**J P Bryan and the Gage Hotel**
On January 17th, J P Bryan is celebrating his 80th birthday with a talk at the Gage Hotel, which I believe is his pride and joy, though he has done many other amazing things.
The Gage Hotel and my career are synonymous. Some of you may already know that in November of 1988 I stopped by the hotel with my friend Clif Ladd to visit with Phil Thomas, the cook. BC = before chefs. Phil, in passing, mentioned that the other cook was leaving, and moving to Austin. That information was stored in my mind rolodex as we left for the park. I had visited the park twice before, and was already in love with the mountains. I met and partied with some locals, Uncle Joe, Aunt Roberta, John Suffaco and Susan Bryant, and was smitten with all of them. I shot poloroids, and film. They played music and sang. I realized they were as amazing as the landscape. Unpretentious human beings. I stress those words Human Beings. On the way out from the four day trip I asked Clif to stop back by the Gage where I met the manager Giddings Brown. He too, was just like the people in Terlingua. In fact, at that time, most of the staff were campers and hikers, and knew the condition of the park and the flow of the Rio Grande. 31 years ago Marathon was a sleepy, somewhat deserted town. It was just the Gage and an antique store, in the building I am in now, run by Della and Dub Haley. Dub sold cleaned up cow skulls. They both sat on the sidewalk in school desks and sipped beer. I lived here a year and a half before I went in. I figured it was time.
In 1989, JP was the go to guy. The town savior. He had money, taste, and maybe a newfound sense of responsibility. It seemed people asked him for help, and he did help. I didn’t want to be like that with JP. I was raised that you took care of yourself. Even now, I can barely ask anybody for anything. I wanted to be the guy that didn’t ask.
That doesn’t mean JP hasn’t helped me. He has helped me more than anyone in this town, with the exception of Marci, of course. He helped me in a way we both could accept. If it wasn’t for the Gage Hotel I would not have had the opportunity to apply for a job. In a way he gave me food and money, and I worked as a cook at his hotel.
When I got my darkroom set up, I started making simple landscape images. Giddings allowed me to sell them in the lobby. I literally would make dodged and burned silver gelatin photographs and mount them onto card stock. $10.00 worth of work for $2.00. I eventually started selling so many I had to have them professionally printed. I took one of the Hotel as well, and it helped pay for the printing. Again, JP helping me indirectly.
In the mid 90’s JP added the Los Portales, a pool, the bar and a chef. It shifted the Gage from a hiking/camper resort to a destination place. More people came here to get married. With Hallie Stillwell as Justice of the Peace and me as the photographer we performed lots of weddings. That was the heyday of the hotel for me. It was still small and intimate. Bill Stevens was a great manager, and I still had a lot of energy. There were still cowboys in the bar at night.
When Los Portales was complete JP had an investor’s party and he hired me to photograph it. I can’t quote word for word, but he said that he had helped restore many structures throughout the state of Texas. With the Gage and Marathon, he wanted to restore a town. JP has built and restored the Ritchey Brother’s building, the whole block east of the Gage, adding a coffee shop, gift shop, and a bank. A micro brewery and barbeque, Captain Shepards, Gage Gardens, several houses in town, and as I write, the old Marathon coffee shop will become a workout gym and spa, and the old spa will become a mini museum of JP’s western art collection.
Two great things he did for the hotel, but benefitting the whole town, was dismantling the florospar processing plant across from the Gage. It was loud and dusty, and probably very unhealthy. Then he paid for putting in the median to make the train crossing a no blow zone. In the early days the train would start blowing their horn at the Marathon Motel all the way past 385 at all hours of the night.
Finally, over the last 15 years JP has helped me by renting me a gallery space 4 doors east of the Gage at a reasonable rate. It gives me good exposure to the public, and I can live the life I wanted and make the photographs I need to take.
I’ve always had an honest and open relationship with JP. Sometimes I thought of him as a father figure, but most of the time like an older brother. Happy birthday JP. Thank you for pursuing your vision of Marathon and the Gage Hotel. Thank you for helping me pursue my photographic vision thus giving my life purpose and meaning.
Happy Full Moon. Get Outside.