On Thursday, May 16th, I had the pleasure of joining the Texas Hill Country Trail for their board meeting at the Flying L Guest Ranch in Bandera. Buck Shannon, The Flying L’s Entertainment Director, met the group and took us all for a tractor-pulled tour of the Ranch.
The Flying L opened as a 542-acre “dude ranch” in 1946 by owner Jack Lapham, a retired Army Air Corps colonel whose father financed the first two oil wells of what would become Texaco. Colonel Lapham wanted the ranch to be a Texas getaway for those who loved to fly and who
wanted to learn to fly. An airstrip was built on the ranch for incoming pilots; pilots would check into the Pilot’s Lounge, receive a key to a villa, and then taxi their plane and park in front of their assigned villa. Among its many high-profile guests were John Wayne, Slim Pickens and Willie Nelson.
Today, the Flying L serves as a resort and conference center, complete with water park and 18-hole golf course. Although the ranch has many modern amenities, it also has many buildings from its dude ranch days. The Ranch Villas, which were designed by associates of Frank Lloyd Wright, are still in use. The Villas were designed to emulate airplanes, with dormer wings at the sides — the dormers were screen-enclosed until guests demanded the comfort of air conditioning.
The same architects also designed the Pilot’s Lounge where pilots checked into the ranch and received their villa key. According to Mr. Shannon, the Pilot’s Lounge had been used for storage for many years; furniture had been piled ceiling-high at one point. Now, the lounge is being used for small parties and meetings. However, it needs some major renovations: among the problems facing the structure, the large window leaks and the wood-work needs a lot of care. Upon preserving the building to its former glory, the ranch plans to rent it out for private gatherings and even host some major events like it did back in the day. Life magazine covered a story in 1947 of a fashion show in the building hosted by Herbert Marcus, of the department store Neiman-Marcus, headquartered in Dallas.
The Flying L has some great ideas for the Lounge upon its renovation. It hopes to raise much of the money for the project by selling “Pilot Club Memberships” – folks signing up for a membership get their name on the Pilot’s Lounge Wall of Fame located inside the building. The structure is truly a wonderful piece of history and architecture — it’s great to hear that the Flying L recognizes its importance.
To learn more about the Flying L Guest Ranch and about how you can preserve the Pilot’s Lounge, call 1-800-292-5134 or visit www.FlyingL.com. For information on the Texas Hill Country Trail, visit www.txhillcountrytrail.com.
Thank you to all the wonderful people at the Flying L for their hospitality!