A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of writing a book about Dallas’ Corrigan family. Unlike other high-profile real estate dynasties, the Corrigans operate rather quietly—not because they have anything to hide, but because they’re a humble clan.
Leo F. Corrigan Sr. was just 16 years old when he left his hometown of St. Louis in 1910 to seek his fortune in Dallas, following in the footsteps of his role model, beer baron Adolphus Busch. Corrigan initially worked selling newspaper ads for the Dallas Dispatch. Then one of his advertisers, a real estate investor, hired him to lease space in his downtown office properties.
By the time he was in his mid-20s, Corrigan was brokering some of the biggest deals in town—and patiently stashing away cash to buy some real estate of his own. He did so in 1924, paying $4,000 for a small parcel of land on Lemmon Avenue at Wycliff, now the site of Bob’s Steak and Chop House. There, he built and leased a small row of shops. The success of that venture led to others, eventually including apartment, hotel, and office projects. By the early 1970s, Corrigan owned more commercial real estate than any other individual investor in the United States.
He and his son, Leo F. Corrigan Jr., had a significant role in shaping the skyline of Dallas, developing or buying seven office buildings in the city’s central business district: Wholesale Merchants Building, Tower Petroleum Building, Thomas Building, Corrigan Tower, Gulf States Building, Adolphus Tower, and 211 N. Ervay.
Leo Sr. passed away in 1975; Leo Jr. died last year. Today, the third generation is keeping things going with projects like 2000 McKinney—a 442,355-square-foot office tower in Uptown, developed by Corrigan Properties and Lincoln Property Co.—and local retail developments owned by Corrigan Investments.
Here’s more information from the book on Tower Petroleum and Corrigan Tower—the two historic buildings Kirtland Realty Group plans to redevelop in downtown Dallas.
Tower Petroleum Building
When Leo Sr. decided he wanted something, he went after it with a vengeance. And so it was with the Tower Petroleum building, a 22-story skyscraper in downtown Dallas he acquired in 1942. According to a 1946 profile in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the speed with which Leo Sr. acquired the property was startling: “Somebody told him the Tower was for sale as he was going home from his office one evening, and the first thing the next morning, he bought it. The price was about $750,000. It would take a lot more to get it today [three years later]. Corrigan abhors delay: ‘You get in or get out,’ he says. ‘The way to make a deal is over the table, not a 10-hour conference with a 24-hour delay.’”
The Tower Petroleum building, at 1907 Elm St., was among the first to be put under the Corrigan Properties umbrella. It was built in 1931 to serve Dallas’ emerging oil and gas companies. The art deco structure has been praised for its outstanding architecture, stone and terra cotta exterior, and zigzag moderne-style upper floors. It was designed by Mark Lemmon, a Dallas architect whose other projects include Woodrow Wilson High School and Highland Park United Methodist Church.
In a Dallas Morning News report on the buy, Leo Sr. talked about his investment — and Dallas real estate in general: “In 25 years of property operation in Dallas, my faith in its value is unchanged,” he said. “Office demand now is the heaviest in history, and since the Tower Building is largely privately occupied, I feel that even after the war agencies have been dissolved there will still be a growing need for office space here.”
Leo Sr. renovated the building and moved the lobby for the adjacent Tower Theater to the ground floor. The historic property still stands at the corner of Elm, Pacific and St. Paul streets.
Leo Sr. got into the office development game in 1951 with Corrigan Tower, a 17-story office building adjacent to the Tower Petroleum building, to which it is attached on several floors. The brick-and-marble structure, at 1900 Pacific Ave., was built over and around Tower Theater at a cost of about $5 million. It was designed by architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, who also designed a number of other mid-20th century buildings in Dallas.
“That block, with the Tower Theater and the Majestic Theater and Melba Theater — it was a very happening block,” says Leo Jr. “After the Tower Theater closed down in 1968, we were never able to lease that space. We just couldn’t get a tenant that was willing to spend the necessary funds to redo it.”
Facing increased competition from all the shiny new skyscrapers going up in downtown Dallas, the Corrigans decided to sell the two office buildings in the early 1980s. They found a buyer in the Marshall Field family out of Chicago.