Plane, cars planned for museum in former Star-Telegram building

Scott Nishimura Special Projects Reporter

There’ll be an old airplane landing soon in downtown Fort Worth. MorningStar Partners, restoring the building at 400 W. Seventh St., that once was home to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, has purchased the vintage, three-seat Travel Air 5000 airplane that legendary publisher Amon Carter once owned. MorningStar plans to hang the plane in a 20,000-square-foot museum the company is building in the Star-Telegram’s former headquarters, said Joy Webster, MorningStar’s project manager for the restoration. MorningStar is installing new ground-level windows to replace the covered-up spaces and pedestrians will be able to peer in the windows at the airplane and other artifacts, including vintage automobiles, Webster said. Crews could begin installing the windows as early as Christmas week, Webster said. “That will just add light, it will really add some nice dimension back to the building,” Webster said.

MorningStar, headed by XTO Energy founder Bob Simpson, who sold XTO to ExxonMobil three years ago, bought the Star-Telegram building in 2010 and took possession in 2011. So far, MorningStar has finished out 25,000 square feet on the second floor of the 160,000-square-foot building, and 15,000 square feet on the third floor, Webster said. It’s also working on the ground-floor lobby and museum. MorningStar, which has a joint venture with ExxonMobil on oil-and-gas properties, has 50 employees in the building and will bring in another 16 in a few weeks from an acquisition, Webster said. MorningStar is developing the “Star Museum” with retired Star-Telegram executive Luther Adkins. MorningStar expects to complete the museum in September and open it up to group tours, Webster said. MorningStar wants the museum to have an archive room that’s affiliated with the Amon Carter Museum and Texas Christian University, she said.

MorningStar will hang the plane around mid-year, Webster said. The large display room will be at West Sixth and Taylor streets, and the museum entry will be from the building’s main entry on West Seventh. Other artifacts will include a 1902 Cadillac that Carter owned, a 1963 Buick Skylark that Carter received as thank you from General Motors for helping steer GM toward building a plant in Arlington, a rare 1964 Buick Skylark, and the uniform Amon Carter Jr. was wearing when he was liberated from a prisoner of war camp in Germany, Webster said. MorningStar bought the ’63 Skylark at a recent auction. The ’64 Skylark has no connection to Carter, but the museum will display it with a placard containing headlines from the year, Webster said.  

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The single-engine propeller airplane is one of 14 built and one of two in existence today, Webster said. It has a 50-foot wingspan and is 30 feet long, she said, and MorningStar will remove the wings to transport it to the museum. The planes were used to deliver mail and, later, ferry passengers. A company called National Air Transport used them on the first Chicago-Fort Worth air route, which Carter and other local leaders had lobbied for. After the plane was decommissioned, it sat – as a gift – on Carter’s Shady Oaks Farm at the edge of Fort Worth for 30 years, Webster said. Then in 1961, a Continental Airlines pilot flying overhead saw the plane, and tracked down the owner, who by then was Amon Carter Jr. Carter gave the plane to the pilot, Harry Hansen.  

Hansen moved the plane to his central Texas home in Hamilton, where he worked on it for years. MorningStar bought it from Hansen. The plane isn’t in working order, but it will look as if it is, Webster said. The Star-Telegram building is one of 10 that Simpson has purchased in Fort Worth since the early 1990s, starting with the Waggoner Building downtown. Simpson restored seven – six downtown and one in the Stockyards – and imploded one downtown. XTO Energy now owns those properties, which the company had purchased under Simpson before the ExxonMobil sale. XTO had used all of the buildings for its own offices. The Star-Telegram is the ninth and is owned by MorningStar. Webster said Simpson will ultimately own the Star-Telegram building under his own name to avert a potential transfer in any sale of MorningStar assets in the future. “We don’t want to lose another building,” said Webster, who worked with Simpson at XTO and has been project manager on all of the restorations.  

In July 2012, Simpson purchased the historic Public Market Building on the edge of downtown, a circa-1930s example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Webster said the restoration team plans to dive into that project in another several months, and doesn’t know yet what it will do with the building. “I really need to push this project another three months down the road,” she said of the Star-Telegram building. MorningStar doesn’t know what it will do with the Public Market, other than that it will be the first of Simpson’s restorations designed to hold something other than his company’s offices, Webster said. “I get offers,” Webster said. “Someone wanted to put a brew pub in there. I don’t see that happening.” Webster said she feels a restored Public Market “can be a beacon for that part of town. With the right lighting, I think it can really attract people over there.” She said MorningStar offered to buy the building after Simpson spotted a “for sale” sign on the building and its four-acre site during one of his frequent drives by it. “He said, ‘I’ve always wanted that building,’” Webster said. “We love old buildings and we love taking care of them and renovating them.”