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In about 1920, the city began laying brick streets on Texas Avenue in front of the Lubbock County Courthouse
In about 1920, the city began laying brick streets on Texas Avenue in front of the Lubbock County Courthouse.

City began covering dusty roads with bricks in the 1920s

BY DOUG HENSLEY
For the Avalanche-Journal

Lubbock’s brick streets haven’t celebrated a centennial yet, but the more than 200 blocks of brick can count on one thing: always being a solid part of the city’s history.

The first brick roadways were built in 1920, according to city records, with four central business district projects overseen by the Panhandle Construction Co.

“Brick was the standard paving material across the state at the time,” said Sally Abbe, who works as a planner for the city. “It was preferred because of its durability and for its dependability. And it was easily maintained.”

According to city records, one of the first four projects was Broadway from Avenue F west to Avenue K. In all, 20 downtown blocks were paved with bricks at a cost of just less than $200,000.

The streets were a vast improvement over their dusty, dirty predecessors. Early newspaper accounts indicated that Lubbock citizens began a pronounced push for paved streets in 1917 because West Texas rainstorms turned the dirt roadways into a challenging quagmire. Unfortunate automobiles stuck in the bog had to be removed by teams of horses.

Horse traffic, meanwhile, was still a part of the growing city’s traffic pattern throughout the 1920s and into the ’30s, Abbe said.

“If you look at pictures of downtown Lubbock from that time, you see a lot of automobiles,” she said. “Lubbock was not behind the times. People got cars as soon as they were available.”

According to city records, Lubbock’s system of brick streets grew to a total of 236 blocks from 1920 through July 1931. The town square was paved in 1923, and additional streets in the Overton addition, Lubbock’s first organized residential area west of downtown, also were paved.

“There wasn’t anything west past Texas Tech,” Abbe said. “You had the downtown core and the residential neighborhoods near downtown and the Overton addition. Up to that time, geographically as well as population-wise, Lubbock was not a big city.”

The streets lived up to their durability, but wear, tear and West Texas weather took their toll. According to a 1969 A-J article, the streets had less than two years of life left. The cost to refurbish the 17 miles of brick streets at that time was $150,000 per mile.

Building the streets was no easy chore, either. According to the A-J article, it took 30 men 10 hours to lay two blocks of bricks at a salary of 35 to 50 cents per hour. One man who worked on the streets told the newspaper he laid 30,000 bricks in an average day. Leather gloves were of little use for the undertaking; workers cut up inner tubes and used them as gloves.

Today, the future of Lubbock’s brick streets is directly tied to the city’s downtown revitalization plan.

“We are in the process of trying to develop our plan because the streets are deteriorating badly in some places,” said Marsha Reed, director of public works for the city.

Reed said the process will take years and significant funding.

“I did a presentation for the City Council two years ago that showed it would cost between $70 million and $80 million to replace and reconstruct them,” she said. “It’s a high cost to take them out and replace them with asphalt or concrete; that cost is between $18 million and $30 million. It is something that will require a lot of funding from somewhere.”

Ultimately, Reed said, the final decision regarding the brick streets’ future rests with the City Council.

Reed said the first brick street to be replaced is Main Street from Avenue Q east. She said the city understands the historical significance of the streets and wants to make sure that aspect is not lost.
     
“If we did pull the brick out and replace it, we would look for other ways to use that brick, either in landscaping or some other way,” she said.

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