Saving 34th Street
As Lubbock’s Iconic 34th Street Decays, the Community Fights to Revitalize it.
By Steven Schwartz
Photos by Amanda Aguirre and Natalie Underwood
Kyra Jenkins sits in front of a table inside her business, South Plains Communications. Behind her, a large window exposes a multi-layered backdrop. The scene is one of a street in decay, and built on its concrete and asphalt are the businesses that have given Lubbock its identity and soul. This backdrop is 34th Street, a location lined with local atmosphere that has yet to be touched by national corporations. The street is full of local flavor with businesses from pet stores, auto-repair shops, to “mom and pop” diners. Anyone who takes a walk down this street will see an identity that has been formed for decades in the city of Lubbock. This identity has been evolving through the years as the businesses change, open and close. However, 34th Street now has its own identity crisis.
Despite the historical importance to the community of Lubbock, 34th Street is dying. Preserving history has not been enough motivation to keep this area from slipping into a state of decay, and Jenkins knows this. However, many people would like to see this street survive. They are fighting an uphill battle to make sure that one of the streets that gave Lubbock its name will continue to give Lubbock its local identity.
Jenkins’ business is just one of the many that have been affected by this downturn of 34th Street. This neglect has come as a result of many obstacles in the street’s history, one of which is competition. The area came into its popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. As Lubbock began to grow, so did the local and corporate businesses. As business buildings began to become older and older, they were “repurposed” for newer businesses. All of the changes made to these businesses over the years have led to a very unique mosaic of local color and diversity. However, the narrow streets and limited parking lead to more growth on streets like 50th Street and 82nd Street, Jenkins explains.
“Thirty-fourth Street has for many, many years been a vital artery in Lubbock. It is a focal point of the community. Time came, and expansion occurred. Businesses started going toward 50th, then came 82nd,” Jenkins said. Movement continued in Lubbock to the south and to the west in the 1970s, especially with the construction of the South Plains Mall. As businesses became more and more chain- and conglomerate-operated, 34th Street businesses remained locally owned.
Jenkins believes the locality of a street such as 34th Street is key to its success, if supported correctly. “34th Street offers something to Lubbock that no other street does; and if you’ll notice, it’s filled with what we call ‘mom and pop’ shops. There’s something quaint, there’s something home about that area. The heart of the community adjoins to 34th, it’s always been that way and it will retain that. But what’s interesting about 34th Street is that it has retained that small hometown atmosphere.”
Jenkins is a member of the 34th Street Business Association, an organization with the goal of maintaining the businesses on the street and to ensure the area’s survival. Alex Scarborough, the vice president of Tom’s Tree Place, located on 34th Street, is a member of the 34th Street Business Association and he believes the survival of this street is essential to Lubbock’s community. However, he believes the street conditions are not helping the situation.
“Business conditions are not as bad as they might look like from a car, road conditions are not as good as they might look like from the car. The street was constructed years ago, and the base and pavement are both nearing the end of their lifespan,” he said. “Sidewalks are in varying states of condition from good to nonexistent. Street lighting is a hodge-podge of the full collection of city lights from the last 50 years. The time has come to replace this street paving system and install a legitimate pedestrian system.”
This hodge-podge system has created a real problem for cyclists and pedestrians commuting around this area of the city. Susan Tomlinson is one of the people who believe 34th Street needs to be more accessible to people who want to shop along the street. Some of the people being affected are the residents of the Tech Terrace neighborhood, a residential area that is bordered by University Avenue and Indiana Avenue to the east and west, and 19th Street and 34th Street to the north and south.
Tomlinson is the president of the Tech Terrace Neighborhood Association, and she believes 34th Street could be a vital area for residents of Tech Terrace, not only because of the aesthetic look of the street, but also for its logistical convenience. As a cyclist, Tomlinson believes 34th Street is inaccessible, and many changes could be made to make a bicycle commute more convenient. “In addition to how it looks, it’s not a place that invites foot or bicycle traffic, so the neighboring residents are not inclined to walk or ride there. If you have to get into a car to go there anyway, why would you stop there? Why not go someplace more inviting?”
