The Most Famous Architect Nobody Knows

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 architect…

DC:  O’Neil Ford

Exterior, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Exterior Detail, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Interior Hall, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Interior Living Room, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

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. Swank (1913-1999), 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 Richardson and Perry Bass at San Jose Island Ranch | Photographer unknown|  ca.1955 | [Published in “Grading Up with Santa Gertrudis”, The Cattleman, Volume XLIII, No. 2, July 1956, p. 36]

Once designed, 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.)

Pencil Point, April 1940

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.”

Pencil Point, April 1940, “The Architect and the House”

Despite the many hurricanes that have blown through our Texas shores, Sid’s island home still stands today.

The Island Collection

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.

Exterior, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

“[Mr. 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!

Interior Dining Room, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
William R. Leigh | Bears in the Path (Surprise) | 1904 | Oil on canvas | 21 1/8 inches x 33 1/8 inches
William R. Leigh | The Hold Up (The Ambush) | 1903 | Oil on canvas | 32 3/4 inches x 22 3/4 inches
Living Porch, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Frederic Remington | The Unknown Explorers | 1908 | Oil on canvas | 30 inches x 27 1/4 inches
Interior Living Room, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Charles M. Russell | Buffalo Hunt | 1901 | Oil on canvas | 24 1/8 inches x 36 1/8 inches
Interior Bedroom, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Herbert Herget | Arapahoe | c. 1930 | Watercolor and gouache on paper | 17 7/8 inches x 12 1/2 inches
Interior Bedroom, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Charles M. Russell | The Marriage Ceremony (Indian Love Call) | 1894 | Oil on cardboard | 18 1/2 inches x 24 5/8 inches
Frederic Remington | A Sioux Chief | 1901 | Pencil and pastel on composition board | 31 7/8 inches x 22 7/8 inches
Charles M. Russell | Cowboy Sport – Roping a Wolf | 1890 | Oil on canvas | 20 inches x 35 3/4 inches
Interior Bedroom, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Charles M. Russell | There May Be Danger Ahead (Hunting Party on Mountain Trail) | 1893 | Oil on canvas | 36 1/4 inches x 22 inches
Interior Bedroom, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California
Frederic Remington | The Sentinel | 1889 | Oil on canvas | 34 inches x 49 inches
Charles M. Russell | Seeking New Hunting Grounds  | ca. 1891 | Oil on canvas | 23 3/4 inches x 35 7/8 inches

A Fortune in Oils

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.

Peter Hurd, Portrait of Sid Richardson, 1958, Tempera on panel, 32 x 48 inches

The 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.

Google Maps pointing out Athens, TX in relationship to Dallas & Fort Worth, TX.

The 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. 

Keystone Field, Derricks and Sand Dunes | ESTHER BUBLEY (1921-1998) | November 1945

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.”

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

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.

Edgar Deen, Ernest Allen, W.R. Watt, and Sid W. Richardson at Northwoods Farm (detail) | September 13, 1947 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram Photograph Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas | 10002301 AR406-6

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”.

Living Porch, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Sid 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?’”

Since 1982, Sid’s paintings have been displayed at the Sid Richardson Museum. The Museum is supported by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, which has added four paintings to the collection: The Dry Camp, Among the Led Horses, The Love Call, and The Apaches!.

Welcome in. “Uncle Sid”, as we like to call him, would be pleased you are with us today.

Sid Richardson Museum | Photo Courtesy of Keith Barrett