Dark since 1982, this Fort Worth landmark may come back to life as a farmers’ market

Dark for nearly 40 years, another old Fort Worth landmark is making a comeback.

Pending the city’s OK, a farmers’ market will open in the old Fort Worth Recreation Building, a handsome Near Southside landmark at 215 W. Vickery Blvd. on the edge of downtown.

Jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker played in what was then called “Southside Rec.” Mahalia Jackson sang there.

The Texas Wesleyan Rams men’s basketball team played there, except when it rained. At least four times, Wesleyan games were called off because of rain on a leaky roof, and other nights the Rams played around drip buckets.

Mansfield farmers Caleb and Kayla Back, from a family farm that dates to the 1850s, want to move their weekly Downtown Market event to the Recreation Building and parking lot. They plan to open a second location of their Mansfield grocery, The Local Farmer, next door, Caleb Back said.

The Backs have a fencing company but started selling produce from their farm last year during the pandemic. That led to the opening of The Local Farmer, 206 N. Main St. in Mansfield, and soon to a busy weekly market.

“Farmers’ markets are the lifeblood of the farming industry — they put the money back in the hands of the little man, not the big corporations,” Caleb Back said.

He’d been thinking about expanding from Mansfield. Kayla told him he should take a look at South Main Village.

At first, he told her, “Oh, no — you don’t want to go there!”

“But I hadn’t been there in seven years,” Caleb Back said.

That’s seven years and a 180-degree turnaround since the days when South Main Street was a day-labor pickup site with bars on most windows.

Now, it’s a robust urban development with trendy restaurants, more apartments every day and an enviable location on a commuter rail line only blocks from downtown.

The Recreation Building, a 1927 gym once used for everything from dance classes to dog shows, is “the most treasured landmark in the Near Southside that has not been fully restored,” said Mike Brennan of Near Southside Inc.

The Local Farmer would use the building only as a shelter for the indoor-outdoor farmers’ market, based on Caleb Back’s description.

But that’s better than not using it at all.

“We’re excited about any short-term use that will get people into the building and let people see the possibilities,” Brennan said.

Landowner Tom Reynolds, owner of the reborn Record Town music store and other nearby shops, could not be reached Friday.

Back said he was looking at property nearby and learned about the Recreation Building, which Reynolds has lovingly repaired and restored over the last decade as a landmark of Fort Worth music.

The building opened in June 1927 as a “playground and community center” for the south side, city recreation director R.D. Evans said then. It closed in 1982.

“This brings a food purveyor to the district and paves the way for a grocery store,” Brennan said. (South Main Village has a couple of other small grocery-delis.)

Past indoor farmers’ markets have struggled downtown, but that was before the business district had more than 30,000 residents, And none had the legacy of the Recreation Building.

It would be the second building in months to make a dramatic comeback. The New Isis movie theater in the Stockyards reopened after 30 years.

The market will be “the new thing for downtown Fort Worth,” Back said.

It’s where old things can become the new thing.

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