Tomlinson explained that as president of the association, her position gives her the opportunity to aid communications among 34th Street business owners and officials with the city of Lubbock. Jenkins and Scarborough have been very involved in the process of planning renovations for the streets and sidewalks. Jenkins said her goal is to help connect Texas Tech University students with 34th Street because the area is so close to the campus.
Scarborough explained that in this modern age throwing away the old and moving on to the new is very common. However, Lubbock’s’ citizens have seen what many modern cities have become, and they want to preserve the area’s historical culture. Recently, a bond was passed to repave the street. This is one of the many past goals of the 34th Street Business Association. The city will be repaving the street to make driving more accessible, and officials hope these actions will carry over to the renovations of the rest of the area as well. “We’ve been working with the city to bring an extreme makeover, 34th Street-style,” Jenkins explained. “We’d love to see the aesthetics come back. There’s something to be said for the entrepreneurial spirit, and 34th Street has that spirit.” The idea behind the business owners’ plan is to make 34th Street a more attractive area of the city; and with this makeover, they believe more customers will come.
Several ideas have come to mind, including a local farmers’ market in the area. Also, the association has explored the idea of a discount card that could be used by residents of the Tech Terrace neighborhood for businesses located on 34th Street. New street plans being considered include wider sidewalks, bicycle racks, benches, and more attractive lighting.
However, Tomlinson said, efforts for a bicycle lane have not been as productive. “Unfortunately, the bike lane the city has proposed is merely a wider car lane.” Tomlinson said. “We are discussing this with the merchants and engineering firm, but it isn't certain that we will be able to convince the city to do anything else.”
“We had a gentleman make a comment, and it rings in my head a lot. And that is: ‘As goes 34th, so does our neighborhood.’ If that street falls into decay and disarray, it is devaluing our neighborhood around it: the community,”
— Kyra Jenkins
Jenkins believes the success of 34th Street is essential to the local neighborhood. She recalled a comment that a man made to her in regard to this relationship: “We had a gentleman make a comment, and it rings in my head a lot. And that is: ‘As goes 34th, so does our neighborhood.’ If that street falls into decay and disarray, it is devaluing our neighborhood around it: the community. We are sitting at the back door of Tech Terrace, and that is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lubbock, so I believe what we are doing is important.”
Scarborough believes the death of 34th Street would lead to negative effects in adjacent neighborhoods as well. However, he believes because of the low rent of the buildings in the area and the diversity of its businesses, the pulse of this area will continue to beat. Local businesses and supporters have done their part to help revitalize 34th Street. “Individuals have bought buildings, redone businesses, and worked in neighborhood groups to promote business, fight crime, and generally love your neighbors in many ways. These are the businesses that sponsor Little League teams, work in the service clubs and churches, and generally make Lubbock a good town in which
While this street has seen its fair share of adversity, Jenkins has been amazed to see its resilience. While modern businesses have become more and more commercial, 34th Street has retained its small-town atmosphere and always will have its own identity. As a life-long resident of Lubbock, Scarborough has seen many changes come and go, but 34th Street has always remained.
Tomlinson believes in what her association is doing and wants to keep fighting for something she believes is very important to the community of Lubbock. “We are looking forward to bringing more energy back there,” Jenkins said. “The flow of traffic, when the city gets through with it, will be such that it will be very conducive to safe, easy driving, and hopefully we can get our merchants to be excited about this as well, and maybe generate some more energy and business.”
The future of this street is uncertain in the eyes of local business owners and residents, Scarborough explained. The area is in need of support from what he called, ‘champions for the cause.’ Champions like Tomlinson, Jenkins and Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin have been doing their parts to make sure this local gem survives for many more generations of Lubbock citizens.
This street has seen its challenges and hurdles over the decades. The area has survived the modernization of businesses in Lubbock and has held on to its personality; something that Jenkins believes is the key. These local business owners have nothing but faith in their businesses and in Lubbock’s support. While Jenkins’ window may show decay and age, she looks out that window and sees only growth and potential. “I believe it’s something that is important, because this street has not gone away. It has not diminished in value,” she said. “It is here to stay.”