Tag Archives: Santa Fe Building

Nice surprise in Texas travel magazine

I have subscribed off and on to Texas Highways magazine for about the past, oh, 30 years … give or take.

My latest issue arrived in the mail while my wife and I were traveling west to Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., and Grand Coulee Dam, Wash.

I looked at the cover title, “Small Town Splendor: The Best Little Courthouses in Texas,” opened the magazine and found something that surprised the daylights out of me. One of the mag’s “best little courthouses” happens to be the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

Why is that a surprise? I expected the list to include really small town courthouses. Among the other 11 featured in the magazine, by the way, is the Donley County Courthouse in Clarendon — which is beautiful structure, too. Texas Highways notes: “The Panhandle’s oldest functioning courthouse, it boasts a distinctive asymmetrical design — no two sides of the building are the same.”

Amarillo ain’t a “small town,” with a population right at 200,000 residents.

The Potter County Courthouse and the grounds on which it sits have become part of downtown Amarillo’s revival about which I have written extensively on this blog. The structure, built in 1932, is “what the Texas Historical Commission calls one of Texas’ best examples of art deco design.

The county applied for a state historical preservation grant to help restore the building. The county emptied the building, moved offices to other locations throughout the downtown district — including the Santa Fe Building and into the Courts Building, which former County Judge Arthur Ware refers to unflatteringly as the “grain elevator.”

The three-year project was done in 2012. The county moved the offices back into the building. County Judge Nancy Tanner established a security system for visitors.

The courthouse grounds have become the home field for downtown’s High Noon on the Square every summer, which features local musicians and other artisans entertaining lunchtime crowds.

The structure really is a gorgeous place for Potter County’s public servants to work.

Thus, I was heartened to see Texas Highways offer a tribute to downtown Amarillo’s courthouse.

Are there more deals to be struck?

Almost without fail, when I look at the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, I think of an innovative elected public official whose persistence brought the old structure back to life.

Then I wonder: Are there more deals like that to be had in rehabilitating other old structures in the city?

I moved to Amarillo in 1995 to take a job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, which at the time published two newspapers daily. Almost immediately I became acquainted with Potter County Judge Arthur Ware, who at the time had been in office less than four years. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant had been activated for service in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91 — just after he was elected to for the first time — so he did his duty and came back to resume his day job as an elected public official.

Ware wanted to show me the Santa Fe Building. It was a vacant hulk in early 1995. It had been vacated by the Santa Fe Railroad many years earlier. The building, which was erected in 1930, was dark inside. Here’s the thing, though: It was built like the Bastille, which I told Ware when we walked through the building.

Ware wanted to purchase the structure and relocate several county offices in it.

Here’s the deal Ware struck: He managed to purchase the building and the property where it sits for $400,000. Yep, four hundred grand for a 12-story structure in downtown Amarillo! Then he applied for a historic preservation grant that would finance fully the exterior renovation of the structure. The Texas Historical Commission grant came through and so the county then went to work on the Santa Fe Building.

Over time, the building was finished. Yes, it ran into some hiccups along the way; the building had some cost overruns. The interior was restored, too. Indeed, many of the floors — under terms of the state grant — were restored to their original appearance. Other offices were completed with contemporary designs.

The building is a fabulous testament to Arthur Ware’s persistence and his love of the downtown district where he worked as county judge until 2015. A massive stroke slowed Ware down significantly in his final years as county judge.

If there is a legacy that Ware might want to stand the test of time, it has to be the Santa Fe Building. My hope is that there might be other opportunities on which city or county officials could seize as they look toward guiding the city and the county toward the future.

Looking forward to watching downtown transform itself

The structure in this picture is of the Santa Fe Building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It is one of the two most architecturally interesting buildings in the downtown district; the other is the Courtyard Hotel that is housed in the historic Fisk Building just down the street.

What’s the purpose of this post? Well, my wife and I have moved away from Amarillo, but we haven’t severed our ties with the city. We intend to return regularly. One of our sons lives there and works in the Santa Fe Building.

This blog intends to point out how much I look forward to watching downtown Amarillo evolve. Given that we won’t see it do so daily, we’ll be able to watch the evolution occur over periods of time. I look at it as watching the city change in a sort of time-lapse fashion.

The Santa Fe and Fisk buildings over time might lose their standing as the downtown district’s most prominent structures. Yes, the city also has that 31-story tower that eventually will be called the First Bank Southwest Tower once the bank moves into its ground-floor digs.

With all the activity that’s occurring downtown, my hope is to watch all this unfold in larger chunks. They’re building the ballpark on Buchanan Street. They’ve already opened the Embassy Suites Hotel across the street from the Civic Center.

Other buildings along Polk Street are being rehabbed, rebuilt, re-purposed.

