Caroline Rose Hunt, R.I.P.

Photo courtesy Rosewood Corp./David Woo, Illustration by CandysDirt.com

Caroline Rose Hunt, oil heiress, daughter of legendary oil wildcatter H.L. Hunt, and the woman who pioneered Uptown in Dallas, has died at age 95. She was a Dallas-based philanthropist, hotelier, author, real estate investor, world traveler, gourmet, entrepreneur, mother of five, grandmother of 19 and great-grandmother of 23.

Caroline Rose Hunt was also once the richest woman in America.

She died Tuesday night after suffering a stroke on Halloween, Oct. 31. Our thoughts and hearts are with her family.

“My mother changed the complexion of the city,” said her only daughter, Laurie Harrison. “She bought land in an area that nobody wanted to be in and created The Mansion on Turtle Creek. She took something that was historical and made it useful and beautiful. She took 13 acres that was a car lot and created The Crescent — one of the most beautiful Philip Johnson buildings in America. My mother lived three or four lifetimes in one. She was something else.”

That she was. Caroline Rose Hunt was one of the most important women in Dallas real estate. If her father, H.L. Hunt, had a capacity for finding oil, Caroline Hunt knew how to find dirt and make it sing. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for a story I wrote in 2010 on the Crescent’s 25th anniversary.

Caroline Hunt being walked down the aisle by her father, H.L. Hunt, for her marriage to Loyd Sands. (Courtesy Caroline Rose Hunt)

In the early 1980s, we had just moved to Dallas and most shopping was either at NorthPark or up north — Valley View Mall, Prestonwood, or the new Galleria. But in the mid 80’s, just as everyone was depressed and downtrodden over the collapse of the real estate market, Caroline Hunt and her Rosewood Corp. purchased several blocks of old automobile dealerships north of downtown Dallas.

Victory wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye. You still passed sketchy on your way to downtown. Crescent plans were to create a grand mixed-use development in an area that might have reminded you more of Harry Hines Boulevard.

And when virtually no one in town had any money to lend, excavation began on digging one of the largest holes ever in this city. Hunt was creating a 5-level, 4,100 space underground parking facility, one of the most expensive ever constructed in Dallas, with an estimated cost of $400 million. Come 1986 there was a gala event — I think we were there — in a city starved for really great parties.

Seeking upscale clients during a recession — mind you, Dallas was hit harder than most areas — was challenging. Hunt ended up buying retailer Stanley Korshak to keep the store on schedule for an opening at her Crescent. After all, Korshak was to be the anchoring department store. The Crescent’s location in the center of the (then) transitioning Uptown attracted multiple financial firms and upscale retailers, permanently pulling the center of the financial industry in Dallas from Main Street to Uptown.

The Crescent is often credited for stepping up the quality of the surrounding neighborhood, which flourished after the Crescent’s completion. Today Crescent commercial rents are some of the highest in Dallas. The structure retains its strength of beauty, and it was updated a few years ago. Right across the street are the venerable Ritz Residences and hotel, and Crescent’s $225 million McKinney and Olive tower is beyond that, on the corner of McKinney Avenue and Olive Street.

To the northwest, Gabriel Barbier-Mueller’s Harwood owns 16 blocks of Uptown, which he developed after the Crescent, building his signature $150 million, 31-story tall Azure condominium in 2006.

But it all started with Caroline Hunt. There was literally no Uptown until she built it.

She built the Crescent to last. Architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee helped create The Crescent’s neo-French classical design, a nod to the historic architecture of Galveston. The building was an office complex with a contiguous 19-story center tower, two 18-story side towers set in a Crescent-shaped contour.

The entire complex is clad in acres of Indiana limestone, using more limestone than even the Empire State Building. The building lobby areas are finished with ten different types of marble, and the complex’s roof is the largest cut slate roof in the world: 250,000 slate tiles installed by skilled craftsmen, while the exterior is covered with $6 million worth of ornamental cast aluminum metal used on balconies, trellises, and railings.

