February 5, 2020 1141 AM
Texas Monthly needs to give itself the Bum Steer Award–2020, for its one-sided article trying to slam Tim Crowley. Tim Crowley has been our friend for many years, and has spent millions of his own dollars since the mid-1990s to improve Marfa, and help make Marfa the bright, vibrant tourist destination it has become. Many people in Marfa appreciate everything Tim has done to make Marfa a better place. Tim has restored downtown Marfa, employed hundreds of local residents, built and operated the award winning Hotel St. George, and continues to support Marfa through private investment and public generosity – The Crowley Theater.
We like Tim Crowley and appreciate everything he has done for Marfa.
How many factual errors are there in “A Battle for the Soul of Marfa” by Mimi Swartz, let us count the ways. The article appears in the February issue of Texas Monthly magazine.
Some errors and misrepresentations are glaring and others are small, but it seems like an unusual amount of mistakes got through the editing process in a magazine that sets the standard for excellence and accuracy as the definitive source for all things Texas.
Here are some:
* You can see the Davis Mountains and Chinati Mountains from Marfa, there’s Cathedral Mountain off in the distance, and some lesser peaks and ranges along the horizon, but you can’t see the Chisos Mountains from here, even from the dome of the Presidio County Courthouse.
* Who told Swartz city government is “ineffectual,” Marfa schools are “substandard,” there’s a “dearth of adequate healthcare,” and housing prices are “soaring”? Those are unsubstantiated generalizations, although it is a seller’s market when it comes to Marfa real estate, that’s true.
Our city water and wastewater systems work fine, trash is picked up once a week, and City Hall maintains an ambulance service, police department, library, senior center, a meals on wheels program and recycling program. The Utility Department recently repaired a water main in the middle of the night so daytime service wasn’t interrupted. That had never happened before so that was kind of forward-thinking cool. The city recently repaired and repainted its two water towers in a much-needed preventative maintenance project. There aren’t many bells and whistles to it, but the City of Marfa provides basic services effectively.
Marfa schools actually have a B rating, or “recognized performance” in the Texas Education Agency public school grading system. The RoboHorns robotics team teaches science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics to girls and boys, and an experiment designed by a team of Marfa students was selected to ride on the International Space Station last year.
There are two vibrant medical clinics staffed by several physicians, physician assistants, family nurse practitioners, and registered nurses, in addition to the state health clinic, an EMS ambulance crew who are second to none, a drugstore has returned to town, and the hospital and emergency room are just 26 miles away. Seems adequate for most of the medical and healthcare needs of our small population.
* The writer states that after we sold the newspaper, “Then the Sentinel published a news story about the late-night permit controversy. (It was news, after all.) Crowley promptly stopped distributing free papers at the Saint George.”
The article was published by us in January 2019, six months before we sold the newspaper. The Hotel Saint George didn’t stop distributing the Sentinel after we published the story.
* Cochineal has never been a “high toned Mexican restaurant” by any stretch of the imagination and palate. That’s like saying the barbecue restaurant Lambert’s in Austin is a sushi place.
* Tim Crowley has one special needs son, not two. Why was this even in the article?
* Swartz blames Crowley for former Mayor Ann Marie Nafziger’s political defeat because he didn’t like a parking ordinance she was proposing. Few, if any, downtown business owners liked the proposed parking ordinance. We didn’t like it, either. Ann Marie lost the election for a second two-year term because she had a formidable opponent in current Mayor Manny Baeza, a Marfa native and 10-year city council member. Manny won the election fair and square based on his civic experience and with 56 percent of the vote.
* “Opponents of the concert have pointed out that Crowley stands to profit handsomely if thousands of people show up in town.” The Hotel Saint George has 55 rooms, that’s all they can offer at a time, unless they plan to put cots in the hallways. And if the hotel’s restaurant and bar are also to profit handsomely, so will the Hotel Paisano, the Thunderbird Hotel & Capri lounge, the Riata Inn, El Cosmico, all the short-term rentals, restaurants, bars, shops and galleries, what you want to bet?
* “He began to replace the mom and pop stores on Highland Street.” Which ones? We’ve owned a building on Highland and ran the newspaper there for years, and we can’t think of one displaced mom and pop.
