From June 23rd:
Stanley Marsh, Cadillac Rancher, Dies at 76, Shadowed by Charges
By BRUCE WEBER
JUNE 23, 2014
Stanley Marsh, the proudly eccentric and locally prominent millionaire who was best known for commissioning the public art project known as the Cadillac Ranch outside his hometown, the Texas Panhandle city of Amarillo, but whose reputation was badly tarnished by accusations that he had sexually abused teenage boys, died on June 17 in Amarillo. He was 76.
His wife, Gwendolyn Bush O’Brien Marsh, known as Wendy, said the cause was pneumonia. In recent years Mr. Marsh had a series of strokes.
Scion of a prominent oil and gas family and a successful banker and television executive in his own right, Mr. Marsh was an arts patron and a celebrated personality in Texas generally and in Amarillo particularly. He was the third in a line of Stanley Marshes but called himself Stanley Marsh 3 instead of Stanley Marsh III because he felt that Roman numerals were pretentious.
He often wore loud checkered suits and occasionally dropped water balloons from his 12th-floor downtown office.
Mr. Marsh at a party for the 30th anniversary of the Cadillac Ranch in 2004.
DAVID BOWSER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
An audacious concocter of public stunts, he kept a pet lion and earned a place on President Richard M. Nixon’s “enemies list” when he wrote to the first lady, Pat Nixon, about including her hats in a museum he was planning dedicated to decadent art.
He once turned a football-field-size swatch of ranch land into the likeness of a pool-table top: he had the prairie painted green and supplied giant billiard balls and a 100-foot cue stick. He had a colossal necktie tied around the chimney of his mother’s home. And he had dozens of fake traffic signs scattered around the city offering cryptic or lighthearted messages like “Road Does Not End,” “You Will Never Be the Same” and “Ostrich X-ing.”
He made his most famous contribution to public art in 1974, when he commissioned a San Francisco collective, the Ant Farm, to bury 10 Cadillacs of older vintage, nose first, their fins in the air, atilt at the same angle (said to match that of sides of the Great Pyramid at Giza), in a wheat field north of Amarillo.
Cadillac Ranch, as it came to be called, was memorialized in the title of a Bruce Springsteen song and became one of the country’s most photographed roadside attractions, an emblem of many things to many beholders: Texas kitsch, consumerism, the American reverence for the road. (One of its nicknames was “the hood ornament of Route 66.”)
Cadillac Ranch, a public art project outside Amarillo, Texas, features 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in a wheat field.
DAVID BOWSER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
For Mr. Marsh, the Ranch was “a monument to the American dream” of a boy growing up in the 1950s. A car, he once said, “represented money; it was the first valuable thing we ever had.”
“It represented sex; it was where you had dates,” he added. “And it represented getting away from home. And I assure you those were the three things that were on our minds when we were 16.”
In 1997, Cadillac Ranch was moved a bit west along Interstate 40 to set it farther from Amarillo, whose borders had expanded. Over the years, the cars have been painted in different colors, and graffiti artists have had their way with them, a development Mr. Marsh loved, because, he said, it meant that the art kept changing.
Mr. Marsh had his local enemies, but he was long considered a boon to Amarillo, a man who added spice to a conservative city on a drab prairie. That changed in 2012 — after he had been ruled incapacitated by a court and his wife made his legal guardian — when lawsuits were filed on behalf of 10 teenage boys accusing him of having paid them, given them drugs and alcohol and bought them gifts in exchange for sex.
“He’s had a stream of boys coming up to his office to do his sexual bidding for a long, long time,” Tony Buzbee, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Texas Monthly.
Those cases were settled. But since then Mr. Marsh had also faced criminal sexual-abuse charges and four more civil lawsuits, with a total of 11 plaintiffs, his lawyer, Kelly Utsinger, said in an interview. No trial dates had been set for the civil cases. The criminal charges were being withdrawn because of Mr. Marsh’s death, Mr. Utsinger said. “It is unfortunate Stanley died before he had the opportunity to clear his good name,” Paul Nugent, another lawyer for Mr. Marsh, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press. “The criminal accusations made by those seeking to become millionaires will now forever remain mere allegations — untested and unproven in a criminal courtroom.”
Mr. Marsh was born in Amarillo on Jan. 31, 1938. He graduated from public high school there and from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied economics as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in American studies. For many years he owned KVII, a top-rated Amarillo television station. He often expressed the idea that it was the responsibility of the rich to behave unusually and interestingly, and he encouraged art for art’s sake, he once said, to “fight back the ever-rising flood of philistinism.”
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1967, Mr. Marsh is survived by two brothers, Tom and Michael; five children; and 10 grandchildren.
The accusations against Mr. Marsh have moved some to question whether Cadillac Ranch, whose 40th anniversary is this month, ought to be bulldozed. At the very least, they have caused many of Mr. Marsh’s fans to have painful second thoughts.
“A man who knew Marsh well just called me a few minutes ago and said he hoped I would say some good words about his friend,” Skip Hollandsworth, the executive editor of Texas Monthly, wrote on the magazine’s website after Mr. Marsh’s death. “And the fact is, there are plenty of good things to say about Marsh.” Mr. Hollandsworth had written often about Mr. Marsh, describing many of his harmless antics. More recently, he detailed the accusations of sexual abuse.
“And that, sadly, is going to be his legacy,” he said. “I wish it wasn’t so.”
Correction: July 2, 2014
A picture caption in some editions last Wednesday with an obituary about Stanley Marsh, the Texas millionaire best known for commissioning the public art project known as the Cadillac Ranch, misstated the year the photograph showing Mr. Marsh leaning against a Cadillac was taken. It was 1984, not 1974.