Debbie Liles was doing her thesis for her master’s degree about an obscure figure named Wyatt C. Hedrick, a talented architect during the Depression era. His company designed and built a number of Fort Worth’s buildings at a time when the city was transitioning from a small-time cow town into the metropolis Texas celebrates today. One of his most prominent projects was the Will Rogers Coliseum, and, reasoned Liles, someone must have written something on its construction and design. Nobody had.
Liles was born in England, and grew up with a keen appreciation for history, which she credited to her mother. Her travels around Europe culminated in a journey to Texas when she was sixteen. She later married a Weatherford native and raised a family, but her passion for the past led her to earn a degree in history and ultimately research and write her first book, entitled Will Rogers Coliseum, a pictorial history of the famous building.
Liles was spurred to write the book both because of her desire to become a published author prior to earning her doctorates and because of her interest in local history. Through her work at the Texas State Historical Association, she had come into contact with the publishing company Arcadia, which specializes in local history.
“It all kind of fell in line,” she recalled.
“For me, I wanted to tell a story. There is no historic protection on that building,” Liles said, explaining her choice of pictures to include in the work. “The City of Fort Worth can plow it down tomorrow. It has no historic protection. I wanted to present the history of the structures in a way that helped it gain historic preservation.”
The coliseum, Liles explained, clearly meets the qualifications for preservation as a historic building.
“Why they don’t preserve this structure is beyond me,” Liles said, noting that it was often on the top ten list of most endangered buildings in Fort Worth. Through her book, Liles hoped “to give anybody that wanted to help preserve the structures a tool.”