rand's (Nude) Dude Ranch. The Fort Worth Frontier Centennial was widely promoted in Dallas and across the country as the place to go for "wild and whoo-pee" entertainment!
Following the Centennial, the WRMC with its large coliseum and auditorium quickly became the venue for numerous cultural and civic activities and events. It hosted many major musical performances and became the new home for the Fort Worth Stock Show in 1944. The number of additional performing arts venues in the Cultural District increased over the following years with a new Casa Manana Theater in 1958 and the Scott Theater in 1966.
Significant museum developments in the 1950s began to define the Cultural District as also a major museum center. The Children's Museum and the Fort Worth Art Center both opened in 1954. The developing Fort Worth art collection at the Library moved and became the Fort Worth Art Museum located at the new Art Center. The Fort Worth interest in and dedication to art dates back to 1892 when a group of women obtained a charter from the State of Texas for an Art Gallery at the Library.
The major museum growth in Fort Worth came about because of the strong interest of individual citizen leaders and local foundations in both great art and architecture. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art opened its doors to the public in 1961, continuing the trend of museum developments in the Cultural District. The Amon Carter Museum became a reality because of Mr. Carter's strong interest in western art and in the development of WRMC area. Over the years, the Museum went through several major expansions in size and collection focus under the direction of Mr. Carter's daughter, Ms. Ruth Carter Stevenson and the Carter Foundation.
Kay Kimbell, through the Kimbell Art Foundation, provided the initial art collection and funding for the Kimbell Art Museum, the next museum development. The Museum opened in 1972 and has been highly regarded for both its architecture and its permanent collection. The Kimbell dramatically expanded with the Piano addition in 2013.
The Modern Art Museum moved from the Art Center to its significant new building in 2002. Located to the east of the Kimbell, the Modern's large as well as significant new home provided the Cultural District with a third major museum along the eastern side of Lancaster Avenue. Anne W Marion, the Tandy Foundation, and other individuals and foundations provided the funding for the new home of the Modern.
The Fort Museum of Science and History went through several expansions over the years with the Planetarium and the Omni Theater. Its large, as well as colorful expansion, came in 2010. The new building has provided needed space for its extensive youth education programs. The new building also now includes the relocated Cattle Raisers Museum.
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the most recent museum addition to the Cultural District. In 2002, museum relocated from Hereford, Texas to greatly expanded space at its new building near the Science & History Museum. The Cowgirl Museum is a unique museum which fits well with the great rodeo and equestrian events at WRMC.
Many remarkable architects have designed the Cultural District museums, including Herbert Bayer (Art Center), Phillip Johnson (Amon Carter), Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano (Kimbell), Tadao Ando (Modern), Legorretas (Science & History) and David Schwarz (Cowgirl). In addition to having great architecture, each of the museums has world-renowned permanent collections and regularly host major special exhibitions.
The history and heritage of the Cultural District is a direct reflection of the community's vibrant frontier spirit, great creativity and strong dedication to the arts. Not only have the museums grown and expanded, the WRMC has experienced numerous improvements and developments over the years with a new 14,000-seat arena in the works. The Fort Worth Cultural District is like a gem which becomes brighter and more beautiful with each passing year!