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

Suddenly Stanley was much in demand. His bank and office towers graced downtowns in Oklahoma City, Omaha, New Orleans, Chicago and New York. He was registered to practice architecture in 28 states. The same year he was completing plans for the First National Bank building, he was also designing the massive downtown Sanger-Harris retail store (now the DART headquarters), high-rise apartments in Mexico City, Malta and La Jolla, California, and hotels in the Bahamas and Monterrey, Mexico.

Corporate developers loved his classical elements--that touch of class, which Stanley told them was his way of putting "a little romance in their buildings." What they loved even more was the structures he designed made money for their owners. His buildings were built to lease.

"Attractive design was important to him, but it's not what he was known for," Axberg says. "His true mark was being able to build very efficient buildings. Some developers wanted Tom's name involved in their projects because his reputation with lenders made it easier for them to secure money."

All in the family: After Tom Stanley died, his wife, Lillian (center photo), would sue their daughter Jill Meletio (top photo, far right) and her husband, Larry, left, for allegedly taking the Stanleys' furniture, paintings and family heirlooms for their own use. Their youngest son, Hutch (bottom photo, center), would encourage his mother to file the lawsuit against his sister.
All in the family: After Tom Stanley died, his wife, Lillian (center photo), would sue their daughter Jill Meletio (top photo, far right) and her husband, Larry, left, for allegedly taking the Stanleys' furniture, paintings and family heirlooms for their own use. Their youngest son, Hutch (bottom photo, center), would encourage his mother to file the lawsuit against his sister.
Beginning in the mid-’90s, Mamie Stanley, then a heroin addict, admits she took her parents’ property, sometimes pawning it and sometimes selling it to her sister Jill.
Beginning in the mid-’90s, Mamie Stanley, then a heroin addict, admits she took her parents’ property, sometimes pawning it and sometimes selling it to her sister Jill.

While no architect was more developer-friendly, it was the personal magnetism of the man that closed the deal.

To meet with developers across the country, he would travel on his private jet accompanied by his two pilots wearing red blazers bearing the Stanley family crest. He was always impeccably dressed--pin-striped suit, monogrammed shirt and diamond cufflinks. Although he never drank a second cup of coffee out of the same cup, in his folksy South Carolinian drawl he was the most humble man in the room. Owners were wowed by his high style and down-home homilies--the way he would pull out his felt-tip pen, and a dozen napkins later, have designed them a building with the right blend of economics and "romance" to sweep them off their feet.

"He went into these meetings believing he was going to win," says former Stanley employee and architect Hardy McCullah. "And he generally did."

By the early '70s, Tom Stanley was at the pinnacle of both his professional and personal life. He had an architectural staff of nearly 90, refusing to develop a more corporate structure because he was the business, its sole rainmaker. He had an apartment in New York, a 375-acre horse farm outside McKinney and a Rolls Royce in his driveway. He retained a governess for his four children, a housekeeper to cook and clean and a full-time carpenter just because he could. When he would come home exhausted from his 12-hour days, Lillian, if she hadn't traveled with him, would be standing in the doorway, a cocktail in hand, looking freshly coiffed and playing his favorite Al Jolson standards. Together they might retire to the bedroom and eat dinner, behind closed doors and apart from the children.

If Stanley had kept practicing architecture, not only might he have died a rich man, he could have died a happy one.


There was simply not enough of Tom Stanley to go around. Everyone wanted a piece of him--his clients, his employees, his wife, his children--and everyone came up wanting. "He used to tell me he was spread thinner than piss on a platter," says Bob Sallee, who managed his office. "Either he was chasing business, or the business was chasing him."

Although Stanley was only a phone call away from his children and intimately involved in any crisis, his hectic schedule limited his family time. He also tended to be strict with the children--after all, that was how he was raised. Edward, the eldest, was strong-willed and had a problem with authority, particularly his father's. Military school was Stanley's response to his son's lack of self-discipline. Jill, on the other hand, "never gave us any problems," Lillian says. She made good grades, acted responsibly, though other family members insist she was territorial and emotionally distant. Hutch worshipped his father but seemed starved for his attention, begging their governess Lucille Ledbetter not to quit because he was afraid his parents might send him to boarding school, which they did.

"I never doubted for a minute they loved their children," Ledbetter recalls. "But the children didn't feel the love they needed to feel. Mr. Stanley was so busy, and Mrs. Stanley was so foolish about him--she really was...I just know they weren't together enough as a family."

Only upon his daughter Mamie did Stanley lavish his attention, their shared love for horses drawing them close. They would spend time together at Sycamore Farms, riding in the open fields and winding paths that the Stanleys owned near McKinney. Stanley built an equestrian center there and would often accompany Mamie when she competed in horse shows.

Mamie was their rebel child. Untamed and mischievous, she hated school and began drinking and drugging at an early age. Her criminal history dates to 1976, when at age 22 she was arrested for assaulting a police officer outside a bar. During the next several years, she was convicted of either delivery or possession of a wide assortment of drugs from marijuana to barbiturates to amphetamines. Yet Tom and Lillian were always there for Mamie, handling every drug crisis with their traditional grace, paying for bondsmen, lawyers and drug rehab programs. They backed her in the car stereo business, as they did Edward; they bought her a town house, often in denial about the full extent of her drug use.

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