Stanley Marsh 3, the eccentric multimillionaire owner of the Cadillac Ranch art installation off Route 66 on the west edge of Amarillo, Texas, died Tuesday afternoon at age 76, according to several media outlets.
Marsh had been in poor health in recent years after a series of strokes. Recent photographs and video showed a frail man who needed the assistance of a walker or wheelchair.
The Amarillo Globe-News, one of the first media outlets to report his death, used the subhead “A Questionable Legacy” on the homepage of the newspaper’s website. (A lengthy and fair obituary by the newspaper is here.) The “questionable” part was because in the two years of his life, he was besieged by 14 criminal charges and 10 civil lawsuits over allegations he engaged in sex acts with teenage boys. Although he was dogged by similar rumors years before, he never was convicted in a court of law.
Regardless, Marsh will remain best-known for setting aside land near U.S. 66 in 1974 so the Ant Farm art collective from San Francisco could install 10 vintage Cadillac nose-down into the Texas soil. According to the Globe-News, Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the installation.
CBS News’ Charles Kuralt helped cement Cadillac Ranch’s fame by doing a segment about it shortly after its installation:
Over time, Marsh let visitors spray-paint the rusting Cadillacs. They probably now are covered with thousands of coats of Krylon. And when Amarillo’s urban sprawl began to encroach on the installation, Marsh in 1997 had the entire thing moved two miles to the west.
Save for possible exceptions of nearby Palo Duro Canyon and the Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant, it remains Amarillo’s most popular tourist attraction. It’s become a part of popular culture, from the popular “Cadillac Ranch” song by Bruce Springsteen, became an inspiration to the Cadillac Range mountains in the Disney-Pixar movie “Cars,” and has been featured in countless videos, photographs and television shows.
Marsh also became locally known for his irreverent stunts and quirky Dynamite Museum sign project. But it is Cadillac Ranch for which Marsh will be best-known internationally.
As for the future fate of Cadillac Ranch, Marsh’s longtime attorney Kelly Utsinger told the Los Angeles Times it’s not going anywhere.
The land on which it is built is owned by a trust, and the display itself is in the care of Ant Farm, the company Marsh commissioned to create it in the 1970s.
“It will continue, nothing will be done to it at all,” Utsinger said.
And a quote from Marsh almost 25 years ago indicates he was fine with letting those Cadillacs deteriorate from graffiti and the harsh Texas Panhandle weather.
“All that graffiti and vandalism gave them a real patina, like those Chinese vases that increase in value with each crack. … It shows people love their monuments.”
Decades from now, I suspect Cadillac Ranch will be like the many roadside ruins you see along Route 66. People will stop by, wonder what it was and wonder why people made such a fuss over it long ago. And that’s OK.