A Subway in Downtown Fort Worth?
Fort Worth is one of the most unique cities in America, with a blend of old western and modern urban cultures. As such, there are tons of interesting places and buildings scattered around the city, each with their own legacy and idiosyncrasies. However, there is perhaps no building with a more diverse history than the Tandy Center, located in downtown Fort Worth.
Now known as City Place, the Tandy Center has served as the corporate headquarters of Radio Shack, hosted a mall and an ice-skating rink, and featured its own subway system. There’s been business on the site since 1923, when the Leonard’s Department Store opened a storefront on Houston Street. Leonard’s grew slowly at first, and then expanded rapidly, becoming one of the most visited and profitable stores in the D/FW area.
In 1963, the owners of Leonard’s started a subway system to transport the massive amount of customers coming from parking lots built off- sites. There were four parking lots, each with their own station, and a central hub under the main store. It was, at the time, the only privately-owned subway system in the nation. Leonard’s had everything, from gardening supplies to groceries to farming materials to sporting goods. It even featured a “Toyland” at Christmastime, which rivaled any other in the country. It was a Fort Worth institution, right up there with the Stockyards.
In 1967, the Tandy Corporation, ran by TCU graduate and World War II veteran Charles Tandy, bought Leonard’s and all the property that went with it. The company kept the original storefront for seven years, before demolishing it to build the Tandy Center that we know today in 1974. (They kept the subway, though!)
As the Tandy Corporation grew, so did the Tandy Center. The company had bought stock in Radio Shack in 1963, and as that brand grew, more and more additions were made to the center. A bustling mall grew between the two 20-story buildings that made up the Tandy Center, and in 1976 one of the first ice skating rinks in Texas opened in the mall. Business boomed for the next few years, but as the 20th century rolled on, the mall in the Tandy Center began to slowly lose popularity. Eventually, Dillard’s, the main tenant in the Tandy Mall, closed its location in the area, and the mall became nearly empty. It enjoyed a brief renaissance in 1996, when it became an outlet mall, but the success was short lived, and the mall and ice rink were turned into office space.
The Tandy Center continued to maintain the subway system, known as the M&O Line, until 2002. On August 30 of that year, all cars were decommissioned and the subway ceased operation. The first car that ran on the line, “Leonard’s Number 1,” had been rescued from the scrapyard by a Tandy employee in 1983 and stored in a barn for over 25 years, and remains the only surviving M&O car. After taking damage from a tornado in 2000, the Tandy Center was sold to another corporation and renamed City Place in 2001. The mall was demolished to make way for a parking garage, and renovations are currently ongoing.
What makes the Tandy Center so unique is the culture surrounding it. A local restaurant, the M&O Station Grill, has kept up a museum dedicated to Leonard’s Department Store, the former tenants of the area. The museum, created by Marty Leonard, the daughter of the founder of Leonard’s Department Store, features memorabilia from the heyday of Leonard’s, and is now the home of “Leonard’s Number 1,” the first subway car. Whether you know it as the Tandy Center or as City Place, the complex has been a integral part of the character of Fort Worth for decades. Time will tell what’s in store for the buildings, but rest assured – as it always has, the Tandy Center will persevere.