We’ll be on the road to this or that destination, but we will return to Amarillo to pick up and then deliver our recreational vehicle.

Yes, I look forward to watching the city remake itself.

We lived for more than two decades in Amarillo. We enjoyed our life there. However, for most of that time, downtown didn’t appear to take many steps forward. There was a sense of stagnation and at time apathy toward the center of the city.

No longer. The city is moving forward at an accelerating pace.

I will be thrilled to watch the progress taking tangible shape each time we return.

Downtown dining district taking shape

Some interesting news is coming forth about downtown Amarillo’s future … which coincides nicely with the City Council’s decision to hire a new city manager.

The two things aren’t necessarily related directly, but City Hall’s new top hand — Jared Miller — is going to oversee a development that holds tremendous potential for the city he is about to manage.

They’ve broken ground on a new restaurant at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Polk Street. An established eatery, Crush, is moving across the street.

What does this mean? From what I understand, it moves forward the development of what’s been called in recent days a new “dining district” for the city’s downtown area.

We’ve got that brew pub being developed nearby. We’ll see another new structure going in with a couple of other dining establishments also in the immediate area. Napoli’s does business at the corner of Seventh and Taylor.

All the while, work on the Embassy Suites hotel is ongoing next to the parking garage.

What appears to be taking shape, as I see it, is a fundamental remaking of Amarillo’s downtown personality.

My wife and I arrived here in early 1995. To be candid, the downtown district didn’t have any kind of identity that either of us could recognize. Polk Street was in a moribund state. The Santa Fe Building sat empty at the corner of Ninth and Polk; that structure’s fortunes changed dramatically later that year when Potter County purchased it for a song and rehabbed it into a first-class office complex.

Now, though, the city is going through an extreme makeover.

Think of it: Embassy Suites will open soon; Xcel Energy is finishing work on its new office complex; that parking garage will open as well; West Texas A&M University is tearing the daylights out of the old Commerce Building to transform it into a new downtown Amarillo campus; this new dining district is now beginning to take some form.

Oh, and we’ve also cleared out the former Coca-Cola distribution center to make room for a ballpark that many of us want to see built eventually.

It’s not all entirely peachy. Many floors in the 31-story Chase Tower are going dark when Xcel and WT vacate the skyscraper. But I understand that the leasing agents working to re-fill those floors remain highly optimistic that the building will get new life.

The pace of change is a bit mind-boggling. I am prepared to keep watching — and waiting — for it all to bear fruit for the city.

Could a single sign be the catalyst?

downtown ama

A friend of mine made a social media observation this morning I want to share here.

Wes Reeves of Amarillo is a big-time preservationist. He loves to save old buildings and to see old structures brought back to life. He’s a former colleague and we’ve been friends during the 21-plus years I’ve lived in Amarillo.

He notes that 10 years ago, Amarillo’s Center City flipped the switch on a sign in front of the Paramount Building on Polk Street in downtown Amarillo. The sign lit up, the crowd gathered in the street cheered mightily; I was one of them doing the cheering.

Reeves writes: “We hoped it would become a symbol for downtown rebirth, and it has. Since that time, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in downtown. And this sign has been photographed thousands of times by locals and visitors alike.”

He’s a happy young man. I’m happy, too.

He poses an interesting theory as to whether a singular symbolic act could have such a tangible economic impact. It might be pure coincidence that the lighting of the sign — which formerly lit up the entrance to a downtown movie theater — could have played a direct role in the progress that has occurred downtown.

The city did have a Strategic Action Plan in the works when Center City lit the sign. Movement was beginning.

Potter County had renovated the Santa Fe Building one block over and installed government offices into the beautiful structure.

As Reeves noted, too, “tens of millions of dollars” in private investment has been spent downtown since the sign started blazing brightly on Polk Street.

Coincidence? Strategic planning? Divine providence?


The sign was lit. The city has come a long way in the decade since in its effort to revive its downtown district. It still has a ways to go.

I’m believing that all those cheers were worth it that night when they flipped the switch on the Paramount sign.

City takes an astonishing turn


Maybe I’m easily amazed.


My amazement is focused on what I have perceived to be a remarkable about-face at Amarillo City Hall. It involves the city’s focus on its downtown business and entertainment district. It has gone from a hands-off public policy to a definite hands-on approach.

I am utterly convinced the entire city will reap the benefit.

My wife and I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to start a new life — and to continue a life we started when we arrived in Texas 11 years earlier.

We saw a downtown district that was, to put it charitably, in a state of suspended animation. Downtown was in shabby condition. In addition to the Barfield Building and Herring Hotel — two significant structures that have been rotting ever since — the city had the vacant Santa Fe Building with which to contend.

