Surprising Fort Worth: Culture in Cowtown
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Fort Worth... The FW in DFW airport. Often overlooked by the glitz and glassy skyline of its neighbor to the east. Most often associated with cowboys and livestock, Fort Worth does indeed offer a glimpse into Texas’ rich western history.
Anyone with a couple of days, or even a couple of hours, to spend in the city can easily be won over by the charming mixture of cowboys and culture. Fort Worth’s main tourist areas are its cultural district, home to most of the museums, its downtown, and Stockyards National Historic District.
Intermingled with the cowboy boots and old-time saloons is a cultural oasis that boasts more than a dozen museums, including the recently opened Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Designed by celebrated Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the space is stately, serene and meditative. All sleek glass and steel, and surrounded by an acre-and-a-half pond, the museum houses a selective, chronological survey of modern art, including works by Jackson Pollack, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Francis Bacon and Sean Scully.
As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas. Perhaps not surprising, then, that raising the $65 M for the new building and the several hundred million dollars required to install the permanent collection was relatively easy, according to museum officials. Philanthropy is as big as the oil business in this part of the world, resulting in an impressive array of cultural bonanzas for visitors.
The Louis Kahn-designed Kimbell Art Museum — recognized as “America’s best small museum” — and the Amon Carter Museum, renowned for its collection of Western and American masterpieces, have garnered worldwide attention for their collections and exhibits.
The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History offers hands-on exhibits that delight children and adults alike, ranging from paleontology to computer science. The popular Omni Theater and a planetarium are also located in the Cultural District.
The newly opened National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honors women who embody the spirit of the American West, such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe, author Laura Ingalls Wilder, singer Pasty Cline, and cowgirl Annie Oakley. Interactive exhibits — great for kids and adults alike — include being filmed riding a mechanical bronc. With rodeo footage playing in the background, your bronc ride is posted on the Internet by the museum.
Within walking distance of the museums is the Will Rogers Memorial Center, with 200 days per year of equestrian and cattle events. The Center hosts the oldest stock show and rodeo in the country — the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, held annually in January and February.
The Fort Worth Zoo, consistently ranked as one of America’s best zoos, is world-renowned for its collection and for the natural habitat exhibits that replicate animals’ homes in the wild.
Downtown Fort Worth is a pure revitalization success story. Glittering skyscrapers form a ring around Sundance Square, Fort Worth’s heralded shopping and entertainment district that is now restored to its original redbrick Victorian beauty, filled with restaurants, live theaters, shops, museums and galleries. This 20-block area is also the site of the $67 M. Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, the permanent home for the city’s symphony, opera, ballet and Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In 1999 it was selected as one of the world’s top opera houses by Travel + Leisure magazine, one of only three chosen in the US.
Also located in Sundance Square is the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, a small museum that showcases paintings and bronzes by Western greats Remington and Russell.
The Fort Worth Water Gardens and the Fort Worth Convention Center, which recently received a $74 M expansion, occupy what was once Hell’s Half Acre, a brothel- and saloon-packed district where cowhands had their last bit of fun before heading out on the Chisholm Trail. It was also the first stop on the way home, and the first chance to spend wages burning holes in cowboys’ pockets. Many notorious outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, lay low in Hell’s Half Acre while the law was looking for them.
Stockyards National Historic District
Looking much the same today as it did 100 years ago, the Stockyards is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Catch the Fort Worth Herd, the world’s only daily cattle drive, on its twice-daily drive down Exchange Avenue. The authentically restored Tarantula Train carries visitors daily into Stockyards Station, the former hog and sheep pens turned festival marketplace. Rodeo action and wild west shows take place year-round in the Cowtown Coliseum, home of the world’s original indoor rodeo held in 1918. The new Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the Stockyards’ original mule barns, features the Sterquell Wagon Collection of authentic lifestyle wagons, and honors the top cowboys and cowgirls in Texas.
The Stockyards District is the place to shop for Western souvenirs, from trinkets to $1000 ostrich hide boots. Among the many shopping options is historic M.L. Leddy’s Boot and Saddlery, which has been outfitting cowboys (and cowgirls) in Texas style since 1922. Shoppers can choose from an incredible selection of ready-made hats, boots and belts; big spenders can be fitted for custom selections.
“Texas-sized” takes on a whole new meaning at Billy Bob’s Texas, the “World’s Largest Honky-Tonk.” This hotspot, named country music’s “Club of the Year” eight times, holds up to 6000 people and plays host to country music’s hottest names. Two-step on the dance floor under Billy Bob’s version of a disco ball — a slow-turning mirrored saddle from the movie “Rhinestone.” Live bull riding at Billy Bob’s indoor arena thrills visitors each weekend with an up-close perspective on the wildest rodeo event. Nearby, the White Elephant Saloon is an authentic Old West watering hole, offering live music every night.
More inside skinny on Fort Worth…
Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo
Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame
White Elephant Saloon
Kimbell Art Museum
National Cowboys of Color
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
PARKS AND GARDENS
Fort Worth Zoo
Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Botanical Research Institute of Texas
Ambrosia Restaurant (Inside Care A Lot Inn)
Bailey’s Bar B Que
Bennigan’s Sundance Square
Billy Miner’s Saloon
Branding Iron Grill
The Chisholm Club
Daddy Jack’s Lobster and Chowder House
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House
Forth Worth Chop House
Fox and Hound English Pub & Grille
Fresh Choice Express
The Grape Escape Wine Bar