The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997

A Texas City and the Texas Myth:
Urban Historical Identity in Corpus Christi
ALAN LESSOFF*
W H EN THE INITIAL PLANS FOR THE CORPUS CHRISTI SEAWALL WERE
devised in the late 192os, one of the planners, Mount Rushmore
sculptor Gutzon Borglum, envisioned the huge hurricane barrier as the
climax of a vast parkway system to the Rio Grande lined with statues
drawn from rural Texas lore. "Soldier and adventurer, conquistadore
and farmer, covered wagons and armies, bandits and heroes" would
have recounted South Texas history as Borglum and most Corpus Chris-
tians understood it-an epic of pioneers, settlers, and outlaws in the
Texas countryside.'
In fact, however, Corpus Christi exemplifies the epic of urban, indus-
trial Texas. In geographic and economic terms, Corpus Christi is a twen-
tieth-century Anglo city, a product of the extension of Anglo-American
commerce, agriculture, industry, and tourism beyond the Nueces River.
The advent of the port in 1926, the Naval Air Station in 1940, petro-
chemicals, metal-making, and other industry between the 193os and the
195os, and the causeway to Padre Island in 1950 multiplied population
from 10,522 to 205,525 between 1920o and 1970. This urban interplay
of transportation, agribusiness, the military, petrochemicals, and tourism
forms a Texas epic as essential and dramatic as the trek of pioneers and
* Alan Lessoff, a FulbrightJunior Lecturer this year at the Universitit Gesamthochschule Kas-
sel, Germany, normally teaches United States and urban history at Texas A&M University-Cor-
pus Christi. His publications include The Natzon and Its City: Polhtics, "Corruption," and Progress in
Washington D.C., r861-90o2 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994). The author
thanks Thomas H. Kreneck, Head of Special Collections and Archives at Texas A&M Universi-
ty-Corpus Christi, for inspiring this essay and providing space to work on it, and archivists Nor-
man Zimmerman and Grace Charles for aiding his research He thanks Robert Fairbanks,
Ignacio Garcfa, Mineke Reinders, George Ward, and Robert Wooster for comments on different
versions.
1 "Corpus Christi: Where Texas Meets the Sea" (quotation) 1928, pamphlet in Local History
Room (Corpus Christi Pubhc Library); Bill Walraven, "Ambitious Artist Had Colossal Plans for
South Texas," Corpus Christi Caller-Tmes, Nov. 6, 1987. Borglum also offered the city a colossal
32-foot statue of Christ for the entrance to the Ship Channel. The offer sparked a six-decade
controversy partly settled by the 1995 erection of a similar image half that size in front of a
Methodist church along the Bayfront. Corpus Christi Caller-Times, May 26, 1963, Oct. 23, 1995.
Howard Shaff and Audrey Karl Shaff, Six Wars at a Time: The Lfe and Times of Gutzon Borglum,
Sculptor of Mount Rushmore (Sioux Falls, S.D.: Center for Western Studies, 1985), 248, 291.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 100, July 1996 - April, 1997. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101218/. Accessed September 23, 2014.