Holt Hickman, businessman who helped preserve Stockyards, dies at 82

Holt Hickman 


Longtime Fort Worth businessman, real estate developer, philanthropist and preservationist Holt Hickman died Nov. 15, 2014, at the age of 82. Hickman was the founder, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Hickman Companies, a diversified collection of more than 50 business entities in the areas of commercial real estate, oil and gas, farming/ranching and entertainment. A native of Weatherford, he attended Southern Methodist University on a four-year swimming scholarship. Two weeks after his graduation in 1954, he married his high school sweetheart, Jo Aycock.

Hickman served as an officer in the United States Air Force. He launched his business empire with the purchase of his father’s business, Fort Worth Battery Co., in 1963. A year later, he founded Lone Star Manufacturing Co., an automotive air conditioning factory. Successful deals with the world’s largest automakers led the company to become the leading independent manufacturer of auto air conditioners in the world. Hickman sold that venture in 1978, and started an auto cruise control and keyless-entry device business called Specific Cruise Systems (SCS). In 1990, Hickman bought an air-conditioner company called Frigette and combined it with SCS. Hickman is best known for dedicating his time and resources to the preservation and redevelopment of the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District.

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Hickman, whose father owned ranches near Mansfield and Aledo, called the Stockyards “the center of the universe,” and wanted to bring back the sights, sounds and smells that earned Fort Worth its moniker Cowtown. “In 1940, I came up here with my dad,” Hickman recalled in a 2007 interview with the Fort Worth Business Press. “We trucked cattle to the Stockyards to buy and sell. You could see what it [the Stockyards] was doing for the city of Fort Worth. It was the marketplace of the world. We’re known for Cowtown and the Stockyards. It’s a vital part of this city and worth preserving.” Hickman owned or co-owned more than 100 of the 125 acres in the historic Stockyards. In 1988, Hickman became involved with the redevelopment of the North Side when he teamed up with local businessmen Don Jury and Steve Murrin to reopen the nightclub Billy Bob’s Texas after its bankruptcy. He bought and moved the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame – which houses the Sterquell Wagon Collection, an array of frontier vehicles he and his wife acquired in 1999 – to the Stockyards’ former horse and mule barns in 2000. He was the driving force behind the city’s twice-daily cattle drives of longhorns down East Exchange Avenue, the Stockyards’ principal thoroughfare.

Hickman also spearheaded the arrival of a tourist train into Stockyards Station, an 85,000-square-foot project Hickman developed with Dallas businesswoman Lyda Hunt Hill. Today, the Fort Worth Stockyards is one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Texas. In her remarks honoring Hickman at the Texas Independence Day ceremony in Fort Worth two years ago, Rep. Kay Granger said Hickman’s tenacity and passion have made Fort Worth what it is today. “His energy, generosity and vision will continue to enhance our city’s cowboy heritage for generations to come,” Granger said. A funeral for Hickman is scheduled Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. at University Christian Church, located at 2720 S. University Dr. in Fort Worth, with burial to follow at Greenwood Memorial Park.

Betty Dillard bdillard@bizpress.net