Published on June 25, 2014

Remembering patron of ‘Cadillac Ranch’

(Photo via Noel Kerns, Eric Hunt)
The Cadillac Ranch will live on, outlasting Stanley Marsh 3.

By Blake Z. Rong, Crain News Service

AMARILLO, Texas (June 25, 2014) — Stanley Marsh 3 didn’t come up with the idea of sticking Cadillacs into the ground, but he certainly understood the concept.

When the Ant Farm art collective approached the Texas millionaire in 1974, Mr. Marsh played the Medici to Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels. Mr. Marsh figured that the 10 Cadillacs—jutting out of the ground, their noses buried in concrete—would be out of there by the end of the summer. Instead, it has remained a mainstay of American culture for 40 years.

Mr. Marsh made his money, like so many Texans, through oil and gas—the family trade. He had owned the land outside Amarillo, Texas, for some time when he met the three from Ant Farm. He likened them to “a commune of artists who didn’t live together, but shared a fondness for the evolution of the American automobile.”

The angle of the Cadillacs is said to match the slope of the Pyramids of Giza. “The wonderful thing about the Cadillac is that they were so badly made that anybody could have one that was four or five years old,” Mr. Marsh said. “The rich people had to keep buying new ones because their maids had ones that were better.”

He encouraged visitors to stroll onto his private land, and he encouraged them to graffiti the cars. They were sometimes painted to match various themes: sometimes for television commercials, sometimes to commemorate gay pride, sometimes to celebrate the people in Mr. Marsh’s life. The fresh coat never lasted long, of course. Mr. Marsh also became a patron to other local Amarillo artists: The Dynamite Museum, for example, was a series of bizarre road signs scattered across Amarillo and Adrian, Texas. Mr. Marsh wanted the signs to go to only Texas cities whose names began with A.

In 1997, the Cadillac Ranch was moved a few miles westward, between the Route 66 RV Ranch and Love’s Travel Stop on Interstate 40.

If you’re heading out of Amarillo, you can still see the landmark from the highway. Mr. Marsh gave up ownership of the Ranch sometime last year, around the time he fell under investigation for sexual harassment of teenage boys. Mr. Marsh, incapacitated, stroke-ridden and in a wheelchair, was convicted on 14 counts of sexual assault, sexual performance by a child and indecency with a child. He had been under suspicion of child indecency since around 1996, settling lawsuits out of court.

The latest ruling seemed to finally catch up with the last 15 years of his life. He died June 17, under hospice care in Amarillo.

Cadillac Ranch still stands. And it will stand indefinitely, without Mr. Marsh or his wife Gwendolyn or his five children, who live on, until the great swirling miasma returns Cadillac Ranch and Carhenge and Spindle and Robosaurus back to the ground from whence it all came. Its role as a reflection of the American Dream—at times a quaint notion—will carry forth as well. Even if it sometimes seems to be an anachronism.

“They are a monument to the American dream,” Mr. Marsh once said, “when we all thought we could hit the road, get a blonde, break the bank in Las Vegas and be a movie star.”

This report appeared on the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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