Then the light bulb flickered on at the Potter County Courthouse. County Judge Arthur Ware finagled a deal to purchase the Santa Fe Building for $400,000. He then secured a state historic preservation grant to pay for a renovation of the magnificent 12-story structure. The project was completed — and the county moved some of its offices into the Santa Fe Building.

That might be considered the start of downtown Amarillo’s revival.

City Hall’s outlook, though, remained standoffish. Mayors Kel Seliger and Trent Sisemore seemed uninterested in getting involved directly with downtown revival. They preferred to let private business take the lead. The city might lend support — if it felt a project merited it.

Little happened over nearly a decade.

The pace has accelerated tremendously in the past decade. How did it come about? I believe it has been the result of a more activist City Hall approach.

The city launched a Strategic Action Plan, which produced a vision for the downtown district. It created Downtown Amarillo Inc. Center City became even more of a player. The city created the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The Amarillo Economic Development Corp. invested sale tax funds to help some of these projects along.

Meanwhile, private businesses — apparently sensing the energy coming from City Hall — began a series of tangible improvement projects. New bank branches went up. A convenience store was built. The old Fisk Building was turned into a business hotel.

The momentum was building.

Then came the Embassy Suites hotel project. Plans took root to build a parking garage. And, oh yes, we have that multipurpose event venue/ballpark.

Along the way, some folks started expressing anger. They didn’t like the way the city was proceeding with some of these projects. They alleged “secrecy,” which I believe was a dubious accusation.

Sure, we had some serious misfires. Wallace Bajjali — the master development firm hired to oversee downtown’s resurrection — went kaput overnight. That, too, fueled the anger. Well, WB is long gone.

But the movement is continuing.

The City Council has gone through a serious makeover. There have been some more hiccups, mostly created by tensions among some of the council members.

Is all this amazing? Yes it is.

I do not want the city to turn away from its new course.

The city is going to ask voters to approve more than $300 million in infrastructure improvements, just as it asked voters to approve a referendum to build that MPEV downtown.

There are times when local government can step in — and step up — when it perceives a need.

Amarillo saw the need to boost its downtown district. Believe this: When this project is done — as every U.S. community that has taken this kind of proactive approach has learned — the entire city will reap the reward.

Still no railroad museum in Amarillo … why?

rail depot

My wife and I talk about a lot of things while walking through the neighborhood with our puppy, Toby.

She mentioned that her brother is coming to visit us in a few days. He’s quite the railroad enthusiast. She wondered aloud how nice it would be to take him to a railroad museum while he’s here.

It cannot happen … because we have no railroad museum in Amarillo!

Then this thought occurred to me: Although this community was built by pioneer families who raised cattle on this vast expanse of land, it also became a hub for the Santa Fe Railroad.

We have an abandoned rail depot just east of the Civic Center. The railroad built a 12-story office building downtown to serve as division headquarters for the company. The Santa Fe Building went dark several decades ago, then it came back to life after former Potter County Judge Arthur Ware negotiated a deal to buy the Bastille-like structure for 400 grand.

And we still have no museum in Amarillo that celebrates the legacy left by the railroad that was such a huge part of this community’s development.

I wrote about efforts to convert the depot building into a museum. I interviewed my friend, Amarillo lawyer Walter Wolfram, whose dream is to find a place to display the artifacts he has collected over many years.

Here’s the link to that story:


As the city marches forward toward redeveloping its downtown district, there ought to be some talk — out loud and in public — about how this community can develop a railroad museum that honors the men and women who toiled here as this community was coming of age.

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum recently named a new interim director. That’s a fine venue to honor the entire history of the region. We have a museum along Interstate 40 that honors the quarterhorse and its role in shaping this community. We have a wonderful art museum.

We have Cadillac Ranch, for cryin’ out loud!

Center City is embarking on an initiative to create a cultural district for the city.

It seems to me — as I sit out here in the proverbial peanut gallery — that there ought to be a concerted effort made to clear away the hurdles that have prevented this community from honoring the railroad industry that helped build it.

Standing tall with France

santa fe bldg

It’s only a symbol of solidarity, but given its location and the occasional animosity that flares up around these parts toward the people of a certain country, it’s worth a notation here.

The picture is a bit blurry, but it showed up on social media overnight. The 85-year-old Santa Fe Building — which houses several Potter County offices — arguably is one of the more iconic structures in downtown Amarillo. Its top floors have been lit up in the colors of the French flag.

The statement of solidarity with our French allies in the wake of the Paris terrorist massacre is not unlike what’s been done in communities across the United States. The Islamic State has taken responsibility for the attacks that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more. It was the worst attack of terror in France since World War II.

We feel their pain, as they have felt ours.

President Obama noted in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks that France is America’s “oldest ally.” The French stood with us as we fought to gain liberation from Great Britain during our American Revolution.

