Sessums Snippets: People’s Petroleum Building

When Jenny Dee Pierson’s heels clack against the terrazzo halls to the office she shares with her father, she’s walking through what was once called The Peoples National Bank Building.

The summer of 1929 saw industry and manufacturing cutting back on production, signaling the coming economic collapse. Workers were laid off or lost their jobs. The unemployed didn’t purchase as much, and so production declined further. A vicious cycle ensued. Thousands of banks began to fail between 1929 and 1933, but even before that, they’d begun overextending credit on speculation. The hard times got harder.

Still, with deprivation of 35% unemployment nationwide, rampant hunger and want, some of East Texas managed to stave off the coming disaster, at least for a while. Black gold in the East Texas oilfields was the reason. The Peoples National Bank Building became a center of that oil-rich prosperity.

In 1932 local Tyler attorney Samuel A. Lindsey commissioned and assisted in financing the construction of a fabulous art-deco style building. At the time of its construction, it was one of the tallest skyscrapers west of the Mississippi River. Opening its doors in November 1932, it was fully leased by 1933. And in 1934 oil magnate H.L Hunt located the offices of Hunt Oil Company in one suite of the building. Through the Depression and on until the 1950s, the building remained a prime location for offices in downtown Tyler.

Eventually, time took its toll on the building. Construction moved away from the downtown area and vacancies ran high. By the year 2000, the building was considered to be mostly unoccupied. And then three Tyler businessmen began what this humble writer believes to be a remarkable transformation. Tim and Garnett Brookshire,along with Andy Bergfeld, acquired the building, naming it the People’s Petroleum Building. They undertook an extensive renovation project to bring this spectacular Tyler landmark back to its former glory, going to extremes to maintain the historical ambiance of the stately structure.

You can see more about the building in the video below:

Since then the Brookshires and Bergfeld have undertaken a similar renovation of the more modern Plaza Tower building adjacent to the People’s Petroleum Building. With their work in renovating these two buildings and their exceptional management skills, they have drawn people back to downtown Tyler. Tenants of the two buildings (myself included) marvel constantly at their gracious administration and their innovative eye for bringing industries together. If you’re anywhere near Tyler, Texas, take the time to come downtown. Walk the square and enjoy a few quiet moments on one of the park benches. Come into the People’s Petroleum Building and enjoy a meal at Jack Ryan’s Steak and Chophouse. Or head over to the Plaza Tower for some coffee at Café 1948. And if it happens to be a Thursday, you can delight in “Tunes on the Square” while grabbing a quick bite from one of the food trucks that come by for lunch.

Downtown Tyler is an amazing mix of history and modernity, married in a way that I’m sure you’ll enjoy experiencing.

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