The Murrin Family – Preservation Achievement Award

The Murrin Family

Respect for family roots, a work ethic, and stewardship are guiding principles of the Murrin family. To Murrins the wisdom of “understanding where you come from” is critical to making future decisions. This foundation is why the Murrin family takes the preservation of our western culture and historic places so seriously.

Since 1885 five generations of the Murrin family have been involved in the success of Fort Worth, and their involvement in the Stockyards began when the first Murrin made a contribution to the fund raised by local businessmen to entice Armour and Swift to establish packing houses here.

The involvement continued when his son, Stephen Murrin Sr., worked for Edgar Kerr and Thos. A. Saunders in the Stockyards from 1913 to 1918 before going on to serve the U.S. Calvary in France during World War I. Upon his return home, Stephen Murrin Sr. founded a successful restaurant and grew to become the largest private buyer of hams from Armour & Company. The call of the cowboy way of life led Murrin to his ranch on Mary’s Creek in western Tarrant County. He then married Carolina Cuilty in 1935 and they raised three children to love their city and work hard for its success: Caroline, Steve Jr., and Susan. These three grew up with the highlight of bringing their cattle to market in the Stockyards, meetings businessmen at the Exchange, and touring the packing plants.

In the early 1970s there was renewed effort to revitalize the Stockyards. Armed with his memories and the foundation taught him by his parents a young Steve Murrin Jr. saw an opportunity most failed to recognize and many didn’t even see for years to come – the Fort Worth Stockyards are a rich cultural resource that can authentically connect the city’s past with the present and offer a rich opportunity for growth into the future – but in order to capitalize on the burgeoning tourism industry, the Stockyards had to be authentic and the Cowtown Coliseum was the key to keeping the entire neighborhood true to its roots.

Fighting against efforts to rebrand Fort Worth as “Nowtown, not Cowtown”, a 1930s city ordinance prohibiting rodeos from any city-owned facilities except Will Rogers, and an existing lease with wrestling promoters that would have prevented rodeo’s return until 2005, Steve persevered and after two years won the right to manage the Coliseum and bring rodeo back to its original home.

Murrin family members participated in the lean early years when “the vision” was not so clear. Brother-in-law Joe Dulle opened the White Elephant Saloon, sister Caroline opened the Lone Star Chili Parlor, first wife Gayle Hill ran the Coliseum ticket office and later established the General Store and The Maverick Fine Western Wear, and sister Susan became known as a go to source for local history and supported her siblings with time and support. There were others of course: Bert Walters and partners bought the Longhorn, Cadillac, Star Café and Lonesome Dove buildings; and Stockyards stalwarts Leddy’s, Fincher’s and Ryon’s continued to tough it out.

The Cowtown Rodeo in the Coliseum, combined with all of the efforts, provided the essential center and continuity of authentic atmosphere that attracted other visionaries and investment.

In 1981 Billy Bob Barnett founded the now world famous “World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. When the club closed in 1988, Steve secured the rights to reopen Billy Bob’s out of receivership by making a deposit with Landmark Bank. He partnered with Don Jury and together they entered into a joint venture with Holt Hickman, hired Billy Minick, and brought the nightclub back to its former glory. Their success continues to this day, now with their offspring at the helm.

Moving forward, the family is preserving the 101 West Exchange building, repairing the old Masonic Lodge building at 2408 North Main Street, and working to ensure the city-owned Coliseum maintains its viability as the essential authentic center of the Fort Worth Stockyards.

In the book Goodbye to a River, Fort Worth legend John Graves wrote, “The provincial who cultivates only his roots is in peril, potato-like, of becoming more root than plant. The man who cuts his roots away and denies that they were ever connected with him withers into half a man.” We succeed when we can incorporate the wisdom and hard earned lessons of the past as solutions to our own struggles today, but only if we take the time to learn and apply them to our own lives.

By understanding where they came from, Steve Murrin and family had the foundation on which to work with others to preserve the Fort Worth Stockyards. They truly acknowledge the time, effort, love, and expertise of many people who have worked with the same goal of preserving the heart and soul of Cowtown.

HFW 2016 Preservation Awards and Cantey Lecture Series photographed Thursday, Sept 22, 2016. Photography by Bruce E. Maxwell.

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