An auditorium built by one of the most infamous hate organizations in America is one step closer to being reincarnated as a center for art and healing.
Ku Klux Klan Klavern No. 101’s Auditorium was built in the 1920s, burned down and was rebuilt shortly after. Throughout its history, the building also hosted boxing matches, concerts and businesses, but has sat vacant for several years.
It is now owned by a coalition of art and nonprofit organizations called Transform 1012 N. Main Street.
Daniel Banks and Adam McKinney dreamt up the idea a few years ago and made their hopes public in 2019, when the previous owners applied for a permit to demolish the building.
The pair are co-founders of another nonprofit called DNAWORKS that aims to use art as a vehicle for conversation and healing. One of their most well-known projects honors the memory of Fred Rouse.
Rouse, a Black man, was lynched in 1921 by a white mob who removed him from his hospital bed where he was recovering from another mob attack at a meatpacking plant. Researching that project is how they discovered the building’s origin story.
As the country reconsiders who should be memorialized in public monuments, the moment is ripe to examine history and reclaim spaces that were once visible markers of hatred, Banks said.
Civil rights icon Opal Lee, who was instrumental in Juneteenth’s recent designation as a federal holiday and who still works with families at the food bank she once chaired, said she was “jubilant” when she was first approached about the project.
Though she’s 95 now, the past remains fresh in Lee’s mind. In 1939, a white mob forced her family from their new home and burned their furniture. Lee isn’t certain if members of the mob had ties with the KKK, but the Associated Press described 500 people surrounding the Black family’s new home in a white neighborhood.
Noting recent legislation that restricts how educators teach history in the state, Lee is thankful that there will now be a prominent landmark for the people of Fort Worth to learn its history.
“The rest of our history is taught. I see no reason why some could be taught and some left,” Lee said in a phone interview. “You take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. It certainly hasn’t all been good, and there’s no reason why we should sugarcoat it. We need to face what actually happened and heal from it so that we can make this country the best in the whole wide world. And until we do that, we ain’t done nothing.”
Román Ramírez grew up driving by the building, thinking it was an eyesore but had no idea who built it until getting involved with Transform. Now an adult, Ramírez is co-founder of SOL Ballet Folklórico.
“Had you told me when I was a kid that one day I’d be working with an amazing group of people to try to change the history of it, needless to say a center where kids of all nationalities and backgrounds would feel welcome … I would have told you, ‘You’re joking,’” he said.
Freddy Cantú, also of SOL Ballet Folklórico, said some of their dancers have mixed emotions about the space. But he appreciates the irony of a Mexican folklore dance team inhabiting a space built by people who discriminated against them.
“Our whole hope is for it to be a mecca of community, a mecca of equality, a mecca of inclusiveness,” Cantú said as he stood outside the building.
In addition to the groups that will one day be housed in the center, several businesses have offered pro bono legal services, help with obtaining grants and project planning. John Stevenson of The Projects Group started working with the coalition two years ago.
“This is a project our city needs. This is a project our country needs,” Stevenson said. “Our company has had the honor of doing billions of dollars of development for performing arts centers, museums and cultural institutions. This is a cultural institution of people who historically have not had advocates who would make this happen, and we felt that this was our opportunity to be those advocates that all of these groups have needed and deserved to make real change in the city.”
The overall budget is about $40 million, with construction costs accounting for the largest share at an estimated $35 million. Stevenson, an engineer, is optimistic about the condition of the building. The roof needs to be replaced, Stevenson said, but the building is otherwise in decent shape. A lack of internal walls will simplify the construction process.
Having a physical safe haven for youth has been a dream of Sharon Herrera’s ever since she founded LGBTQ Saves in 2010. According to a recent survey, more than half of trans and nonbinary youth have considered suicide and queer youth are among those most likely to experience homelessness as teenagers.
“I’ve always wanted to create a safe space, not only a safe space, but also a brave space for our youth so they can be themselves,” Herrera said. “And it’s about time the 12th largest city in our nation is going to have an LGBTQ resource center where our LGBTQ youth can call home.”
Eventually the building will also house a performance space, meeting rooms, a makerspace and historical exhibits, but a move-in date is not imminent.
Immediate next steps are hiring staff, hosting community conversations and continuing to raise money. The timeline budgets 12 to 18 months for the design process and another 12 to 18 months for construction.
Fort Worth Congressman Marc Veasey has requested $3 million in federal Community Project Funding for the group. They’ve received funding from grants, the Rainwater Charitable Foundation and several others. They’ve also become members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.
“I think that has been part of what’s allowed us to reach this watershed moment is that we are moving slowly and deliberately and being mindful,” Banks said. “And not trying to rush it through and not looking at it as, you know, a real estate opportunity or a development project. This is a healing project, and healing takes time.”
In a phone call, McKinney echoed that sentiment.
“Fort Worth is ready to exhume our relationship to white supremacy,” the group’s co-founder said. “By acquiring and transforming this building, this moment provides an opportunity for both reflecting on the past and envisioning a just future.”
When they encounter skepticism or people who would rather see the building torn down than reimagined, Banks said the first step is to listen.
“If one is living in a place where there’s no hope for a more just future, I can understand the desire to manage the pain, right? If there’s no hope for healing, ‘Let’s just manage the pain as much as possible or cover it up with something so that we don’t feel it.’ But if there’s actually the possibility of change, then that changes the conversation.” Banks said. He hopes the strong showing of support from the community will help others believe that it is possible to begin the healing process.
At 21, Jacora Johnson, an undergraduate student at TCU, is the youngest board member on the project. When she was a student at Tarrant County College, she toured historical sites across the South, including Montgomery, Alabama. The trip changed her perspective, she said.
“For those of us who have been on board and along with us since day one, and even those in our community who are a little skeptical of the project, we welcome your thoughts and your opinions with open arms,” Johnson said. “This isn’t a project that we did alone, isolated in Zoom calls, only consisting of us. We did this with the voice of the community. We did this with our community in mind, and we want and welcome everyone’s voice because this building isn’t just going to be another office space that people will drive by. We want people to interact and to be in community with us. We didn’t do this alone, and we’re not going to finish this project alone either.”
Johnson invites everyone to be involved in the upcoming design process, especially young people because, as she points out, they are the ones who will live with its legacy.
Editor’s note: This story was edited on Friday, Jan. 14 to clarify the former name of the hall, information regarding the budget and dates in a photo caption. An updated quote was added Saturday, Jan 15.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.