History

Greatest Dallasites: H.L. Hunt (No. 37)

The oddball oilman was a source of generational wealth.

The last century produced a gusher of rich Texas oilmen, and in his prime Dallas’ own Haroldson Lafayette Hunt was the richest of them all. Yet for some reason—his loopy politics, perhaps, or simply the great breadth of his wackiness—the city never quite warmed to the fullness of H.L. Hunt.

He made his money in the East Texas fields and moved to Dallas in the 1930s. In 1948, Fortune magazine christened him the wealthiest man in the United States. But Hunt did not mold himself into a grand philanthropist like, say, Andrew Carnegie or John Rockefeller Sr. His public image hewed closer to that of a weird, obsessed uncle.

Hunt was a bigamist. He delivered fire-and-brimstone radio sermons against communism. He wrote and published a utopian novel, Alpaca, in which he posited that votes should be apportioned by wealth.

Through the decades, Hunt emerged as a vital component of the city’s enduring, if unfair, image. He was said to be a model of sorts for J.R. Ewing. And he helped create the rabid right-wing climate in Dallas at the time of the Kennedy assassination. He was, it could be argued, one of the architects of the “City of Hate.”

But there’s another, less recognized, side to his legacy. Building upon the patriarchal fortune, his many offspring have given Dallas some of its modern landmarks: Reunion Tower. The Mansion. Thanksgiving Tower. The late, lamented Bronco Bowl. The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. The list extends now to the suburbs, with a huge soccer complex in Frisco.

Hunt had hoped, via health food and a regimen of crawling on the floor, to live at least 150 years, but he died in 1974 at the age of 85. In many ways, however—the visible and the perceived, the concrete and the spiritual—rich, crazy old H.L. Hunt is with us yet.

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