Who the Heck Was . . . Leo Potishman?

This is the clubhouse of the Hawks Creek golf course. But there is a story behind this building beyond birdies and bunkers. It is a story of immigration, industry, and philanthropy.

Henry Potishman was born in Russia (as were Samuel Abraham Joseph, Sam Rosen, Joseph Glazer, and Max Mehl) in 1847. About 1880 he married Fanny Rothchild. Henry and Fanny immigrated to America in 1882. By 1892 they were in Fort Worth. That year Henry was a charter member of Fort Worth’s Ahavath Sholom congregation.

By 1900 Henry and Fanny had eight children ranging in age from one to nineteen. They lived on Missouri Avenue near the Fifth Ward School. (Note the as-Cowtown-as-it-comes name of the 1900 census enumerator. Kleber Van Zandt Jennings was the son of Hyde Jennings [as in our Hyde Park and Jennings Avenue] and Florence Van Zandt Jennings, daughter of Khleber Miller Van Zandt.)

Henry was an expressman: Driving a horse and wagon he moved things. For example, he delivered luggage to and from the train station; he moved furniture when people relocated.

The Potishmans at their home on Hemphill Street also kept a cow that produced enough milk to sell the surplus at a nickel a quart.

Son Leo, born in 1896, was the seventh of the Potishman children. He quit school at sixteen and took a job at Byers’ Opera House, where he sold tickets after learning how to make change for $10 and $20 bills. His title: assistant treasurer.

Then, after a brief enrollment at Brantley-Draughon Business School, in 1914 Leo joined the ad sales staff of the Fort Worth Record.

At age eighteen Potishman participated in a promotional train trip by Fort Worth’s Young Men’s Business League. Arriving in Galveston at midnight, the delegation was greeted by the local Ku Klux Klan. Imagine the reaction of Potishman, a Jew, as he and others were escorted through the streets of Galveston by members of the anti-Semitic Ku Klux Klan wearing bathing suits (and hoods?). (Note the James R. Record byline.)

Here’s another scene to ponder: the Ballet Russe at Cowtown Coliseum. Yes, in 1916 the Record sponsored two performances here by Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe. Potishman, in charge of ticket sales, was again given an exalted title: “ballet manager.”

But Potishman traded the pas de deux for the derrick in 1918 after William Knox Gordon struck oil on the McCleskey farm near Ranger. Potishman rounded up nineteen other investors—limiting their investment to $100 ($2,000 today) each so that none would lose too much. They leased land in the oil fields and sold shares.

Potishman made a little money for himself and for his investors but lost his taste for oil.

What to do with his money? He took some time off and played golf at Glen Garden Country Club as he contemplated his next investment. He was twenty-one years old.

While Potishman putted and pondered, Fort Worth, as a railroad hub, was thriving as a major grain center. The 1920 city directory lists the city’s wholesale grain dealers. Grain elevators had become part of the city skyline.

Many people would have looked at all those elevators and concluded that Fort Worth could not support yet another grain dealer.

Leo Potishman thought otherwise.

Pecking out his business letters on a typewriter rented for five dollars a month, Potishman founded Transit Grain and Commission Company in 1921. (The Touraine Hotel was located on the future site of The Fair department store.)

By 1922, when Fort Worth grain dealers welcomed the Texas Grain Growers Association convention with this ornate ad, Potishman’s grain company, like several others, was located in the Neil P. Anderson Building.

By 1932 Leo Polishman’s gamble that America could use another grain company putting cereal on its breakfast tables and livestock feed in its troughs had paid off. He was a wealthy man at the age of thirty-six. He had a family: wife Ruth and daughter Vera. And he had a home: 2233 Hawthorne Avenue in Berkeley.

But he yearned for the country life. So, he bought ten acres on Farmers Branch creek a mile west of the city limits. Today the land is one mile east of Lockheed Martin’s assembly building and just a half-mile east of a runway of the naval air station. But remember: In 1933 there was no bomber plant, no military base. In 1933 the area was sparsely populated farmland.

Indeed, the Potishmans’ nearest neighbors were very quiet: the dozen souls buried in Thompson Family Cemetery five hundred feet to the south.

The Potishman property included a frame house, which Potishman planned to replace with “an English type of residence.”

As that house was being built, the Potishmans went full Green Acres: They raised chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas, rabbits, a cow, a horse, three dogs. They planted fruit trees and rose bushes, built stone steps and walkways, dammed the creek.

The bucolic life agreed with Potishman.

“You could not get me to move back to town,” he said in 1933.

Famous last words.

Fast-forward to 1935. On the night before the Potishmans were to move into their new home, it was destroyed by fire.

The Potishmans decided to rebuild the new house they never lived in.

Their new new house was completed in 1938.

