Chisholm Trail Mural, Sundance Square Plaza
Painted in 1985 by Richard Haas, this large mural depicts the famous Chisholm trail and serves a centerpiece of the Sundance Square public space in downtown Fort Worth. The Mural serves as a reminder of Fort Worth's heritage which as the economy of the city was at one point heavily reliant upon the cattle industry. Fort Worth was one of the final stops for cattle drivers on the Texas portion of the Chisholm Trail and the beauty of the mural allows the trail to once again provide something valuable to the city as it revitalized this area of its downtown.
Backstory and Context
In the 1970s, Artist Richard Haas had begun to make a name for himself as a talented painter with his large murals popping up on building facades in New York City. He would receive a call from Sid Bass, founder of the Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas, to paint a mural on an old wall that overlooked the square.1 After some discussion between Haas and Sundance officials the decision was made to depict the historic Chisholm trail on the Great Wall of the old building as "Nothing says Fort Worth like a three-story cattle herd".2 Since the mural's completion, both sides have been quite satisfied with the work with Sundance executive Johnny Campbell calling it a "centerpiece" for the downtown square and Richard Haas claiming it to be "one of the best located and the most appreciated" murals he had ever done.
To understand the significance of this mural it is important to understand the relevance of the subject matter being depicted. The Chisholm Trail was a cattle route that ran through much of Texas all the way to Kansas and along this trail sat the settlement of Fort Worth. From 1866-1890 over four-million heads of cattle were driven through the city, often stopping there for rest and supplies. The city of Fort Worth served as one of the final stops in Texas for cattle drivers and this proved to be a major catalyst for economic growth in the city. Its geographic position made it a perfect area for for cattle to be transported to other parts of the country that did not sit along the Chisholm Trail which meant that a lot of railroad development was necessary. The constant flow of cattle drivers also allowed Fort Worth to become a center of entertainment in the region which allowed for the establishment of many saloons and other businesses that the men traveling along the trail would frequent before moving up into Oklahoma. This reputation as a city that provided an opportunity for rest and relaxation on the trail did bring with it some negatives as the cattle drivers were able to indulge in some of their vices but overall the cattle industry made it possible for Fort Worth to emerge as a prominent city in Texas.7
Considering the Chisholm Trail was a major reason for the growth and development of the city of Fort Worth, it is only fitting that it would be used again in 1985 to revitalize the city's downtown. The building itself had long been a part of the city, serving as the home for the Northern Texas Traction Company which ran the interurban railway. After the Northern Texas Traction Co. moved to a new location the building took on several other tenants such as a candy factory as well as a sandwich shop before being abandoned for many years until the late 70s.3 Its limited use for many years lead some to think about tearing it down but because of the buildings well designed neoclassical elements, there was a strong desire to find some use for it. The mural painted on its wall indeed saved the building just as the beauty of the building itself allowed the Mural to come into existence. Fort Worth benefits from both as this structure and the mural depicted on its walls are celebrated by many citizens of Fort Worth.
Appreciation for the Mural would increase in 2013 when a one-acre outdoor plaza was opened under the Mural.4 After an 18 month construction that renovated two parking lots and a street and made way for the addition of two new buildings a large open area complete with a fountain and a sitting area shaded by large umbrellas. There four large umbrellas measuring 40 feet by 40 feet that allow the plaza to be enjoyed year round regardless of the weather.5 The general atmosphere created by all the improvements to the surrounding area of the mural has made possible the hosting of exciting events such as ESPN College Game Day and the coverage of the NCAA tournament, as the senior coordinating producer of College Game Day called the square a "can't miss spot".6 These improvements to the area surrounding the mural help to bring in more people to appreciate its beauty and work well with the mural to bring a little more beauty to the downtown area of Fort Worth.
The Mural and the square it looks over have only recently come together but have been part of a plan to bring something special to the city of Fort Worth for nearly 30 years. the development has been a major success for the city of Fort Worth with the square and mural working together to provide a bright future for the city while still celebrating its charming past. The popularity of the plaza will only increase the exposure of the beautiful mural and will always remind visitors of the cities humble cattle town roots.
1 Kennedy, Bud. “How a Mural became a symbol of Fort Worth” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 29, 2011.
2 Russel, Ben. “Celebrating 150 year anniversary of the Chisolm Trail” NBCDFW, April 2017.
3 Loco Theme. “Chisholm Trail Mural Building.” Architecture in Fort Worth, www.fortwortharchitecture.com/jett.htm.
4 Horne, Chris Van. Sundance Square Plaza Opens in Fort Worth. Nbcdfw.com. November 1, 2013. April 5, 2019. https://www.nbcdfw.com/entertainment/the-scene/Sundance-Square-Plaza-Opens-in-Fort-Worth-230232381.html.
5 Bentley, Alex. Giant umbrellas steal the show at new Sundance Square Plaza in Fort Worth. Dallas.Culturemap.com. October 1, 2013. April 6, 2019. http://dallas.culturemap.com/news/entertainment/10-01-13-downtown-fort-worth-sundance-square-plaza-umbrellas/#slide=0.
6 Baker, Sandra. ESPN bringing College GameDay to Sundance for season kickoff. Star-telegram.com. July 29, 2014. April 6, 2019. https://www.star-telegram.com/news/business/article3867212.html.
7 Gard, Wayne. The Chisholm Trail. Norman, Oklahoma. University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.