Politics of Arlington Texas Review
By Allan Saxe
Riffing for Vandergriff
A book whose subject is the politics of Arlington Texas could essentially begin with the words Tom Vandergriff. It could end with the words Tom Vandergriff. And sandwiched between all that could be a page with the words Tom Vandergriff. Nothing else. Well I am exaggerating.
Allan Saxe does a pretty good job at going beyond the Vandergriff legacy and detailing the figures of others. The writer fills out about 180 pages discussing how Arlington grew being just a "wide spot in the road" to a modern mid-sized American city located directly between Dallas and Fort Worth. Saxe stresses often in the book the harmony and stability of the city council political environment. In fact, it is stressed so much, it communicates to the reader "this material is kind of boring."
This is a great shame, because any town the size of Arlington has interesting political stories. In the book, we learn all the standard details about Tom Vandergriff. It also details the election of prominent city council members, their vote totals, and so on. But that is about it. Who were there people? We don't have to necessarily delve like Robert Caro into the subject as he has famously done with Lyndon Johnson, but a little color would be nice.
Arlington's city council members were mostly from the local banking industry, car dealers and other local businessman. Saxe stresses numerous times about the political harmony that existed.
Tom Vangergriff was elected mayor of Arlington in 1951. The popular racetrack Arlington Downs closed in the 1930s, and civic leaders yearned to bring a new industry to the city. Grand Prairie had a naval air station since 1942. Vandergriff, whose family also sold General Motors automobiles, sought to lure a new auto plant to the city. He was successful, and by 1953 the General Motors plant was built. Also, during the Vandergriff years, the city lured the Washington Senators baseball team from Washington, DC to play as the Texas Rangers.
These and other issues dominated the Vandergriff years. Tom Vandergriff developed a method of consensus building throughout his long term, which ended with his resignation on January 11, 1977. Here again, I found that the writer missed many opportunities to write about interesting issues. Other then a Brittanica-style chronicle of this time period, what was happening politically in Arlington? Did the town vote for Nixon in 1972? What about Reagan?
Interview someone who was around during the John F. Kennedy visit to Fort Worth and Dallas in November, 1963.
A lot of the political drama involved providing transportation and schools to a fast-growing area. Show us some maps of how downtown changed over the years. Tell us about how remote parts of the town became developed high-price real estate.
What were the legislators from Arlington like who went to the Texas Legislature? Who was Bob McFarland? Saxe could have discussed how Tom Vandergriff was elected to the US Congress, only to be upset after one term by Dick Armey.
After Vandergriff resigned, the city elected S.J. Stovall and Harold Patterson to fill his place. Local businessman Richard Greene was elected mayor in 1987 and remained very popular for his ten-year tenure as mayor. One of Greene's first issues was persuading General Motors to keep its Arlington plant open. The city also during this time voted overwhelmingly for a special sales tax to fund the building of the state-of-the-art Ballpark At Arlington.
Saxe devotes chapters of the book to "Movers and Shakers" like Ken Groves, Betty Fischer, Dick Malec, Dottie Lynn and Jim Norwood. He devoted another chapter - smaller in length - to "Mavericks, Naysayers and Watchdogs" like Skippy Brown, Harry Robinson and Kathy Howe. The folks are interestingly profiled with a photograph and brief synopsis of their community contribution.
All in all, this is nice material, but I just wish we had more focus on some interesting stories. I don't know this, but it occurred to me that the writer could be teaching a course at the University of Texas at Arlington called "Politics of Arlington" and this is the textbook. I remember reading Mr. Saxe's essays and letters in the local newspaper in the 1980's. I recall them to all be interesting. Somehow a lot of that got sanitized out of this final manuscript.
In early 1957, the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike idea when first proposed was very important. Again, under the leadership of Tom Vandergriff and his political supporters, groundwork was laid for future expansion of the city. To gain Arlington's unqualified support of the new turnpike, the necessary political backing was garnered to construct an East-West roadway connection to Grand Prairie. This would eventually become Highway 303, known in Arlington as Pioneer Parkway.
For backing of the turnpike between Dallas and Fort Worth, support in the 1950s was obtained for the newly proposed Interstate 20 to include much of then rural south Arlington in its route. Conceptualized during the infancy of the interstate highway system, Interstate 20 was completed several decades later. It has been a major traffic artery for the entire region and had brought economic benefits to Arlington.
As Arlington's growth proceeded, a reliable and continual source of water became important. The city was especially mindful of the concerns of larger businesses like General Motors for water. When a proposal to construct a reservoir was made, small controversies ensued. A few residents questioned the money to be spent, while others recognized that this reservoir would like spur more growth. The question of how and whether the new reservoir would obtain and hold water was of concern to some. In 1957, during an extremely heavy and continual rainfall, the new reservoir opened. It was filled in twenty-seven days, and Lake Arlington became another of the legendary tales in the political portfolio of Tom Vandergriff.
In 1958, beginning with a Vandergriff family donation of land, Arlington Memorial Hospital opened. The donated land originally was to be a home place for the family. But its location, then at the periphery of town, was perfect for a new community hospital and so the donation was made.
After the land donation, the entire community, small as it was then, began a drive for money to construct the hospital. Tom Vandergriff's sister, Ginger Vandergriff Deering, helped to lead the hospital fund drive in the community.
Again it was another in the many donations and activities binding the Vandergriff family to the community. This continued the overlapping of the political life of Mayor Tom Vandergriff and the public and charitable works of his family.
In 1960 Six Flags Over Texas was opened. The fledgling tourism industry, which would become part of Arlington's identity, was launched. The business of entertainment would bring tax dollars to Arlington as well as a ripple effect in the local economy with spending by tourists on food, clothing and shelter.
Angus Wynne, a prominent Dallas developer, was instrumental in this project. In late 1999, Highway 360, on the east side of the city, was renamed the Angus Wynne Freeway in his honor. This name designation was done at the urging of Ton Vandergriff, who at this time was a county judge presiding over the Tarrant County Commissioner's Court.
In the late 1950s, the opening of the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike made Six Flags Over Texas a perfect fit between Dallas and Fort Worth. Now, with the Great Southwest Industrial District and Six Flags, Arlington's political leaders could not only boost of its location midway between the two cities, but could cite evidence that its location could attract national businesses.
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