Great Southwest Industrial District


By: Rebecca Wallisch

Type: General Entry

Published: May 18, 2022

Updated: May 18, 2022


The Great Southwest Industrial District (GSWID) is a more than 8,000-acre industrial park in Arlington and Grand Prairie, Texas. Real estate mogul Angus G. Wynne, Jr., established the GSWID in 1956, and it continues to be one of the largest master-planned industrial parks in Texas in the twenty-first century.

Wynne, a World War II U. S. Navy veteran, returned home from duty and sought business and employment opportunities. With his business partners, in December 1945 Wynne purchased the American Home Realty Company. The business’s Wynnewood housing development was a success, which inspired Wynne to explore more real estate and investment opportunities in the Arlington and Grand Prairie area. In 1955 the Texas Highway Department and the Texas Turnpike Authority began construction on the six-lane Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike that would improve connectivity between the two cities and open the Arlington and Grand Prairie area to increased commercial and residential development.

The turnpike (present-day IH-30) provided the perfect opportunity for development in the area, and in late 1955 Wynne envisioned constructing a large-scale industrial park. In 1956, along with New York real estate tycoon William Z. Zeckendorf, they purchased Paul Waggoner’s 2,387-acre 3D Ranch estate, formerly the site of Arlington Downs racetrack. Wynne purchased additional land in the surrounding area and eventually amassed more than 5,000 acres, and formed the Great Southwest Corporation to oversee the large-scale project, which he dubbed the Great Southwest Industrial District. Wynne appointed himself president of the Great Southwest Corporation and hired experts in architecture, engineering, warehousing, and other fields to implement a series of design standards and architectural controls.

At its outset, Wynne envisioned the GSWID to be the largest master-planned business park in the nation, with stringent deed restrictions and design specifications, and it set the standard for industrial and business development in the post-World War II era. The Great Southwest Corporation secured world-renowned architect I.M. Pei as consulting architect on the development, however, his position was primarily for marketing purposes, and it does not appear that he provided any direct contributions to the design or implementation of the project. Most of the initial work was completed by the firm Associated Architects and Land Planners, which consisted of architects Richard Colley, O’Neil Ford, A.B. Swank, Jr. and planner S.B. Zisman. O’Neil Ford was already a celebrated modern architect in Texas and had gained a reputation for his innovative design and engineering techniques, specifically his use of concrete. Ford, along with Richard Colley and engineer and architect Félix Candela of Mexico City, devised a new architectural feature of thin shell concrete, called hyperbolic paraboloids. Some of the earliest known examples of hyperbolic paraboloids were constructed on buildings within the GSWID.

Plans for the GSWID included three separate “communities,” north of the turnpike, south of the turnpike, and west of present-day SH 360. Each community was slated to be self-sustaining, with individual community cores consisting of hotels, restaurants, and other amenities. The Great Southwest Corporation created a stringent set of standards that regulated deed restrictions, signage, and building design to create a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. Construction on the first warehouse commenced in 1956, and by 1957 there were five buildings under construction that would include 300,000 square feet of floor area in the club restaurant area, as well as three multi-purpose industrial buildings of thin-shell concrete, including some featuring hyperbolic paraboloids. At that time, 750 acres of the GSWID were already under construction. The Great Southwest Corporation also succeeded in starting its own rail lane, the Great Southwest Railroad, which connected the industrial park to the Texas and Pacific railroad to the south and the Rock Island railroad to the north. The operation of an independent railroad with connections to other rail lines provided an additional incentive for businesses to invest in the GSWID. Finally, a group of dedicated property owners formed the Great Southwest Association to ensure quality control and aesthetic standards and forge a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the park.

Despite all their efforts, the Great Southwest Corporation did not achieve rapid success in selling retail and warehouse space to prospective businesses. Wynne conceived of constructing a large sporting complex nearby to draw in customers and selected a 293-acre plot where he planned a thirty-two-lane bowling center, large retail building for sporting equipment, recreational lakes and ponds, a shooting range, and a small theme park. However, during the planning stages of the sports complex, at the suggestion of then-mayor of Arlington Tom Vandergriff, Wynne and his family visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Inspiration struck, and Wynne returned to Texas with new resolve to construct a theme park that celebrated Texas history, which he eventually named Six Flags Over Texas (Six Flags).

Six Flags opened in August 1961 and was an instant success, drawing in huge crowds and providing a huge financial boost to the Great Southwest Corporation and GSWID. Later that year, the Great Southwest Corporation leased nine times more land, and construction footage increased eight times from the previous year. In 1962 the Great Southwest Corporation reportedly posted its first profit since its inception in 1956 and proved that Wynne’s extraordinary gamble had paid off.

The rapid growth of the Arlington and Grand Prairie communities in the 1950s and 1960s contributed to the commercial success of both the GSWID and Six Flags. The GSWID became a significant contributor to the local, commercial, and residential growth of the Arlington and Grand Prairie communities during that time period and employed thousands of area residents. By 1963 there were reportedly more than seventy corporations located within the GSWID and 2.3 million square feet of building space.