According to Cheryl Hall, “Caroline Hunt was born in El Dorado, Ark., to H.L. and his wife Lyda Bunker, the third child of H.L.’s so-called ‘first family’ that also included her late brothers Hassie, Nelson Bunker and Lamar Hunt; her late sister, Margaret Hunt Hill; and her only surviving sibling, William Herbert Hunt.”

After H.L. discovered the massive East Texas oilfield, the family moved to Tyler and then to Dallas and the now-famous Mount Vernon along White Rock Lake in 1938. The J.R. Ewing character in TV’s superhit Dallas was modeled after H.L.

The patriarch, once the world’s richest man, later married Ruth Ray, mother of Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt and his three sisters.

In the early 1980s, Caroline Hunt’s Rosewood Corp. began assembling a tract of land just north of downtown that would anchor the company’s signature development, the Crescent, and later Rosewood Court.

Her net worth at its height in the late 1980s was about $1 billion — more than $2 billion in today’s dollars — and also included the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.

She outlived two husbands, Loyd Sands and Buddy Schoellkopf, and her longtime companion, Charles Simmons, who died nearly eight years ago.

In recent years, Hunt was squired by Robert Brackbill Sr., who will turn 100 next summer.

Of course, she had a boyfriend; she divorced Buddy Schoellkopf in 1987. She was known as Caroline in Dallas and in the Park Cities, but her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her Moozie.

“The city of Dallas has been the recipient of the results of my Aunt Caroline’s love of beauty,” said Dallas billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist Lyda Hill, whose mother, Margaret Hunt Hill, was Caroline’s sister. “Rosewood’s projects are elegant with superb architecture and art that reflect her grace and sense of style. The renovation of the Mansion on Turtle Creek preserved a beautiful old home and gave Dallas a grand hotel. The Crescent development renewed a deteriorating area on the north side of downtown and produced a shining star that became a beautiful entry into downtown Dallas.”

Developer Lucy Billingsley said, “Caroline Hunt was raised in the age of steel magnolias — beautiful, charming and powerful,”

Her eye for excellence and beauty, said Billingsley, and her ability to deliver on both, created the magic of the Rosewood brand.

Hunt attended and graduated from the Hockaday School in 1939. She attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., for her first two years of college, finishing up with a bachelor of arts degree in English from UT. Get this: “Hunt’s first job at the family oil business was in the mailroom of Hunt Oil.”

Hunt launched into the hotel business after she bought the old Sheppard King Mansion on Turtle Creek Blvd, which she turned into one of the most luxurious hotel brands in the world. After 42 years of ownership, she sold Rosewood Corp. in 1989.When Harrison, 62, executive director at Rosewood Corp., asked her mom why she’d agreed to sell the family’s crown jewels, she received one of her mother’s well-honed pieces of business advice.

“She goes, ‘Laurie, I told you, don’t get emotionally tied to any one line of business,’ ” Harrison recalled. ‘Business is cyclical. And now is the time to sell. We’ve got a Chinese [tycoon] getting ready to overpay. Besides that, you children can buy it back for 30 cents on the dollar in about 15 years.’ “

Caroline Rose Hunt surrounded by her immediate family at Carmel Valley Ranch, where Rosewood Corp. held its 15th annual stakeholders meeting. (Courtesy Caroline Rose Hunt family)

Caroline Hunt is survived by her son, Stephen Hunt Sands and wife Marcy; daughter, Laurie Sands Harrison; son, Patrick Brian Sands and wife Kristy; daughters-in-law Nancy Sands Esber and Gayle Sands; her brother, William Herbert Hunt; and half-brother Ray Hunt and half-sisters Ruth June Hunt, Swanee Hunt Ansbacher and Helen Hunt Hendrix.

She lost two sons, David Sands and John Bunker Sands, to cancer.

Mrs. Hunt is also survived by 19 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.

Services are pending.