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Traveling Texas: Marfa's Hollywood History

Posted at 4:05 PM, Jun 22, 2022

Travel to far West Texas and you’ll find one of the quirkiest little towns the state has to offer. It’s known for its minimalist art, mysterious lights, and Hollywood history.

Ground was broken on Marfa's Hotel Paisano just days before the stock market crash in 1929. But this Spanish colonial revival hotel was put on the map in 1955 when Warner Brothers came to town and began filming the classic movie "Giant."

It was known as the most elegant hotel between El Paso and San Antonio.

But it is famous for becoming the headquarters for the cast and crew for the film “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. After the first two weeks, the main stars moved to private residences. But during production, they continued to dine at the hotel, enjoy the lobby and lounge area, and watch their dailies.

El Paso native Carol Gilcrease had her own brush with the Hollywood stars when she was a small child:

“Our ranch is between Valentine and Marfa, and it's still an operating cattle ranch in our family. And when I was little and I can't tell you what age that was, maybe five. My grandmother took us to the Paisano, and Rock Hudson and Liz Taylor were there and we got to meet them," Gilcrease said. “Liz was incredibly gorgeous, and Rock was drop-dead gorgeous.”

Just a few blocks away from the Paisano, you’ll find one of the prettiest courthouse squares in Texas. Built in 1886, the pink stucco Presidio County courthouse is of the second empire, Italianate style. Lady justice is high atop the central dome and can be seen from almost any location in Marfa.

But Marfa is best-known as an artist hub.

I spoke with Alpine artist Carol Fairley, a master painter and art professor at Sul Ross state university.

She drives the 25 miles to Marfa each week to do a radio show for the public station there.

“You have to remember Marfa is a village. You know, we're a little, little, teeny-weeny city, but Marfa is a village,” said Fairley.

She says artist Donald Judd moved there and attracted other big-name artists.

“He was really frustrated that he was collected worldwide, and he would go to these museums and his work would be in storage. And he started the Chinati foundation. And he set up permanent installations of famous artists who were friends of his from New York City and really came down here and bought over the city," said Fairley.

And perhaps one of the most famous art exhibits in Texas is outside Marfa—close to Valentine, Texas: a fake luxury boutique.

“There's nothing to know. You just need to see it. It's very tongue in cheek. Really fun. You know, it's a Prada store in the middle of nowhere with shoes and purses and window," said Fairley.

Your trip to the beautiful desert southwest and this part of West Texas must include Marfa!