It all started when Dallas real estate veteran Harry James decided he needed some peace and quiet. Since he left Cambridge Companies as president of development in 1971, James had been working out of his home developing residential lots. By 1985, he and his wife needed a place to get away from the hustle. So they bought the Southern Cross Ranch on the eastern edge of Mesquite. James didn’t know. at the time that his little 455 acres of privacy-Southern Cross-was practically a household word-the “Clayton Farlow” place on TV’s Dallas.
“My wife and I started going out there on weekends and it was anything but peace and quiet,” James says. Tourists wanting a glimpse would drive up in their station wagons and roam around the place looking for souvenirs. Although the tourists got annoying, James, for the most part, found the fascination humorous. Well, that fall, he was looking through one of the Dallas papers and he saw an ad declaring that a Bobby Ewing (no relation to Patrick Duffy) was looking for investors in Ewing Oil.
“When I saw the ad, it just broke me up,” says James, an SMU grad who’s spent all of his twenty-year professional life in Dallas. The company, James found out, was basically a corporate shell. He made a proposal for Ewing to develop the Southern Cross ranch into a high-end planned residential community.
Then, white in Germany on other business, he happened to mention to someone that he owned the Southern Cross ranch. “That’s all it took,” James says. “People sent flowers and started treating us like celebrities and asking us about J.R.”
James recognized the marketing potential, and as soon as he returned to Dallas, he negotiated to buy “Ewing Oil” from Bobby Ewing. Since early 1986, he’s been working on plans to make Ewing a legitimate-and profitable-corporate entity with real estate and oil interests. James says he retained the financial public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton, which told him that Ewing Oil is the second most well known company name in the world after Texaco. “Hill & Knowlton told us we’d have to spend a million dollars a week in advertising to attain that kind of name recognition,” James says.
Given that head start, James headed for Wall Street for more advice. In the last year and a half, Ewing Oil has raised $6 million from private investors.
If you’ve kept up with the television version of this business, Ewing Oil has been acquired by Westar Oil. James, who believes that reality mimics art, or at least television, says he’s already starting companies under the Westar name.