Potishman family members were frequently mentioned in the newspaper society pages.

In 1939 Potishman began manufacturing Vit-A-Way, a vitamin-mineral supplement to increase milk and meat yields in livestock.

Vit-A-Way was sold from coast to coast.

In February 1941 a series of ads began to appear in the Star-Telegram classified ads. Someone at 5930 White Settlement Road was selling “many beautiful antiques.”

Who lived at 5930 White Settlement Road?

The Leo Potishmans.

It seems that someone in the Potishman household was downsizing.

That someone was wife Ruth, who was granted a divorce in July 1942.

The Potishmans’ “palatial country estate,” including the stone 3-2-2 (two-room guesthouse) French provincial house and thirteen acres, went on sale.

The estate was bought in 1943 by physician Charles F. Clayton. (Clayton’s daughter married W. C. Stripling III.)

How Leo Potishman’s old ’hood had changed by 1943. It was no longer Green Acres country. Fort Worth and the rest of America were at war. As the Claytons moved in to their new home, their near neighbors were the bomber plant and adjacent Fort Worth Army Air Field (later “Carswell Air Force Base”).

Also in 1943 Army Lieutenant Amon Carter Jr. (son of the Star-Telegram publisher), who had been listed as missing in action in north Africa, was reported to be safe in a German POW camp. Leo Potishman was among the first to congratulate Carter Sr. (Photo from TCU Digital Repository.)

Leo Potishman in 1944. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library Star-Telegram Collection.)

In 1947 Leo and Ruth Potishman remarried.

The reunited Potishmans lived at no. 1 Chase Court.

In 1954 Dr. Clayton sold the old Potishman place to Carswell Air Force Base. In 1960 Carswell opened a golf course on land that included the former Potishman estate and converted the Potishman house into a clubhouse. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library Star-Telegram Collection.)

Away from work, Leo Potishman enjoyed travel, golf, and bowling. He also was an amateur magician and collected antique music boxes. He was a founding member of the board of Lena Pope Home, a thirty-second-degree Mason, and a member of the synagogue that his father had helped to organize in 1892.

And in 1967, when Leo Potishman was seventy-one years old, he got back to the country: In Hood County he bought 467 acres with more than a mile of frontage on the Brazos River near the former site of Kristenstad commune.

With a bulldozer he began carving a ranch out of the rugged terrain. He cleared briers and cactus, mesquite and cedar trees, planted grass to reduce soil erosion, and terraced the land so that rain runoff would be channeled into stock ponds, not into the river.

He raised cattle, sheep, goats, and a small herd of bison that ate out of his hand.

Potishman said: “If older people could do this kind of thing . . . instead of being put into a home, they would be much better off. They’d not only be closer to nature, but they could be busy and happy. I know this work and interest has added years for me.”

Fast-forward to 1980. Someone used a high-powered rifle to kill a bison at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

Potishman not only offered a $500 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of the killer but also donated to the nature center a replacement bison from his own herd.

Potishman said, “I don’t know anything worse that a person could do than shoot one of those beautiful, innocent animals. I thought it was the dirtiest thing I’d ever heard of. . . . For somebody to go where those animals are penned up, not hurting anybody, and then shoot them is ridiculous, absurd, preposterous, and every other word I can think of. The man had to be crazy.”

Leo Potishman died in 1981 at age eighty-five. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

But the name of Leo Potishman lives on. For the last forty years of his life Potishman was in the news mostly for his philanthropy. That philanthropy has outlived him as his foundation has helped, among others, college, nursing, medical, and music students with scholarships, TCU and Tarleton State University, Texas Boys Choir and Texas Ballet Theater, Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Zoo, the Women’s Center, and Fort Worth Police and Firefighters Memorial.

Meanwhile on White Settlement Road, the Carswell golf course was reborn in 2002 as “Hawks Creek Golf Club.” The Potishman house remained as the course clubhouse.

Elsewhere in Leo Potishman’s old ’hood, White Settlement Road now ends at the southern extension of two Carswell runways. The traffic circle (1940s-1950s) at the intersection of White Settlement Road, Roaring Springs Road, and Westworth Boulevard is gone. Also gone is the Carswell branch of the bomber spur (yellow line in old aerial photo). To the south, the Hawks Creek golf course has been expanded southward to take in Thompson Family Cemetery: Near the tenth tee the dozen souls who once were Leo Potishman’s quietest neighbors are now the quietest gallery on the course.

Some more views of the Leo Potishman house:

The house as seen from Thompson Family Cemetery on the golf course.

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One Response to Who the Heck Was . . . Leo Potishman?

  1. I play golf at Hawk’s Creek often and enjoy the old Potishman home/club house. Very unique. The information provided above does not state when the house was built and by whom. Does anyone have that? Thanks

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