Blast from the past: The high-flyin’ low fallin’ times of Jerry Angerman

December 20, 2011   // 1 Comment

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Jerry Angerman with his helicopter high atop the Pinnacle building around 1985.

by Ann Fowler

Written in March of 2006, published  in the annual Oak Hill Yesteryear issue.

    Developer. Publisher. Businessman. Banker. Entrepreneur. Community activist. Husband. Father. He was nicknamed the Mayor of Oak Hill, but not everyone appreciated his visions for this community.

“I’ve been called a lot of things – a developer, with a lot of negative connotations, a greedy businessman; and a lot of things that can’t be printed in the newspaper,” he wrote. But like him or not, Jerry Angerman is part of the history of Oak Hill.

Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen the landmark he built here more than 20 years ago. It was called the Pinnacle then, and was designed to be the first of several high rises for Oak Hill. It is the Austin Community College (ACC) Pinnacle campus now, and you can’t miss it if you drive down 290. It is all that remains of the dream Angerman had for Oak Hill.

Angerman grew up in Gatesville, Texas, attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, and became a teacher in Del Valle. “My titles included Athletic Director, Vice Principal, Head Bus Driver, and Golf Coach.”

In May of 1965, Angerman rented a building and opened the Y Food Store, manning it from 7 am to 11 pm for many years. “I could count on one hand the people who were out here after 7 at night,” he recalled.

To this day, some Oak Hill residents believe Angerman’s business investments were aided by his father-in-law, Elmer Hyden, owner of a grocery chain. Angerman responded to the suggestion with, “Nobody has given me anything. I never inherited or received a dime.” Hyden and Angerman were partners in a real estate venture that built Scenic Brook West neighborhood. Angerman says he borrowed money for his 30% share. The remaining four partners each had 17.5% shares.

Angerman built a home in the Scenic Brook Estates in 1970, complete with a helipad. A pilot since 1960, he wrote in one of his weekly newspaper columns, “In the 1970s, I became a helicopter pilot. Since then I have operated a charter service, and it was a pretty good business for a while, flying developers around to look at land, and similar charters.”

In 1982, Angerman decided to challenge incumbent Terral Smith for State Representative. Despite spending $150,000 on the campaign, Angerman’s 14,000 votes were no match for the 21,000 Smith received. Still, Angerman said it was the “best experience I’ve ever had in my life.” Later, upon hearing of Nancy Reagan’s astrological interest, Angerman would write, “If only I had planned my political campaign by the stars! I might be in the legislature, and Terral Smith might be just another rich lawyer. On second thought, perhaps things have turned out like they were supposed to after all.”

Anna Peterson and her husband were Angerman’s customers at the Y Food Store for years. They called him when they decided to sell their ten-acre property on 290 West. Angerman wrote, “I knew it was one of the highest points in Travis County, the elevation is actually 1,000 feet. After going up to the top in 1972 and looking over the views of the downtown area and the hill country, I knew it would be a beautiful site for homes, condos or a high rise. In my mind, I’ve always wanted to build the first high rise in this area, and I wanted it to be an asset to this community – offering an office alternative to downtown.”

According to the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, “In 1980 the land beyond the Y was all fields. Oak Hill folks hunted there. Up until then there was only a stop sign at the Y. The population was listed at 425. But, things started happening in Oak Hill in the early 1980s: Motorola (now Freescale) was built in 1982; Red lights replaced the stop signs at the Y; Tom Thumb was built, later becoming Skaggs, and then Albertsons. (HEB came in around 1986).” Oak Hill was clearly growing. It seemed to Angerman the perfect time to begin development of his 10-acre property.

Construction of the 10-story high-rise began in 1983. Optimistic about his various business ventures and the future of Oak Hill, Angerman also started publication of The Y Weekly.  “Why start the paper? … To be of service to the people living and working in the established and developing communities in this area,” he wrote. “I want this paper to be involved in the day to day concerns of these communities and to serve as the voice of those who have chosen to live, play and work here.

“I have lived in Travis County for 21 years… I have been a teacher, a coach, a businessman, a politician – and I have formed one firm concept while pursing these varied interests, it is that I should take advantage of any opportunity to return something to the people who have helped me and my family along the way.”

Angerman put helipads on The Pinnacle and the United Bank of Oak Hill building. “I had a helicopter at home and used it like a car,” he recalled. At one time he had nine helicopters for his charter service.

Angerman believed the country was in “a New Deal sort of mode – a chicken in every pot, two helicopters in every hangar. Lots of people were trying to make something happen.” He wrote, “There are still some pessimistic attitudes abroad, and those who feel Oak Hill should remain a sleepy little community. I don’t think it ever was a sleepy little town. Things have been doing well here since 1965, and I think people should be proud of the area and give credit to those who have worked hard to make it grow.”

In November, 1984, Angerman wrote, “I’ve been told I am crazy for putting a big office building in Oak Hill, but a little over 40 percent of the building is already leased and signed for, and another 15 to 20 percent is in negotiation.”

