Happy trails

Legendary Bandera ranch and resort flies off the auction block for $3 million

Legendary Bandera ranch and resort flies off the auction block for $3M

Flying L Ranch Bandera
The troubled Flying L Ranch has new owners. Flying L Ranch

Over the years, Bandera’s Flying L Ranch hosted a who’s who of celebrities including John Wayne, Slim Pickens, Jim Reeves, Buck Owens, and Willie Nelson, earning a solid reputation among both everyday travelers and the rich and famous alike. Now a couple of Waco entrepreneurs are reclaiming that history for a new generation.

The Flying L was founded in 1947 by Colonel John H. Lapham (hence the “L” in the name) and quickly became one of the nation’s most famous dude ranches during the height of the mid-century Western craze. The property became even more popular with the jet set after Lapham introduced an airstrip and flight school to the campus.

But the former owners of storied property, Trey West Vacations, encountered a few snags over the past few years. In 2016, claims that legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed guest villas and a pilot’s lounge on the property fell apart after Texas Architect published a story that provided evidence the buildings were actually built by San Antonio firm Smith, Pitts & MacPherson. As a result, an already installed historical marker had to be changed before the dedication could take place and a planned museum devoted to Wright's work was put on hold.

In September 2017, Trey West applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to prevent foreclosure. Records from that filing show the company was almost $6 million in debt and owed more than $200,000 in delinquent taxes. Although the owners initially argued that the property was essential to their reorganization efforts, they eventually dropped their opposition to selling the ranch sometime late last year, and put it up for auction on February 6.

The 291-acre tract is now under the ownership of Waco business owners Cindy Stevens and Doug Stevens. While Cindy Stevens’ winning bid of $3 million covered most of the original property, including the 18-hole golf course, resort, and restaurant, it reportedly did not include a condo facility that contains a small water park.

For their part, the Stevens promise not to change the use of the resort. "Our intention is to keep it open," Doug Stevens told the San Antonio Express-News. "We'd like to keep business as usual until we figure out what need to be fixed and what doesn't need to be fixed."