* “The Crowleys couldn’t understand why the owner of a Mexican American restaurant didn’t want to move out of one of their properties after they offered her a nicer spot south of the railroad tracks. Neither of them realized they were trying to get her to move to the proverbial wrong side.” Swartz is waxing metaphoric because City Hall, the Marfa National Bank, all the shops and businesses along San Antonio Street/US 67-90, even the Hotel Saint George, are located south of the railroad tracks. The Mexican American restaurant to which she refers was in several locations over the years, all south of the tracks. There is no “proverbial wrong side” anymore.
* The juxtaposition of what the late artist Donald Judd did in the 1970s and 1980s – “Judd began buying up local real estate . . .” – and what Crowley did years later should be viewed in the same light, but Judd is portrayed as a visionary artist and Crowley becomes the big bad capitalist, although his support of the art/music/literary/culture community is unparalleled. Both men gave the town a boost.
And while all of Crowley’s past and present real estate transactions – except for the theater – include taxable properties, almost all Chinati and Judd foundation properties are tax exempt. We don’t know what Crowley pays in property taxes for his hotel and other real estate, but the Judd and Chinati foundations don’t pay a dime.
Thanks for hearing us out, and sincerely,
Rosario Salgado Halpern and Robert Halpern
We read the recent article about Tim Crowley, part of the “Small Towns, Big Money” package, with dismay. We immediately wrote a letter to Texas Monthly, and much of that letter is below. We felt that we should also share our thoughts with your newspaper, especially since you were mentioned and it is your readership to which Mimi Swartz consistently refers.
Not only do we, from the School of Theatre and Dance and the JT and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts at Texas Tech University, disagree with Ms. Swartz’s depiction of Mr. Crowley, but we are frankly appalled at what can only be called yellow journalism, a nod towards objectivity with an insidious underlying tone meant to negatively influence the readers’ opinion of Mr. Crowley.
Having worked with Mr. Crowley for almost a decade, we can honestly assure the readers that her depiction of him is untruthful.
Before we pointed to tactics that Ms. Swartz employs to manipulate her readers, we framed our response with a bit of history. As the Big Bend Sentinel knows, Tim earned his degree in theatre from Texas Tech, and when his alma mater experienced new leadership, we reached out to Mr. Crowley to see if he would be interested in donating to the students here. We visited him, long before the Hotel St. George was a reality, and he toured Marfa with us, sharing his affection for the art, the food and the culture that makes this small town such a fascinating and important destination. His affection for the town and its history was and still is obvious. He loves Marfa and its people.
In time, he offered our students an experience, one that would benefit their education and, in return, the town itself. As you know, each summer he gifts us his theatre, and, indeed, housing and accommodations for nearly two weeks so that students can learn devised theatre, based on an understanding of the environment in West Texas. Going on five years now, he has hosted over twenty students from TTU and Bilkent University in Turkey, and guest artists, making sure that they not only are privy to the art and culture that Marfa offers, but also, have complete access to his theatre where students begin with a “hunch” and, eleven days later, share a fully staged event. It’s a substantial gift, one of our signature programs. And it’s a program that we have often advertised in your newspaper, one which some of you have attended.
We pointed out to Ms. Swartz that, with Tim, it’s never been about the money. Rather, he’s intent on contributing to the education and experience of students, while, at the same time, introducing them to Marfa’s rich culture. Please note that he always considers Marfa and he’s introduced outsiders to many of the important artists — literary, visual and theatrical — whom he has met, again, to expand their knowledge of the town, its history and the surrounding areas. In other words, he wants students to love Marfa, and to appreciate all there is to learn there and in related towns, so much so that he’s also taken us to the McDonald Observatory, Fort Leaton, Shafter Ghost Town and Ojinaga.
Ms. Swartz’s article cites many of his generous acts, but her depiction of him suggests she doesn’t really know him. Anyone who spends time with Tim understands that he is neither a “fastidious” dresser — instead, he most often sports jeans and a wrinkled button-down shirt or t-shirt — nor is he anything like a “British Lord;” in all honesty, he’s most comfortable not in formal dress. The Texas Monthly article reads like someone who hasn’t spent much time in Marfa, who finds what dirt she can on one of the most prominent citizens there, and spreads it.
A smear campaign.
Anyone who understands rhetoric can see the games Ms. Swartz plays with language:
- “He flashes extremely white teeth”: Why add extremely? Isn’t this almost punitive?
