Rich Man, Poor Man

Dallas architect Tom Stanley crafted buildings that endure on city skylines across the country, but his fortune and family wouldn't survive their own shaky foundations

"Don't you know who he is?" she scolded. "Don't you know what he's done?"


If Tom Stanley needed a good example of how to raise his kids, he certainly wouldn't get it from his own parents. They abandoned him when he was 5 years old, leaving him on the porch swing at his Aunt Mamie's, who maintained a small cotton farm in South Carolina. His was a meager existence; there was never enough money and never enough time--not when there were hogs to be slopped and corn to be shucked and lessons to be learned. His aunt was a strict disciplinarian, keeping Stanley on a short leash, though he always had some kind of promotion going--selling candy to the kids at recess, apples to the blacks in "colored town"--anything to make money.

Tom Stanley blended classical elements such as arches and columns into his modern glass high rises. But his skyscrapers such as First National Bank on Elm Street in Dallas (third from top), were known for their functionality, making money for their developers. Stanley's smaller buildings were among his best. His column and arch design for Sanger-Harris' downtown store (top) became the department store's trademark. Stanley won an American Institute of Architects award for his design of the Atlantic Richfield campus (second from top) in Dallas.
Mark Graham
Tom Stanley blended classical elements such as arches and columns into his modern glass high rises. But his skyscrapers such as First National Bank on Elm Street in Dallas (third from top), were known for their functionality, making money for their developers. Stanley's smaller buildings were among his best. His column and arch design for Sanger-Harris' downtown store (top) became the department store's trademark. Stanley won an American Institute of Architects award for his design of the Atlantic Richfield campus (second from top) in Dallas.
John Wayne, admiring a sculpture made for him by his friend Stanley, entered into a partnership with the architect, who designed and developed a hotel-casino in Lake Tahoe that would never open because of legal challenges from environmentalists.
John Wayne, admiring a sculpture made for him by his friend Stanley, entered into a partnership with the architect, who designed and developed a hotel-casino in Lake Tahoe that would never open because of legal challenges from environmentalists.

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Stanley was a natural-born artist, easily teaching himself how to draw, paint and carve. What was harder was cobbling together enough cash to buy art supplies. At 13, he entered a competition sponsored by Fisher Body Co. to replicate the carriage that Josephine took to Notre Dame for her wedding to Napoleon. Since he could not afford the kit that Fisher required of its entrants, he designed the coach from scraps around the farm--corncobs, metal, swatches of velvet and leather. Winning the contest was more than just a source of pride, it was a harbinger of the way he would practice architecture: finding economical ways of expressing himself artistically.

Although college seemed financially out of the question, his aunt insisted he use his savings ($198) and go. He attended Clemson College in North Carolina, majoring in architecture ("I meant to check off agriculture," he would tell his children). Overachieving both in school and out, he was the cartoonist for the college newspaper and the art editor of the yearbook; he taught art classes, painted business signs--whatever he could do to keep himself in food money. At the time, Clemson had a military bent that would serve Tom well when World War II broke out. A bombardier and a flight instructor, at 26 he became the youngest person at that time to obtain the rank of major in the Army Air Corps, says his son Hutch.

Stationed at Ellington Field outside Houston, he fell in love with Texas, its bigness, its brashness and its economic opportunity. To him, Texas was full of action-oriented entrepreneurs and developers, "men of a certain unusual type," he would tell the Dallas Times Heraldin 1964, who had the optimism and courage to implement their vision even in difficult economic times. Clearly, Tom Stanley wanted to be one of those men.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Stanley went to Houston and applied for a job with the largest architectural firm he could find, the only one that used bold letters in the phone book, or so the family mythology goes. He literally ran into the firm's renowned owner Wyatt C. Hedrick, who looked at Stanley's drawings and hired him on the spot. Hedrick was quite a showman in his own right, using his farm-fresh demeanor to land big commissions such as the Shamrock Hotel in Houston and the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. Stanley molded himself after Hedrick, who would get to work every morning by 6:30. Tom Stanley would be there at 5:30.

By 1951, Stanley had moved to Fort Worth as a partner in the firm of Hedrick-Stanley. There he serviced Hedrick's rich clientele of oilmen, ranchers and bankers. There he met his wife, Lillian, a genteel, arty divorcee whom he married 90 days later. From a prior marriage, she had two children--Edward, 5, and Jill, 2,--both of whom Tom adopted. To complete his family, two more children, Mamie and Hutch, would follow. Edward (Thomas E. Stanley III) always knew he had been adopted, though he seldom spoke about it; Jill, however, was never told, nor were the other children. Perhaps, as Lillian insists, "It was just our way of not showing partiality toward any of our children." Or perhaps Stanley, ever the Southern gentleman, believed that a good family name was a necessary credential--one that he had been denied but had dedicated his entire working life toward attaining. "Never forget you are a Stanley," he would tell his children.

Thomas E. Stanley II opened his doors in Dallas by 1959 and quickly gained entry to the corridors of power and business, which in Dallas were often the same. His closest friends were mostly business acquaintances: insurance industrialist Carr P. Collins and real estate men J.L. Williams, John Eulich and Henry S. Miller Jr. At the lightning speed he conducted business, there was rarely time to make an acquaintance of any other kind. Partly through his association with Collins, Stanley became one of two architects chosen to design the First National Bank building on Elm Street, which after its completion in 1965 was the tallest building west of the Mississippi at 52 stories. As the first glass box high rise in Dallas, it set the standard for the rest of downtown. It became his signature building, elegant with its classical use of white marble arches and columns, yet modern with its dark glass materials.

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