Talking about those signed up to lease space, Angerman said, “…basically all the people are from here, or live here, or have some association with the Oak Hill area. That’s what I wanted to do – provide first class office space for folks in this area who don’t want to have to drive to downtown Austin to work.”

His sentiments are similar to those currently working on the downtown Oak Hill plan, allowing people to live and work in the same community. But while his vision may have been ahead of its time, he could not foresee the economic slump that hit the area in the mid 1980s. In June of 1986, Angerman wrote, “I’m sitting out here in a pretty empty 10-story office building, so I know the recent stories about possible overbuilding of commercial space are based on reality. It’s going to take some time to get back the investment in those buildings.”

Knowing that such slumps are cyclical, Angerman attempted to wait it out. He had other irons in the fire as well. He was president of Angerman Investments, Chairman of the Board of United Bank of Oak Hill. He owned Oak City Center, where he published The Y Weekly. He was general partner in Mid-Pacific Geothermal, an alternative energy company. He opened Life Savings Association, a home-owned savings and loan. And he had an interest in a pay-for-view television service. He owned the land at the Y where Albertson’s used to be.

In June, 1985, Angerman was replaced as chairman of the United Bank of Oak Hill. The bank sued him in September for breach of fiduciary trust, and he countersued. The suits were ultimately settled out of court in June, 1986. The details of the settlement were not publicly announced, but those close to the case said Angerman received a cash settlement.

Meanwhile, Angerman was faced with a huge investment in The Pinnacle and few tenants. In June, 1986, he wrote, “Austin is going to have its ups and downs, and right now we are in one of those troughs. Staying power is important, and it may take as long as 18 months before a real turnaround arrives.” But a renewed economy would not come that soon.

When Angerman sold the last of his helicopters in 1987, he said, “I’m one of those without wings these days, having sold my air taxi helicopter a couple of months ago. I hated to see it fly off, but at the same time, I was glad I had a buyer, and something to sell him.”

In May, 1988, Angerman wrote that if his wife, Wanda, had been like Nancy Reagan and consulted an astrologer, “we might not be sitting up here on the 10 floor of this mostly empty building. … If she’d checked things out with somebody, we would have had the groundbreaking for the Pinnacle another day, like one five years from now.”

Six months later, Angerman wrote, “For the next two to three years, maybe even longer, we need to be ready for solving some rough problems. We still have a lot of office buildings with empty space, not just mine, people without homes and resources who need more services when we have fewer dollars available to meet those needs.

“Now, if this seems like a departure from my previous attitude about prosperity and good times, you’ve caught on. I’ve been cheerful about as long as I can stand, and I’ve figured out a new approach. While I was trying to be upbeat about the economy, it continued to get worse and worse. I’m hoping to reverse that trend with some reverse psychology.”

But reverse psychology did not help. Eventually Angerman and Texas Commerce Bank, which financed The Pinnacle, agreed that he would walk away, and, as part of the agreement, ACC bought it in 1990 to use as a campus. He paid $6 million to build The Pinnacle. ACC bought it for $2.8 million. It is now valued at nearly $25 million. Ironically, on April 22, 1987, The Y Weekly carried the front page headline, “ACC Seeking 30 Acres for Oak Hill Campus.”

Carol White, a local resident, was a loan assistant for Texas Commerce at that time. “He was always very pleasant when he called,” she said. “He was forward thinking.” She went to The Pinnacle once, she said, and described the lobby as “very well furnished, very, very fancy.”

“Texas Commerce Bank was great,” recalled Angerman. “They gave me five years to pay my deficit. I paid them 100% of everything owed.”

Angerman shut down his newspaper in 1990. He sold the shopping center to Russ Larson. In 1996 he moved to Dallas, and in 2000 he moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he lives today.

“I’m having a great time,” Angerman said. “I don’t know why everyone doesn’t live out here.” Asked if he’s retired now, he replied, “I guess, but I still do my financial stuff. I play a lot of tennis. And I live on a golf course.”

He and Wanda often hop in their jeep and go back-roading in search of Indian ruins. “We do that a lot,” he says.

Of The Pinnacle, Angerman said, “They changed the rules in middle of stream in 1986. I built in 1984, occupied in 1985. The building was 75% leased. Then the rules changed starting January of 1986. Everyone thought we’d be grandfathered, but we weren’t.

“I do miss Oak Hill,” he admits, “but not enough to come back there.”

Well, that’s not exactly true. He comes back periodically to visit his daughters. Brenda lives in Austin, while Dina lives in Oak Hill.

“I put my heart and soul into Oak Hill,” he said. “It means something to me. I can’t drive to my daughter’s and look at Pinnacle and not have thoughts. It’s emotional.”

 


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1 COMMENT

  1. By Rick P., February 25, 2012

    I wish he would have built the second tower … the way the crazy Austin government is operating, we’re likely to not have much opportunity for more high rise office buildings for quite some time …

    Reply

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