Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The totally true story of Texas "skyscrapers"

My cover story in the June issue of Texas Co-op Power (the largest circulation mag in Texas):

On January 21, 1929, the “human fly” gripped the brick wall and slowly ascended Temple’s sleekly narrow Kyle Hotel. A crowd of observers, decked out in their Sunday best, exchanged knowing glances and looked skyward. Halfway to the 13th and final floor, the man-fly pulled a Coca-Cola bottle from his pocket and took a leisurely sip. The onlookers laughed and cheered. Those lucky enough to purchase tickets to the grand opening party ventured inside to dance to Henry Lange and his orchestra’s hit song, Hot Lips. For $1.50, they could stay the night in one of 125 rooms appointed with steam heat, ceiling fans and running ice water.

In October of that year, the stock market crashed, foretelling the Great Depression. Farmers saw cotton prices plummet. The town’s major employer, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, implemented layoffs and pay cuts. Four of Temple’s five banks closed. Temple’s population remained static at 15,000 throughout the 1930s. Yet the Kyle and other high-rise Texas hotels like it held on for decades as towering symbols of something larger. Soldiers huddled in them during World War II. Community groups met for lunch. High school kids held proms.

The Kyle was the third “skyscraper” in Temple. The 113-room Doering Hotel—later sold and renamed the Hawn Hotel—had celebrated its opening in 1928 with a different human fly ascending its nine levels. The six-story Professional Building came second and housed a grocery, stenography school, barbershop, law office, flower shop and cigar store.

New Yorkers might argue whether any building with fewer than 20 stories, or perhaps even 50, could be billed as a skyscraper, but architect T.J. Gottesdiener, quoted in the Christian Science Monitor decades after the firm he worked for designed Chicago’s iconic Sears Tower, perhaps put it best: “What is a skyscraper? It is anything that makes you stop, stand, crane your neck back and look up.” In the late 1920s, high-rise buildings began to ascend in Texas, and they became a symbol of good times, progress and optimism in tough times ahead.

Read the rest here.