And yet …

Some of us here have ridiculed France, particularly since 9/11, when certain political elements in that country opposed our going to war in Afghanistan in response to al-Qaeda’s brutal attack on this country.

Do you remember “freedom fries”? How about the continual references to France needing the Allies’ military muscle to defeat the Nazi occupiers during World War II? The French became the butt of jokes.

Today, though, we stand with France. Even here, in this part of the United States, where those anti-French feeling ran deeply.

I’ll assume for a moment that Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner made the decision to color the top of the Santa Fe Building to honor France’s struggle to recover from the monstrous act of terror.

Thank you, judge, for showing your true colors.

Are we going to be timid about city’s future?

Leaps of faith require a certain degree of risk.

We take them at various stages of our life. When we change careers; when we move from one part of the country to another; there’s even a leap of faith that occurs when you commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life.

The great thing about faith, though, is that if it’s strong enough, it can carry you through. You rely totally on it.

So it might be with Amarillo City Hall’s grand new plan for its downtown district. It might well require us to take a leap of faith that a new direction for the city is worth the effort.

I’m still dumbstruck by the timidity I keep hearing from those who for whatever reason — real or imagined — feel somewhat intimidated by what’s being proposed for the downtown district’s future.

Planners want to build an athletic/entertainment venue. They want to construct a downtown convention hotel. They are planning to build a parking structure. Three building are going to be built downtown. The aim is as plain as it gets: They want to reshape downtown. They want it to become something of an entertainment attraction.

What is it now? Well, it’s really more or less … how do I say it nicely, nothing to brag about. At least not yet.

It’s come some distance from where it was, say, 20 years ago. The Santa Fe Building is bustling with Potter County government activity; Polk Street is slowly coming back to life; that big ol’ Chase Tower is full — for the time being — but it will lose a lot of tenants when Xcel Energy and West Texas A&M University vacate the tower for new digs elsewhere.

Xcel’s and WT’s departure from the Chase Tower, therefore, isn’t a net loss for the downtown district. It’s a net plus.

There’s movement, finally, on the Barfield Building at the corner of Sixth and Polk.

The leap of faith will occur when the multipurpose event venue is built and the city starts to promote it for a wide range of activity. It will rely on hotel-motel tax revenue to keep it going. The convention hotel is tied directly to the MPEV. It, too, will require some serious marketing and promotion.

It’s time to keep the faith, man.

I am acutely aware of the need to improve the Civic Center. That, too, will come eventually, at least that’s my hope. And what about the old Herring Hotel building on the northern edge of the downtown district? Believe it or not, downtown leaders tell me they believe there is a place for the Herring, that it can be renovated and turned into something not yet envisioned or imagined. It, too, requires a leap of faith.

I am willing to take that leap. My faith in the potential for success makes it possible.

Welcome aboard, Judge Tanner

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner has just assumed a monstrously full plate of issues.

She took her oath of office today — an oath that seemed to have no end, to be candid — after telling the crowd crammed into the Santa Fe Building auditorium that she plans to get right to work as head of the county’s commissioners court.

* The Santa Fe Building is one-third empty, Tanner said, and she plans to put more county employees into the 85-year-old structure. Where is she going to get them? From the Courts Building across the street from the old County Courthouse. The Courts Building needs major work to make it less of a hazard and Tanner said she has plans to deal with the lousy structure that former County Judge Arthur Ware has referred to as “The Grain Elevator.”

* Morale is low in several county departments, Tanner said, and she plans to improve it.

* Taxes are “too high,” according to the new county judge, who said the best cure for that is to bring “more business” into Potter County. No specifics came today on how she plans to do that.

Tanner’s swearing-in ceremony was festive and friendly. Tanner is a dedicated Republican officeholder, but I was glad to see a smattering of known Democrats among those who attended the event. They’re all friends of the new judge. Indeed, retired Court at Law Judge Dick Dambold — who administered the lengthy oath to Tanner — held office as a Democrat. So it was good to see Tanner spread the love across partisan lines in Potter County.

The judge took note of how she was able to be elected to the office by defeating four other Republican candidates outright, avoiding a runoff — a result that surprised a lot of political observers, including yours truly.

Still, I am delighted for the county as well as for the new judge. Her former boss, Ware, fired Tanner in 2013 from her job as administrative assistant to the county judge for reasons he’s never explained publicly. Tanner’s dismissal was part of an awkward and embarrassing set of events that included Ware’s endorsement of one of Tanner’s opponents in the upcoming primary.

Happily, though, Ware and Tanner have made peace and they’re back to being friends.

It’s a new day, though, in Potter County. Tanner took note that she becomes the county’s first female county judge.

She took the oath, applause rang forth from the crowd in attendance, the curtain parted on the stage of the top-floor auditorium — and it revealed a sign: “History Begins Today.”

Congratulations, Judge Tanner.

Now, get to work.