(Gus note: This 19-year old article contains a lot of useful historical background information that probably describes some of the befuddling social occurrences encountered during our rush toward adulthood a half-century ago. Credit: D Magazine November 1995)
In Fort Worth, The Civilized West, Caleb Pirtle III tells how Richardson, when asked about the size of his bank account, smiled and said, "Well, after the first hundred million, what the hell?" Richardson left his fortune to his nephew, Perry Bass, who also has been named by Fortune as one of the richest men in America, as have each of his four sons.
So everything the Basses do looms very large in this city. And whether or not they realize it, as they reshape Fort Worth’s physical landscape, they are inevitably reshaping Fort Worth’s emotional landscape as well.
To understand why this matters, it helps to have some history. Fort Worth used to be run by a group of men called the Seventh Street Gang. These were Amon Carter, Sid Richardson, the big bankers, the utility company heads, and a few selected CEOs, most of whom had offices on Seventh Street. The history of the Seventh Street Gang is the story of the men who started Fort Worth - the Terrells, Daggetts, Van Zandts, and such-who came as bold young men in the late 1850s, ready to take on the frontier.
So in the 1940s and 1950s, Carter and the second generation of the Seventh Street Gang mentored the next group, which in turn mentored men such as Bayard Friedman (1926-1998), who became the last true Seventh Street Gang mayor from 1963 to 1965.
These people live in Westover Hills or Rivercrest, and usually belong to River Crest and Shady Oaks country clubs, the Fort Worth Club, the Petroleum Club, and the Jewel Charity Ball. They attend the most prestigious of the benefit galas, and sometimes act as honorary chairs of such events. The women make their debuts at the Assembly Ball. The men usually are members of the Exchange Club.
Perry and Nancy Lee Bass and their four sons all are distinct, separate individuals with distinct and often separate interests and dreams. These interests and dreams move and shape nearly every part of their city in very different ways.
All this is why many people in Fort Worth give thanks daily that the Basses have pretty good taste. After all, we could have ended up with a city full of ugly, bland Tandy Centers.
An elaborate public planning process was set up, The result was a bond issue in which the taxpayers would put up $20 million to be matched by $30 million in private dollars. It was resoundingly defeated in July 1990, because of long-festering resentments about tax dollars being used to subsidize projects seen as benefiting only the most affluent of the city.
Of course it’s a tremendous resource to have four billionaires in your city who care about it and want to do good things," Kelly says matter of factly. Add the fact that the Bass "boys" have inherited their great-uncles well-developed work ethic, and you’ve got a source of tremendous power and influence. Ed Bass is not above walking the muddy grounds of some public-private construction project with a City Council member as they discuss problems that have cropped up. When asked by a city official for help, he shows up himself, instead of sending some assistant.
Anything any of the Basses do anywhere in the city has a perceptible impact. How that impact is viewed is determined largely by where one sits on the pyramid of power. And here is a fact that is key to understanding how Fort Worth works: The pyramid itself is invisible to those on the top of it, just as a chair is not visible to the person sitting in it. These people sincerely see leadership in Fort Worth as encouraging and cultivating leadership, nurturing up out of all that diversity. They say they don’t "manage" diversity but "celebrate" it.
"I think there are some well-developed linkages between the variety of communities that make up this city. I think one of the successes that you can point to historically has been a result of the different elements of the community maintaining, cultivating those relationships, those linkages," says City Councilman Bill Meadows, who represents District 7, within which lie Rivercrest, one of the richest neighborhoods in the city, and Como, one of the least prosperous neighborhoods.
Kelly has a point. Ed Bass, especially, tries to make his case, tries to persuade people with facts and figures and architectural renderings illustrating his dreams. But in the end, one hard truth remains. It’s his dream, not theirs.