University of Houston Board of Regents Discussion
Would you help me welcome Mr. Wilson (Applause).
Thank you, Doris let me make a comment if I could about John Walsh, is John still here, gone. John Walsh was President of Friendswood Development Corporation, one of the largest development companies in the world. I built several million sq. ft. of this and that, he built my 200 million sq. ft. of office, 150 million sq. ft. of shopping centres and so forth. I was able to persuade John Walsh for $1 a year to become our full time Director of the Real Estate program in the University of Houston. He is a very talented guy, he’s raised almost $80,000,000.00 for the program singlehandedly. But anyway he is not here today one more comment about the real estate program. I called a meeting about 3, 4 or 5 years ago when I was trying to determine if we needed a real estate program in Houston. Which I thought we did, so I had Louis of Hines there Ed Wolfe and Ginoid Gross. And all of the leaders in each area of real estate, we have got 12 there and we made a presentation. The Dean of the College of Business and I, we made a presentation about an undergraduate program and sitting at that table Stewart. They told me we don’t need an undergraduate program. Our people already have a Bachelor’s Degree, we need a graduate program. Call it night so that the Executives at times for example that have their Bachelors’ Degree can raise it to the next level, so that’s what we have in program and as John pointed out, it is practice space.
David I’m so glad to be here at this part of the group, I’m glad that everybody finished eating before I had to start talking. (laughs). I was first in line I didn’t eat very much because I just started recently a 30-day diet. So far, I’ve lost 13 days (laughs). I’m gonna speak, by the way one thing I’ve learned is that my brain cells come and go, the fat cells come and stay. I’m gonna speak for about 20 minutes and then I’m going open the floor for some softball questions. I have asked my daughter Cindy to stand up when I’ve spoken for 20 minutes and I’m gonna ask Russell to stand up when he thinks we have had all the questions we can stand.
I’d like to start off by talking about my early days in real estate, I came to the University of Houston in 1946. It was right after World War II and why I came to Houston was because of my father. My father felt like that Houston was gonna be the centre of the business world in time to come. There were about 1/2 a million people in those days Stewart as I recall. Now in Metropolitan Houston 6 million people, 4 million in Harris County. So, my father decided that we needed to go to the University of Houston which was only 18 years old, just like me I was 18 years old. I had been drafted in World War II and was scheduled to report for active duty on September 17, 1945. I was just finishing up at Brownsville Junior College, Brownsville Junior College. So Harry Truman dropped 2 atom bombs on Japan in August of 1925 and the War ended a week later. It true he killed 150,000 people and so forth with those bombs, but he saved millions of lives. I promise you if we had invaded Japan it would have been so costly on both sides. But those bombs ended the war in 7 days and they have been serving us well ever since in my view.
But anyway, my brother and I left Brownsville Jnr College to enrol at the University of Houston, so he drove us up here an I’ll never forget Glen when he said to us when he dropped us off, it was in front of Trailer #67 (laughs) an army surplus house trailer on the campus of the University of Houston, the bathroom was a block and half away. So he said alright boys I paid your first semester tuition, I paid the first month’s rent on this house trailer, $10.00 and he said here is $50.00 each and whenever you boys need anything I want you to call me up on the telephone, that’s the way we talked in those days, we call people up, and he said whatever you need and whenever you need it call me up on the phone and I will explain how to get by without it (laughs) and we never heard from him financially again, but we got along just fine, in those days we didn’t expect all that.
I got a job running the student newspaper, my brother and I had a comedy act that we performed at night clubs $10.00 a night, we did just fine. Houston was a different place in those times, now 66 years later the University of Houston and I are still the same age and although the University of Houston have never been more vigorous and useful and on the cutting edge I on the other hand Jim, I am moving more slowly. Debbie Thomas if you hear me talking about happy hour, I’m talking about a nap (laughs). Russell I never thought I would say this myself, oh to be 70 again (laughs).
University of Houston
What was Houston like, by the way I’m glad to be here with Stewart Morris, the only man in the country older than I and I have something more to about Stewart in a minute, but what was Houston like in 1946. Well there was a guy named Jessie Jones who was Mr. Everything, he had been Secretary of Commerce under President Roosevelt and Truman he had returned Houston and he was without question Mr. Houston.
