LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The walls are up at the Tornado Memorial Gateway. Project leaders say although Monday’s anticipated dedication has been delayed until next May, construction will continue ahead of the 50th anniversary on Monday.
The 1970 tornado killed 26 people and left thousands displaced.
Vice-chair of the project, Robert Taylor, said the city was unrecognizable right after the tornado. He said they wanted to create a memorial worthy of the event.
“There was no light, no electricity it was just pitch black," Taylor said.
“It cut a swath eight and a half miles long in the center of the city, a mile and a half wide,” said Texas state historian, Monte Monroe.
Monroe said it was the first documented category five tornado, destroying more than 600 homes in the Guadalupe neighborhood with more than a thousand homes damaged in the Overton neighborhood.
“Their legacy will remain with this memorial,” Monte said.
Granite and other materials are still needed for the privately-funded project. COVID-19 has caused delays in deliveries, but when the granite comes in, names of victims and city leaders who helped Lubbock recover will be etched in, including some Texas Tech tornado researchers.
Monte said President Nixon declared Lubbock a national disaster area and brought in federal aid and government agencies to help.
“We had city leaders like Lonnie Hollingsworth that owned L and H drugs. He put a store in the Guadalupe neighborhood and reached out to the Mexican-American families and assisted them in the kind of aid that they needed.”
Other things on the to-do list for the project include assembling the paths and groundwork of the memorial. Dr. Ted Fujita, who came up with a system to classify the destruction, will have his maps laid out on the floor of the memorial.
Taylor said he’s been pushing for an impactful gateway for Lubbock for a long time.
“We need something iconic for the city of Lubbock and something that represents downtown,” he said.
Taylor said he’s most impressed with the community-spirit of Lubbockites when it comes to contributions towards the project, including Lubbock National Bank’s $1 million donation last year.
“This is a project that took a little bit of money from the tax finance committee, but then corporations stepped up and individuals bought bricks and foundations contributed.”
Project Chairman Dan Williams, who helped raised money for the project, said the details of the project are important to him. He listed light fixtures that have a tornado shape donated by artisans from Maine. He’s also excited about the seating areas, the fountain, and an extra space for visitors to reflect.
“We’re so humbled to be able to create this and have this be a part of Lubbock’s history.”
If you want to purchase a brick, there’s still time. Or you can make a monetary contribution. Williams said they want to add more trees down Glenna Goodacre and add to a maintenance fund.
The committee asks the public to take part in the 50th anniversary by listening for church bells Monday evening at 6:55 p.m. in memory of those who lost their lives. Community members are asked to turn on their porch lights at 9:45 p.m. and use #LubbockTornado on social media pages when writing about the tornado.
To learn more about the project, visit https://downtownlbk.us/tornado-memorial
The committee released this statement with a schedule of events for Monday:
May 11, 2020, will be the 50th Anniversary of the 1970 Lubbock Tornado. Twenty-six Lubbock citizens lost their lives that day. The Lubbock Tornado Memorial Gateway at Lubbock National Bank Park will memorialize the victims, while also paying tribute to the leadership who brought Lubbock through an intense recovery after the storm. Construction is underway on the privately funded memorial, which will include 18-feet tall granite walls mimicking the path of the storm over city streets. The walls will be inscribed with names of victims and community leaders and will include quotes from the era for future generations. Areas of reflection and tribute to the community leaders who led the community through the devastation and to recovery are also incorporated into the memorial.
The tornado, which wiped out the downtown business district and the Guadalupe Neighborhood, was a turning point for the community. In true West Texas spirit, citizens rolled up their sleeves and got to work. There was a $7 million bond package passed which set in motion the Civic Center, Library, Canyon Lakes, City Parks and Airport Expansion (named Preston Smith International), all still part of Lubbock today. Dr. Ted Fujita flew over Lubbock to assess the damage personally, and the F-scale system was born from this tornado.
The Texas Tech University Wind Institute was also born from this storm as scientists immediately began to harness the power of the wind to study the positive ways that its energy could be used.
Dr. Jim Granberry, mayor of Lubbock in 1970, sent this statement from his home in east Texas, “Fifty years ago, I had the great honor of serving the fantastic people of Lubbock as their mayor. Edwina and I will never forget how the citizens of Lubbock responded to the tornadoes that hit the city just nineteen days after I was elected. The recovery of Lubbock has been golden and the memory of the golden efforts put forth by Lubbock’s citizens will always have a golden place in my heart. - Best wishes and God Bless, Jim Granberry”
While dedication of the Tornado Memorial has been postponed to May 11, 2021, the committee spearheading the project will provide several opportunities for the community to reflect on Monday, May 11, 2020, and in the days surrounding the anniversary. A Facebook Event will provide several prompts over the coming days. https://www.facebook.com/events/761785454356086/?active_tab=about
On Monday, May 11, 2020 –
6:55 p.m. – Church bells will ring 26 times at 6:55 p.m., the time of the first signs of the coming storm, in memory of those who lost their lives.
9:45 p.m. – Community members are asked to turn on their porch light at 9:45 p.m.
Share memories and stories of that night on social media using #Lubbock Tornado.
To learn more about the tornado and the Lubbock Tornado Memorial at Lubbock National Bank Park, visit https://downtownlbk.us/tornado-memorial.
In addition, Texas Tech University has planned a special campus commemoration of the 1970 tornado.
Lubbock will never forget those lost and those who pulled our community back from the destruction.
Helen Machado Alafa
Johnnye Hobbs Butts
Frank Moreno Canales, Jr.
Thomas Andrew Cook
John Stephen Cox
Joseph Glenn Garrett
Shelbey Curtis Glenn
Dora Bertie Graves
Ola Belle Hatch
Jose Luz Leyva
Salvadore Jack Lopez
Luther Dale McClintock
Alan Raye Medlin
Dustin Lance Medlin
Kenneth Raye Medlin
Mary June Medlin
Angela Marie Mora
Estefana Guajardo Paez
Aurora J. Salazar
Lillie Amanda Short