MARATHON, Tx (TEXAS MONTHLY) -- Forty years ago, the far West Texas town of Marathon was but a former ranching outpost slowly shriveling away in the blistering sun. Then oil and gas financier J. P. Bryan stepped in. The Freeport native fell in love with the arid expanse of the Big Bend and bought an area ranch.
A great-great-great-nephew of Stephen F. Austin, Bryan majored in art history at the University of Texas at Austin but couldn’t see how he was going to make a living pursuing his passion, so he went to work as an investment banker. He made his fortune with Houston-based Torch Energy Advisors.
In the late seventies, after snatching up that West Texas acreage, he and his wife, Mary Jon, went looking for a house in a nearby town. That’s how they stumbled upon a rat-infested wreck called the Gage Hotel, on Marathon’s Main Street. “It was in complete and utter disrepair,” Bryan recalled. When he discovered that the two-story yellow-brick building was designed by famed architect Henry Trost, of El Paso, he bought the building and proceeded to restore it—not as a residence but as a hotel.
The business floundered at first. “We rebuilt it,” he said, laughing, “and nobody came.”
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