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Fort Worth Water Gardens

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1974, Philip Johnson and John Burgee. 1502 Commerce St.

One of Fort Worth’s major philanthropies, the Amon G. Carter Foundation, provided the seed money in the 1970s for an urban park as part of the effort to bring the historic “Hell’s Half-Acre” portion of S. Main Street back to life. The construction of the Fort Worth Convention Center (originally the Tarrant County Convention Center) isolated the blocks to its south from the more active northern half of downtown. Carter Foundation president Ruth Carter Johnson, daughter of Amon Carter, had worked with architect Philip Johnson in the design of the Amon Carter Museum (FW32). She asked Johnson to design this park, which is similar to contemporary works by Lawrence Halprin, especially the Lovejoy Fountain Park in Portland, Oregon.

Johnson divided the site into three water features surrounding a central terraced plaza. A “quiet” or “meditation” pool surrounded by cypress trees is sunken, with water falling down the surrounding sloping concrete walls. An “aerated” pool creates a horizontal plane of mist that floats beneath a canopy of live oak trees. At the “active” pool, sheets of water cascade thirty-eight feet down steeply sloped terraces into a dark central drain. The sound of the water falling into the pool beneath people balanced precariously on descending steps is disorienting, as is the sense of no fixed plane of reference, creating what Johnson called “pseudo-danger.”

After years of neglect by the City of Fort Worth, this danger became real when four visitors from Chicago drowned in the deep pool on June 16, 2004. The gardens were closed until 2007 after repairs were made to the equipment, and a memorial placed to mark the event.

The increasingly competitive market for convention business led to construction of the 33-story Omni Hotel and Condominiums (2010, HOK, with Gideon Toal) to the west of the Water Gardens at 1301 Throckmorton Street, which provides 608 hotel rooms and 89 condominium apartments in a complex of low masonry blocks and a green reflective glass tower bristling with cantilevered corner balconies.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "Fort Worth Water Gardens", [Fort Worth, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019, 206-206.

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