A.B.Davis puts Lubbock on the map

A lot of folks can look at a situation and see all the reasons it won’t work. Happily there are those special individuals who won’t let go of an idea until they find a way to make it work.

“Alaric Brandt (A.B.) Davis, Lubbock’s long time civic leader, used his position as manager of the Chamber of Commerce to spearhead the effort to get a new building. He wrote the area’s representatives in Congress, the Postmaster General, and other influential people to enlist their support for the project, supplying details of Lubbock’s need for a new building. Local postal receipts amounting to approximately $10,000 per quarter in 1923 doubled to nearly $20,000 per quarter by 1926 (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1926). This increase reflected dramatic growth in population in the city and the region. During the same period the South Plains boasted 100% increases in both the number of farms and the amount of tilled acreage. By the end of the decade, the sixteen South Plains counties had experienced a population growth of 167%, nearly seven times the state average and ten times the national one. By the end of 1926, the city of Lubbock boasted an estimated population of 17,500, more than four times its size in 1920 (Graves,421). These figures, coupled with the fact that Lubbock served as the postal center for 74 other area post offices, evidently caught the attention of government leaders.”

“Concurrent efforts to secure a federal court for Lubbock led Davis to write R.B. Creager, a member of the Republican National Committee familiar with earlier lobbying efforts on behalf of the postal facility. Davis reminded Creager of a bill calling for a new Federal Court at Lubbock, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives before World War I (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1926). Participation in the war postponed enactment of this legislation until Representative Marvin Jones of Amarillo introduced a similar bill in 1925. Jones’ effort to establish a new Lubbock Division of the Northern Judicial District of Texas failed. Significant growth in the region spurred by the discovery of oil, however, prompted Davis and other civic leaders to renew the campaign for a federal court designation. Lubbock’s leaders sought to bolster their chances of securing a new post office by creating the need for a court facility.”

Davis’s and Postmaster Vaughn’s letters coincided with efforts in Washington to augment investment in public buildings. The Public Buildings Act in 1926 empowered a building commission to base appropriations for location and size of new buildings on criteria such as volume of business. A survey report completed under the direction of the act identified more than 2,300 communities with postal receipts over $10,000 that lacked adequate facilities (Historic U.S. Post Offices in Washington, E11). The Treasury Department placed Lubbock’s case on their agenda in June 1926, recommending $165,000 for a new post office in Lubbock in January 1927 (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1927). The recommendation still required Congressional action, however, and no monies were actually set aside for the Lubbock project in 1927.

In 1928 Davis persisted in his lobbying efforts as Lubbock’s total postal receipts during the previous year exceeded $90,000. As a result, $160,000 to fund construction of a new post office was encumbered in March 1928 from a $250,000,000 appropriation for new federal construction nationwide. Davis also continued pressing for a federal court in Lubbock and was soon rewarded with its authorization. Consequently, a revised appropriation allotted a total of $335,000 for the combined post office and federal building in Lubbock (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1928).

The county deeded the southeast corner of the courthouse square to the federal government for $1.00 in March 1928. A federal site inspector visited Lubbock in August 1928, approving the site on the provision that the existing jail be relocated and that the federal government could acquire the property in fee simple. City officials agreed to facilitate these points and quickly made plans to tear down the old jail. They also instituted a lawsuit to settle title on the land to be deeded to the federal government. By March 1929, a federal court in Fort Worth declared the land free of encumbrances, thereby clearing the path for fee simple purchase (Lubbock Journal, 17 March 1929).

More than a year went by as Lubbock anxiously waited for construction to begin. The onset of the Depression exacerbated this anxiety as difficult economic times befell Lubbock. Contemporaneous telegrams from Lubbock bankers to Washington urged commencement of construction as a means of relieving the serious local unemployment situation (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1930). Passage of the Federal Employment Stabilization Act of 1931 coincided with these efforts. Intended to aid the national economy by addressing the unemployment situation, the act resulted in authorization of emergency appropriations for construction projects. Citing provisions of the Public Buildings Act of 1926, the act increased appropriations and accelerated emergency construction projects (Historic U.S. Post Offices in Washington, E12).

The act apparently facilitated the Lubbock project, as the Supervising Architect of the Treasury suggested in February 1931 that plans were forthcoming. The Treasury Department’s design policies during this period stressed standardization of plans to construct cost-efficient federal buildings. Most contemporaneous examples featured the basic elements of Beaux Arts massing and plan

Beaux Arts style San Fransisco War Memeorial and Opera House 1932

To further reduce costs, designs tended to simplify and stylize ornamentation. This ornamentation generally featured classical motifs, although exterior detailing sometimes reflected regional influences. As the Depression progressed, a policy evolved encouraging the use of local materials and products to stimulate employment (Historic U.S. Post Offices in Washington, E14).

In early March, the Architect of the Treasury released architectural plans and specifications for the Lubbock Post Office and Federal Building, subsequently awarding the contract to the William MacDonald Construction Company of St. Louis. Construction began on 7 May 1931, based on plans specifying red brick exterior finishes (Lubbock Morning Avalanche, 8 May 1931). Opposition quickly arose, however, as the Chamber of Commerce and other civic leaders preferred a light colored stone more consistent with neighboring buildings such as the Lubbock County Courthouse (1916) and the new Lubbock County Jail (1931). Both were sheathed in light colored limestone and buff brick.

Additionally, buff brick predominated as a construction material for buildings at TexasTechnological College at the west end of Broadway,

commercial buildings in the downtown area, and a proposed new high school on 19th Street.

The Texas Cut Stone Company also supported the alternative, assuring Davis that these changes would fall within the parameters of the allotted funds. Once Davis received this news, he immediately began efforts to get the change approved. Telegrams and letters were sent to local representatives in Washington, as well as to James A. Wetmore, the acting Supervising Architect of the Treasury. Congressman Marvin Jones and Senators Sheppard and Connally contacted the Treasury Department as part of this attempt to secure a stone building, but in June the change was deemed unwarranted (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1931).

In response, Davis assembled a small team of influential local leaders to travel to Washington and personally petition for the change to stone. The team consisted of C.E. Maedgen, president of Lubbock National Bank, and John L. Vaughn, the local Postmaster. Davis orchestrated the entire event, including arrangements to cover travel expenses by contributions from the MacDonald Construction Company and the Texas Cut Stone Company. He also alerted Washington officials of the delegation’s arrival by 12 June 1931. A series of meetings with the Post Office Department and the Treasury Department soon led to a compromise involving stone facing for the first floor and light brick on the upper floors, announced 15 June 1931 (Chamber of Commerce Records, 1931).


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