- “The most Texan touch comes from the servers, who are mainly young and Latino and who repeatedly fill his water glass, asking over and over and over if he needs more of… anything. He is oblivious in the way of people accustomed to being fussed over.”: Why does Ms. Swartz use the word “repeatedly” and then repeat the word “over” three times, along with the carefully placed ellipses, unless she mean to criticize him for expecting good service? And doesn’t this intimate that only Tim receives excellent service in this five-star hotel? We are there often, and the service is always excellent.
- “For a few hours a day, any adult in town can swim free of charge in the hotel’s sprawling pool. (Kids get the privilege on Tuesdays only.)”: Why add the words “few hours a day,” when residents are actually welcome from 4 p.m. until the pool closes, and why add the word only unless you are trying to undermine a pool which makes room for children even when it may hurt their active bar scene there? [Name another hotel pool that allows residents. We often are surrounded by residents when we are guests at the hotel.]
- “Goode, meanwhile, was either alone battling rattlesnakes in her casbah or entertaining the cast of There Will Be Blood when they filmed just outside town. Friends noticed her jeans were now replaced with ensembles Crowley picked out for her. (Prada!)”: How does Ms. Swartz know that Mr. Crowley “dressed” his wife, and was their residence a “casbah”? Why use that word? Indeed, even “battling rattlesnakes” is pejorative. Isn’t this just hearsay?
- “Everyone from regular patrons of the Crowley Theater to employees in his various businesses was in some way dependent on him. ‘People got attached to the money,’ one local explains. Crowley had become a modern-day version of the Mexican patrón: someone who was paternalistically generous but seemed to expect fealty in return.”: From whom did Ms. Swartz solicit this information? Some and one local? And isn’t the melodramatic and hyperbolic comparison to a Mexican patron the author’s herself?
There are countless other examples where Ms. Swartz takes the facts, obscures them with gossip by unnamed sources, and presents them as truths. She’s a gossip columnist, and this article is filled with her unsubstantiated claims and personal attacks.
Jim Lehrer, journalist of the PBS NewsHour, recently passed away. Known for his integrity and excellent, objective reporting, Lehrer published 16 Rules for Practicing Journalism with Integrity. One of the most important is Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously. Another: Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype. Ms. Swartz breaks these, along with several other of these 16 rules in her article about Tim Crowley. Her facts are suspect, and her opinions, slanted and overhyped.
Ms. Swartz paints a villainous picture of Mr. Crowley, a “British Lord,” a “patrón” whose vision of Marfa ignores the residents in favor of an almost megalomaniacal desire to recreate a town in his own image. All of his good works and generosity are undermined in a portrayal that insists he serves himself before all others. It’s not for us to judge what Marfa residents think of Mr. Crowley, and others responding to the article I’m sure point out the factual inaccuracies, but those of us from Texas Tech find this description to be slanted, unfair and untrue.
The Texas Monthly article makes for a good story, but unfortunately, with so much of the article rooted in fiction rather than fact, that’s all it is: a story. After reading the interview, we are certain of two things: we are not interested in reading the rest of the series, and we’ll think twice before we breakfast with Ms. Swartz.
Mark Charney, Director of Theatre and Dance
Cory Norman, Director of Marketing and Company Manager
Noel Zahler, Dean of the JT and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts
The Roman Republic was broken after 536 years, Senators subjugated by Imperial power. Republican Senators, intimidated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump’s Nero-like authoritarianism, failed our Constitution in just 234 years.
The difference is Americans know better than accepting a no witness/documents, “the fix is in with the defendant” outcome! President Harry Truman said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
Stirred by xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump’s rightwing base is pre-disposed to violence. Reasonably foreseeable consequences of “dog whistle” exhortations cannot be ignored. Paranoid about “stolen elections,” anticipate more violence.
Was Jesus violent upending some tables? Primarily, he addressed social injustice through parables and loved so hard it hurt.
That doesn’t mean holding-off action awaiting intercessory prayer. It’s not faith or works. Stay engaged. “God helps those who help themselves,” said Algernon Sidney.
Pastor Greg Laurie said, “The word ‘believe’ is made up of two words: ‘be’ and ‘live’. Faith helps us to ‘be’ spiritually. But then it is expressed in Christian works and deeds.” (Acts 8:13, 21-22)
Love doesn’t exclude taking a stand. Non-violence is action. “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love,” according to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Call, write policy makers and vote. Demonstrate peacefully! Quoting Jean-Paul Sartre, “Commitment is an act, not a word.”
Rev. Barry Abraham Zavah