Memories of Carroll Smith, Chief Draftsman for the Richardson/Bass Companies – 2006, Oral History conducted by former museum staff, Debi Carl.
Debi Carl: Tell me about the island. I’ve never had the opportunity to go
there. I think I know the story about
how Sid acquired it. What I’ve heard
Clint Murchison owned the one adjacent to it and Sid spent so much time down
there that Clint said, “The one next door’s for sale, why don’t you just buy
it?” (Laughter) And he did.
Carroll Smith: He got it for a song. He didn’t have to pay very much for it. Anyway, he acquired it and then he
commissioned Perry Bass. He says “I want
you to build me a mansion down there.
You’re in charge. You gotta do
it.” Sid didn’t want to have do it. He probably didn’t have time. But he told Perry “You build me a
mansion.” So Perry got busy, he got an
O’Neil Ford (1905-1982)
was a well-known architect throughout the Southwest, and today is considered an
architectural legend in Texas. In fact, Ford was actually
declared a National Historic Landmark himself in 1974 by the National Council
on the Arts (still the only person with such an honor). During his long career as an architect, Ford and his associates designed
many notable homes, public buildings, and businesses in Texas and elsewhere.
These include the Little Chapel in the Woods at Texas Women’s University in
Denton, the Tower of the Americas and Trinity University in San Antonio, and
several buildings on the Texas Instruments campus in Richardson.
Having admired the work of Ford and his partner Arch B.
Sid Richardson offered the duo the challenge of building a home for his island.
What were the challenges? Oh, just floods, hurricanes, heat, salt air,
rattlesnakes, biting insects, and the occasional alligator.
Sid’s nephew, Perry Bass, oversaw construction. 93,000
8-inch by 8-inch by 16-inch hollow building shellcrete (a mixture of cement,
oyster shell, and beach sand from the island) blocks were crafted by Perry’s
crew to build Uncle Sid’s island home. Other native materials, such as mahogany
logs washed up from the shore, were used for some of the floors and the ranch
house furniture. (For architect Ford, true inspiration
came by reflecting the simple Texas landscape.)
Sid’s island home, a fusion of
European modernism and the traditional Texas ranch house, was completed in
1938. The home was featured with other Ford and Swank Texas homes in the April
1940 issue of Pencil Point, an American magazine on architecture, design, and drafting. The
article’s author noted that the design of Sid’s home was “planned for least vulnerability
to wind and rain, yet for comfort during the long, sure periods of sun and
heat. Wide openings on the southeast side, flush with ceilings and fitted with
galvanized steel windows, were used to permit free movements of air.”
Despite the many hurricanes that have blown through our Texas shores, Sid’s island home still stands today.
St. Joseph (San José) Island, 8 miles east of the coast of Rockport, TX, is a sand barrier island in Aransas County. The St. Joseph Island Ranch, a stretch of land 19 miles long and up to 5 miles wide, was purchased by Richardson in 1936.
Richardson] enjoyed [San Jose Island] because he could go down there and get
away from everything and Perry [Sid’s nephew] liked that because he’d go down
there and he liked to fish and hunt. [Perry]
liked to go with Mrs. Bass and they spent a lot of time down there like Mr.
Richardson did…the Island was their pride and joy and he loved it.” – Carroll
Smith, Chief Draftsman for the Richardson/Bass Companies, as told through an oral
interview in 2006.
About six years after his island purchase, and with success
of producing oil wells providing the financial means, Richardson began
collecting fine art of the American West in 1942. These paintings filled the
walls of his office in the Fort Worth National Bank Building, his Fort Worth
Club suite, and his beloved home on San Jose Island.
Just like his island home, Richardson’s collection of paintings continued to be a source of enjoyment for him throughout his life as well. As he once stated, “I get a kick out of seein’ em around me.” After his death in 1959, the directors of the Sid Richardson Foundation considered ways in which Richardson’s collection might best be made accessible to a larger audience. Thus the development and opening in 1982 of what is today known as the Sid Richardson Museum.
Before these invaluable works of art were displayed in our
galleries, they were part of Sid Richardson’s everyday life, particularly at
his San Jose Island home. In 1947, photographer Maynard Parker took several
photos of the island home’s exterior and interior, which reveal intimate
portraits of each room and the paintings that grace their walls. For those who
have visited the Sid Richardson Museum, look through the photographs and see if
you can spot some familiar paintings!
