SPECIAL REPORT: 60 Years of Tyler

TYLER (KYTX) - If you didn't live or spend time in Tyler in the days when neon lights lit-up the square or streets were paved with bricks, you missed something. It was a different era, some would say "a simpler time."

We're taking you back to the Tyler of the 1950s. It's a look at where we were, how far we've come, and what's being done to keep our history alive.

Tyler has come a long way in 60 years, and while its sites are set on the future, there's an effort underway to preserve the past.

An Chamber of Commerce video from the 1950's, showing archive video of a thriving and prosperous Tyler.

"I grew up here in Tyler and I have good memories of downtown when I was a young person," says current Tyler City Councilman Martin Heines. 

"A lot of neon, a lot of activity, people on the square at all times," he said.

Heines smiles at the images of the rose city he grew up in. His love for the Rose City grew so strong that he became a city councilman.

"When I see the video it gives me encouragement of where we came from and what we really are today still," Heines said.

He says downtown Tyler has always been the city's core.

"So much of the oil and gas business that is done in East Texas is done in downtown Tyler, a lot of the legal that is done for the Eastern District of Texas is done in downtown," Heines says.

He says the city's come a long way.

"Tyler has changed so much. We have really grown to an urban center. At that point we were still just a smaller rural community that had a lot of influence in oil, banking and the legal industry."

Now Tyler is a destination city because of much more - universities, and state of the art medical facilities.

"But we still have the downtown," Heines says, "so that history is still mixed in with what we do today."

50 years ago, Tyler's city council was focused on growth. Heines says that hasn't changed but, he says, as the Rose City continues to blossom, it can't lose sight of it's history.

"At this point we're really focusing on the professional aspect of our downtown and really making sure we preserve history but also look to the future of what downtown can be."

The city and other contractors are seizing opportunities to expand office space in historical parts of downtown, making sure they have the infrastructure that allows the community to keep growing.

That's exactly what's happening with the People's Petroleum Building. Back in the 50's, it was known as the Citizen's National Bank. Today, the same building is being revitalized to house new businesses.

The same contractor who helped revitalize Liberty Hall is working on the People's Petroleum Building. He walked us through some of the newly renovated floors.

"The ceiling was an 8 foot ceiling and they opened it all up," he pointed out.

They updated the space but preserved as much of the original design as possible.

Contractors told us they're keeping a lot of the same architectural work, like the structure of the doors and transoms. They had to go to various different floors to find the granite to match the floors of levels being revitalized. 

"You can't buy this granite anymore so they had to pull it off other floors to get this one," the contractor said.

Door jams like the ones on the tenth floor are original, dating back to the 1920s! Heines says it's all about keeping history in tact, while moving forward as a community.

"We're trying to do our part as business leaders in the community now, so 50 years from now, we've done our part! We've done what we should have done," he said.

He says no matter how the city grows -- some things will never change.

"It's grown to be larger, but we still have the same sense of community and values that we've always had."

Heines says revitalizing downtown buildings is actually saving money, because a lot of the water and electrical lines needed are already in place. That's just another reason Heines hopes the people who live in Tyler will continue to support restoration projects in the downtown area.

Other projects that are about to start in the downtown area include a new parking garage on Elm between Broadway and College. Plus, renovations will start soon on the Lindsey Building, on the other side of that street.


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