Ask anyone in real estate how to choose property, and they'll tell you, "location, location, location." The White and Kirk building in Amarillo sits at the crown jewel of locations- the intersection of Route 66 and Polk Street.
The grand structure has a grand history. Beth Duke, the Executive Director of Center City of Amarillo, intrigued me with her stories of the life of the White and Kirk building. It was built by two pioneering families, the Whites and the Kirks in 1939. The E. W. White family started business in the downtown area as a partner in a grocery store in the 1890s. In 1896, Mr. White bought out one of his partners and expanded the store into a mercantile. White became partners with his brother-in-law, R. Dean Kirk in 1903. The pair began construction in 1938 to build a business that would become a notch above all the others. White and Kirk was a very "swanky" department store. It was like Lord and Taylor. A gift from White and Kirk meant you had arrived.
The building was designed by Amarillo's Master Architect, Guy Carlander. Carlander is responsible for the architecture that gives downtown Amarillo its unique appearance. The style he developed became know as, "pueblo deco." Carlander took the geometry of art deco, and added elements reflective of the Texas Panhandle. On the White and Kirk building, evidence of this new style can be seen in the pyramid shapes of art deco combined with yucca plants.
The Kirk family impacted business and society in Amarillo. Katherine Kirk Wilson, daughter of R. Dean and Willie, was in Duke's words, "an amazing force of nature." Wilson, born in 1914, graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in business in 1934. She was passionately devoted to public service. In a 1964 editorial, she said, "Do we care what happens to our fellow citizens who may need help or sympathetic counseling? How much we care is shown by how much we share."
Wilson, an "amazing force of nature" in Duke's words, lived a life of firsts:
- First Globe News Women of the Year, in a time when all honorees were men
- First woman elected to the Amarillo City Council
- First woman to be elected president of the Amarillo Area Foundation
- First woman to serve as moderator of the Palo Duro Union Presbytery
Wilson was a national officer of the Junior League of America, helped found the High Plains food bank, Meals on Wheels, The Cerebral Palsy Center, as well as the Don Harrington Discovery Center. She was the kind of woman who could get anything done.
Carrying its significant past into the future, the White and Kirk Building is now the First National Bank Special Assets building and home to High Plains Public Radio. It continues to evolve, but the one thing that stays the same is its location, in the heart of Amarillo, at the crossroads of Route 66 and Polk street.