The most energetic vigorous thing that ever happened to the City of Houston and he set the tone that in my view exists today in Houston, we are a can-do city. There were 8 hotels in downtown Houston, Jessie Jones owned 7 of them, there were 12 office buildings in downtown Houston, Jesse Jones owned 10 of them, he owned the biggest bank, he owned the Houston Chronicle the biggest of the 3 daily newspapers, he owned the biggest radio station, he was Mr. Houston. I knew him slightly, he was very tall, very dignified wore a double breasted suit, and I will never forget one time I saw him in front of the La Mar hotel where he lived and his chauffeur was picking him up to take him down to McKinney or Maine where he officed, and the Chauffeur was driving convertible why, Jesse Jones was so tall he would bump his head getting into a limousine. So literally the Captain of Houston drove around in the backseat of a Ford Convertible because of his height. A very good time for Houston and Texas and America. After World War II I think, we had some of the greatest years ever.
But I would like to speak about some other leaders in Houston. Gus Werther for example, George Brown, Jim Elkins, the second largest law firm in town was named Fulbright, Crooker, Freeman, Bates and Jowarski, and I knew every one of them except Fullbright who had died and then Leon Jowarksi was a good friend and if anybody wants to know how when you are in your early 20’s you get meet the dozen leading citizens of Houston and know them all well, ask me that during the questions I will be happy to share that with you (laughs). But in those days Houston worked together in a way that was unprecedented in America. I will never forget when we segregated the lunch counters downtown and there were riots all over the country about civil rights and so forth, there were sit-ins in Foley’s downtown and Walgreens downtown where black kids would come and sit from TSU, in those days it was the Texas State College for negros and they would sit there and wouldn’t be served.
And in Houston, Mayor Lewis Cutrer was Mayor at the time, I was his buddy, so we called a meeting of all of the people downtown that served food and Bod Dundas of Foley’s, Stewart you remember Bob, was the organizer of the effort and he said, look if we all de-segregate at the same moment we can get through this, so I was assigned the job of calling the Chronicle Post and the Houston Press and the 2 TV stations and talking them into down-playing it, and everybody cooperated, imagine trying to do that today. Trying to get the press to cooperate, anyway next Monday morning everything in Houston was de-segregated in downtown that is and without an incident, without a riot, without anything at all.
Houston has always had that ability to do it. Bob Smith was another leader, Stewart Morris was a leader in those days, still is a leader for that matter. Let me tell you something about Stewart. When I first started a real estate development, my first project was Jamaica Beach in Galveston. And I forget his name but my closer was in Stewart Title office in Galveston and in those days Stewart Title had 2 offices, 1 in Houston, 1 in Galveston, both of them kinda sleepy and the Chairman of the Board was Stewart’s cousin and suddenly the Morris brothers, Stewart and his brother Carlos decided that company had been sleepy long enough so they literally came in and ousted the management, they took over the company and now how many countries are you in now? 40 Countries and all over America and so forth and it’s all because of Stewart Morris, I was there, I saw it. I remember in the early days they were like cheer leaders, they all wore blazers, he Stewart Title Executives wore blazers, what colour were there blue maybe?
Royal Stewart Red.
The Royal Stewart colour, but anyway because of Stewart and Carlos and so on Stewart Title is a giant today and I’m proud of doing business with him and we closed something last week with you Stewart so send me a note. (laughs). Where was I, Murray Bob Smith was the largest landowner in Houston and the Hills about 500 acres west of town, they are kind of close in, it’s now known as both sides of the West loop, he owned 7000 acres further out Westheimer now known as best both sides of the West Belt. He was a visionary he didn’t believe in real estate development, he kept telling me Welcome if you try to take a piece of land and develop it, all you do is mess it up. Just buy it and hold it, well of course, my holding power was about 10 minutes, so I had to develop instead but Bob Smith believed in real estate. However, I went to work for him in the early 50’s and I was going to go in the oil business and he was going to send me to Snyder, Texas where he had just brought in a couple of wells, he went on to drill 90 wells in Stewart County ,Texas without hitting a dry hole, 90 wells it was a huge, huge find and everybody asked, you are such a genius to know to lease up all this property whatever, he says I didn’t do anything genius about it, it was just cheap. (laughs).
And he made a statement regards it which I think is true, he said luck has a great deal to do with success in business, luck. Luck about the economy, luck about a variety of things, I know people with Eagle Ford Shale area, now they are paying some huge thousands of dollars an acre bonus money such as that, so luck has a lot to do with success of any kind, I promise you that. But back to Bob Smith I never forget when he bought 500 acres in Westheimer, right by Stewart Morris’ house and he paid $1200 an acre so he and I drove out there, I had been working for him for a short period of time, so we drove out there and stood around the land and I said boss it is a shame all the good deals are gone, here I am trying to get in the real estate business and all of the good deals are gone (laughs) and he said you silly peckerwood (laughs) and if you want to know what peckerwood means ask me in the questions.