Not every Texas wildcatter leaves a larger-than-life legend or a big fortune. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have vital impact, lead fascinating lives or achieve historical significance.
The Iconic Monument Unrealized
Witness Rogers Lacy, born in Longview in 1882. When he died in 1947, the estate he left was $20 million worth of debt – a whopping $200 million in today’s dollars. That alone tells you that in the lively boom and bust game of oil and gas wildcatting that he was up to some major wheeling and dealing.
Most of the best-known wildcatters were oil men, as was Lacy. But he also was canny enough to put down cash on NG when Black Gold was the prime resource currency.
Like most original wildcatters, Lacy had tried many ventures when young and laid bets down on a number of business plays. But he was a pioneer who knew that there was mucho dinero to be made in them there East Texas prairie fields, starting Texas Caddo Land and Oil Co. in 1913 (his title on his letterhead read “Capitalist”). He purchased 200 acres in the primarily NG Willow Springs Gas Field in the Roaring ‘20s, and in 1940 started supplying NG to Longview with his Southern Gas company.
Following common original wildcatter form, Lacy left school young after seventh grade. His first venture was running a nursery and coaxing fruit trees up out of the soil rather than oil and gas. He owned a mercantile store and invested in land, later applied for a Dallas broadcast TV license, and did win-some/lose-some drilling in the abundant East Texas patch in such fields as the Hawkins and Carthage – where the company he left behind remains active – and Rodessa Limestone.
Lacy would undoubtedly be better known today if perhaps he’d lived a bit longer. After the end of World War II he had engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to design a hotel to be sited in downtown Dallas at Commerce and Ervay Streets. It was big news in the Big D and made waves in the national architecture community, and deservedly so. The plans were years ahead of the time with a then rare and now prevalent interior atrium as well as an innovative skyscraper design with a concrete core from which floors were cantilevered outward, enabling large glass floor-to-ceiling window curtain walls on the exterior to open rooms up to the surrounding vistas.
It took elements of Wright’s now historic prairie home design upwards into the sky. The famed architect touted the 826-room hotel as being “beyond anything in the nation” and boasted how it would “glisten in the night.” The entrepreneurial wildcatter wanted to name it the Rogers Lacy Hotel and Wright preferred calling it the Lone Star. As was common on many Wright projects, he showed little budgetary restraint and thought huge on tower design and aesthetic flair, yet despite his renown had yet to have one of his skyscraper plans even break ground. But the skyrocketing projected costs left the project on the drawing boards even before Lacy passed away. (Elements from the hotel design did show up in Wright’s only real highrise that was constructed, the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Okla., built for – hardly coincidental here – an oil pipeline and chemical firm as its headquarters.)
Though Lacy’s death left his business holdings with a potentially crushing debt load, he was wise enough the year before he passed to reorganize his privately-held ventures into a corporation. The lawyer who did so, Jack Price, took over the running of R. Lacy Services and in time got it back on solid fiscal footing. It continues to operate today in the energy, land and cattle businesses.
“Rogers Lacy was not as famous as H.L. Hunt and didn’t have a company as big as some of the majors,” notes current R. Lacy president Dick Dial. “But if he lived another 20 years, the company could have been as big as Exxon or he could have been broke.” Two years ago the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association honored Lacy with its Legacy of Achievement Award.
If the hotel had been built, it surely would have rivaled Houston’s Shamrock Hotel built by wildcatter Glenn McCarthy, despite the Shamrock’s celebrity-studded headline-grabbing opening in 1949. The Lacy/Wright building would certainly have become an iconic presence on the Dallas skyline and, unlike the Shamrock, still standing today. But even without Lacy exercising any edifice complex he may have had, he still left his distinctive imprint on the Texas energy industry.
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