By the late 1960s, however, industrial development was growing so rapidly that the Great Southwest Corporation was no longer capable of controlling and managing the GSWID. Subsequently, the original ideals and aesthetic of a unified industrial park began to change, and new offices, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities were constructed that were not in line with the architectural and design standards originally established by the Great Southwest Corporation. Also in the late 1960s it was announced that the Greater Southwest Airport would be replaced by a larger airport slightly farther north that would service both Dallas and Fort Worth (eventually the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport [DFW]), which provided an increased incentive for businesses to purchase warehouse space within the GSWID.

By 1972 the GSWID had become the largest planned industrial development in the world and encompassed roughly 6,600 acres, housed more than 520 companies, and employed more than 30,000 people. Six Flags was also a major contributor to the region’s economy, boosting the tourism industry and resulting in the construction of numerous hotels, restaurants, convention centers, and retail establishments. DFW airport, which opened in 1974, increased the connectivity of warehouses in the area to regional, state, and national markets. However, changes to federal tax laws in 1986 resulted in dissolution of investor partnerships and further division of ownership in the GSWID. New tenants of the park were less invested in the park as a whole, and property values decreased.

In 1991 more than 100 Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric, General Foods, Bell Helicopter, and Pepsi had facilities in the GSWID, and it continued to be one of the largest planned industrial parks in the world. However, the ongoing issue of fragmented ownership, combined with an economic recession, led to yet another decline in rental and property values. Nonetheless, the cities of Grand Prairie and Arlington both saw the GSWID as a vital part of the region’s economy and agreed to promote development strategies to help revive the park’s standards and desirability. At the same time, a group of concerned investors, tenants, and property owners joined together with the shared goal of revitalizing the sense of community and shared responsibility of the Great Southwest Association.

At the turn of the twentieth century the GSWID remained a major contributor to the area’s economy, despite the fact that parts of the park needed major renovations, including transportation improvements and upgrades to warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Regardless of the necessary improvements, in 1997 the GSWID had an occupancy rate of more than 96 percent in more than 800 buildings on its nearly 8,200 acres. The following year it reportedly provided employment to 30,000 people and contributed roughly $30 million to the local economy.

By 2003, however, the vacancy rate had increased to nearly 20 percent, and city leaders in Arlington considered measures to get the GSWID back on track. That year, the Arlington Independent School District passed a triple freeport tax exemption for the GSWID, which allowed businesses to forgo city, county and school district taxes on any inventory that left Texas within 175 days. The tax exemption provided businesses incentive to relocate to the GSWID. Additionally, a bond measure was passed around that time that provided funds for much needed improvements to roads and infrastructure within the GSWID.

In 2014 the GSWID consisted of more than 8,000 acres, with 3,611 in Arlington and 5,500 in Grand Prairie, and a total assessed value of $1.2 billion. General Motors was the largest landholder in the district, and in 2013 there were only sixteen vacant buildings out of 456 buildings within the Arlington portion. The GSWID continued to be a vital asset to the economic, commercial, and industrial growth of the Arlington and Grand Prairie communities in the 2020s.

Arlington Chamber of Commerce, “Arlington ISD Approves Freeport Tax Exemption,” Chamber Connection, December 2003. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 11, 1956; September 6, 1957; November 10, 1957; June 7, 1958; January 13, 1962; February 17, 1963; November 3, 1968; May 3, 1990; June 30, 1997. “Great Southwest Industrial Park,” Great Southwest Industrial District Association (http://www.gswida.org/), accessed May 9, 2022. Komatsu Architecture et al, Final Arlington Historic Resources Survey Update, September 2007 (https://p1cdn4static.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_14481062/File/City%20Hall/Depts/Office%20of%20Strategic%20Initiatives/Landmark%20Preservation%20Commission/_Historic%20Resources%20Survey%20Update%202007.pdf), accessed September 13, 2021. Kathryn Slover, “‘A High-Caliber Family Show’: The Story of Six Flags Over Texas,” UTA Libraries (https://libraries.uta.edu/news-events/blog/high-caliber-family-show-story-six-flags-over-texas), accessed May 9, 2022. Texas Department of Transportation. Report for Historical Studies Survey, IH 30, Fort Worth District (CSJ: 1068-02-127). March 2015. TIP Strategies, “Arlington, Texas: An Economic Development Strategic Plan,” September 2014 (https://p1cdn4static.civiclive.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_14481062/File/City%20Hall/Depts/Economic%20Development/Arlington_An_Economic_Development_Strategic_Plan.pdf), accessed May 9, 2022. TIP Strategies, “Arlington, Texas: Situational Analysis and Target Industries,” May 2004 (http://arlingtontx.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1565&meta_id=184245), accessed May 9, 2022.

Categories:
  • Architecture
  • Styles, Methods, and Technological Innovations
  • Business
  • Urbanization
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rebecca Wallisch, “Great Southwest Industrial District,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/great-southwest-industrial-district.

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May 18, 2022
May 18, 2022

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