Opening September 14, 2019, A Fortune in Oils: Sid Richardson’s Personal Collection is a special exhibition that honors Sid Williams Richardson (1891-1959), who left a legacy through his personal collection of western masterworks and the foundation he established in 1947. Woven through the letters, photographs, publications, and his beloved paintings on display is the story of a plain-spoken, unpretentious, and intensely private man whose wealth, earned principally from West Texas petroleum, enabled him to pursue his interests as a cattleman, philanthropist, and collector of paintings.
values instilled in Richardson while growing up in the small East Texas town of
Athens shaped his full and productive life. Born on April 25, 1891, he rose
from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest men in the country. But
it was his belief in hard work, coupled with his keen understanding of human nature,
that contributed the most to his success.
path to Sid’s fortune began in 1911. After the death of his father, “J.I.” —owner
of the largest peach orchard in Henderson County and trader of land and cattle—Sid
set out for the oil fields near Wichita Falls, Texas. He learned the oil business
from the ground up, and after a 20-year roller-coaster ride, emerged on top
with a big strike in the late 30s in the Keystone field of West Texas.
In April 1957, and with his fortune long established, Sid was described as the wealthiest man in America in the Ladies Home Journal. He had an estimated wealth of $700 million. Amongst those trailing Sid were: Arthur Vining Davis, Henry Ford II, Joseph Newton Pew, Jr., Howard Hughes, Clint Murchison (Sid’s good friend), Paul Mellon, August Busch, John D. Rockefeller III, and Robert Woodruff, with “a paltry $200 million.” Each man was described in the article as having the ability to size up people, and all were said to possess vision. Of Sid, the article stated, “Richardson, for instance, kept on prospecting for oil in an area where engineers said there was none. He was right.”
John B. Connally, Richardson’s legal advisor (and future Texas governor), described Sid as:
“a man of great courage, soft spoken, kind, sentimental, loyal to everyone who ever befriended him. He loved to create and build. He went broke two or three times, but he would persevere until he hit the big time in terms of oil and gas production. That didn’t change him though, he was a man of humble wants who got along with people of all walks of life. He was more at home with cowboys in a country café than he would have been in a fine restaurant in New York. He had an amazing instinct about people [with a] capacity for generating and maintaining real friendships. He didn’t seek notoriety. Everything he did, he did it quietly.”
Richardson’s generosity to individuals or institutions in need was made without fanfare, his philanthropy extending to gifts to college students, churches, schools, and hospitals. At Sid’s funeral, his friend the Reverend Billy Graham described Sid as having a heart as big as a washtub. “When he gave a gift, he usually wanted it to be anonymous. Many here today have been recipients of his thoughtfulness and kindness.” Today, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation continues to fulfill Sid’s vision through grants that help advance the missions of nonprofit educational, health, human service, and cultural organizations that serve the people of Texas.
With his fortune, Sid acquired several working ranches. He favored his time at San Jose Island, purchased in 1936, where he established a herd of purebred Santa Gertrudis. His concern to safeguard the Longhorn of early Texas history led to the establishment – with assistance from writer J. Frank Dobie and cattle inspector Graves Peeler – of a Longhorn herd for preservation; their progeny can be found at Fort Griffin, Texas. His interest in cattle and ranching also led him to join the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and to serve on the executive committee of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show.
As a man who spent his life around cattle and horses, Sid admired the paintings of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. He began collecting paintings in 1942, hanging them in his island home and in his two-room suite in the Fort Worth Club. Paintings were principally acquired from the Newhouse Galleries in New York, from Bert Newhouse and his son, Clyde. A warm relationship developed. In a 1981 interview, Bert recalled that Sid was the “finest natural gentleman I ever knew.” Clyde recalled that Sid collected because he loved the paintings’ spirit of the West, and that he bought on a hunch, loving “the spirit of the chase”.
amassed one of the largest private collections of Western masterworks in the
country. He died on September 30, 1959, a bachelor, having never married. Art Shahan (Director of Livestock
Operations on one of Sid’s ranches) attended Sid’s funeral
and recalled that “Dr.
Graham said he was . . . visiting [once with] Mr. Richardson in his office and Sid
said, ‘Preacher, tell me about Heaven.’ And Dr. Graham was telling him
different things and Sid said, ‘What I want to know is – do they drill oil
wells up there?’”