Christmas Skyline: A Mid-Century Time Capsule

Artist Lucille Kennedy/Scott Grant Barker Collection

Artist Lucille Kennedy sent her friends custom-made Christmas cards with original sketches and hand-painted highlights.  In the early 1960s, her personal season’s greeting celebrated the Fort Worth skyline, which was climbing dramatically upward.  

The talk of the town was the soaring Continental National Bank—30 stories tall and crowned with a digital clock that elevated its height to 420 feet.  Completed in 1957, the CNB tower, with its rooftop timepiece flashing green neon numbers, was more than 100-feet higher than the city’s second-tallest high rise — the Continental Life Insurance Building.  That edifice had 24 floors, stretched 307 feet from sidewalk to roof, and when it opened in 1921 was the tallest building in Texas.  

In Lucille Kennedy’s whimsical holiday illustration, nothing soars as high as St. Nick’s sleigh and reindeer. They prance in an arc above downtown rooftops, towers, and the smokestacks jutting up from the Texas Power and Light Co. Also poking into the skyline is the Tarrant County Courthouse, rising to 194 feet. The digital clock shows it’s midnight.

Many of the buildings Kennedy sketched have changed names and owners multiple times. At least two have been demolished. Dozens of glass-and-steel  high rises now dwarf these landmarks, yet today’s contemporary buildings do not overshadow nor obscure them.  When the artist sketched this holiday card, no downtown buildings had historic markers. Today dozens do. They fill the city with pride and joy and preservation status.  

Lucille Kennedy sketched the skyline from a northwest vantage point, possibly from hilly   Oakmont Cemetery across the Trinity River.  She took some artistic license, compressing distances, particularly on the eastern horizon.    

Architect John Roberts, former chairman of Historic Fort Worth Inc. and creator of the website “Architecture in Fort Worth”  (www.fortwortharchitecture.com), expertly identified the buildings in the holiday card.   

On the illustration’s left flank, next to the smokestacks and the Tarrant County Courthouse, which dates to 1895, is the flat-roofed Civil Courts Building. Completed in 1958, it was demolished in 2013  Next in line, also with a flat roof, is the Criminal Justice Building constructed in 1918 at 200 Belknap.  

Behind it, to the left and right are stylized versions of the Blackstone Hotel and the Sinclair Building, both Art Deco treasures (now operating as Marriott hotels). Those landmarks, and the taller, perpendicular Continental Life Building to their right, are on S. Main St.  The latter, at 714 Main, reopened last spring as the Klimpton Harper Hotel, with an upscale lobby and bar on the 24th floor equipped with a telescope that provides close-up views of landmarks below.  In the building’s shadow is the 16-story Fort Worth National Bank, which dates to 1952 and is today the Oncor Building.  

In Kennedy’s vintage holiday card, the towering CNB Building  looks like it stood  a short distance from Continental Life. In fact, it was two blocks west at 200 W. 7th  at the corner of  Houston St. (The landmark was imploded in 2016 — the second largest building ever demolished in that manner—and replaced with a parking garage.)    

 Clustered to the right of the CNB Building in the Christmas card are the Petroleum Building, constructed in 1927, and the W.T. Waggoner Building to the rear.  The 20-story Waggoner Building, named for a larger-than-life rancher and oilman, opened its doors in 1920. (Its current owner is a Canadian hotel chain.) Fading into the western horizon is the old Fair department store, renamed the Commerce Building in 1964 and today home to the Star-Telegram.  

Lucille Kennedy’s handmade Christmas card depicting Santa Claus over Fort Worth is in the collection of cultural historian Scott Grant Barker, who has compiled files on more than 100 early-to-mid-twentieth-century Fort Worth artists. For this custom card, Lucille Kennedy initially sketched the downtown skyline in pen and ink. She signed but did not date her drawing, then replicated it on card stock over a blue background. To each greeting card, she added hand-painted  highlights, with a touch of red for Santa’s coat and Rudolph’s nose.  

The artist, a Shreveport native born in 1912, moved to Fort Worth in 1922 and resided on W. Sixth St. with her mother, Lavinia, and stepfather, Clarence Charles Carr, who worked for Gulf Oil Corp. She graduated from Central High in 1930 and worked more than  40 years as an illustrator with the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1970, the Fort Worth Federal Business Association named her “Career Girl of the Year.” She died in 2002.  This holiday card is a veritable time capsule of the city where she made her home.      

(Hollace Ava Weiner, an author, historian, and archivist, is director of the Fort Worth Jewish Archives.)