A contemporary of O’Neil Ford, San Antonio landscape architect Stewart King was an avid historic preservationist and advocate of indigenous plants whose involvement with the San Antonio Conservation Society as advisor and consultant led to his involvement in the preservation and restoration of the Old Spanish Missions. The example above is from the Mission San Francisco de la Espada, located in southeast San Antonio on the banks of the San Antonio River.
King is considered a pioneer in designing sustainable landscapes. His collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive contains documentation from 19 years of his professional career, featuring plant files, photographs and landscape plans, including 2,500 landscape architecture drawings.
“Little Chapel in the Woods” at Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in Denton is the next featured work in the archive’s “To Better Know a Building” exhibit series that draws on the rich collections of The University of Texas at Austin’s premiere architecture special collection.
The small nonsectarian chapel — ninety feet long and forty-two feet wide, constructed of grey fieldstone and brick from nearby Bridgeport — was intended to reflect the indigenous style of the region while harkening to more modern sensibilities. The chapel is an early reflection of the role of craft in Ford’s career as well.
A design competition in 1938 resulted in the selection of the newly partnered O’Neil Ford and Arch Swank as architects, with Gerald Rogers chosen to devise a method to formulate the arches for the working drawings for the project. They were to be assisted by college architect Preston M. Geren, Sr., of Fort Worth.
The project was funded by an initial donation of $15,000 from the W. R. Nicholson family of Longview, Texas, with an additional $10,000 raised by students, faculty and alumni of the college.
Despite its relatively low budget, the project benefitted from the participation of a public works’ project — the National Youth Administration — which provided construction trainees as laborers; the workforce was augmented by more than 300 TWU students and faculty members, allowing construction of the chapel to be completed in late 1939.
“To Better Know A Building” seeks to explore buildings through the drawings and other visual items found in the archive and library, promoting the records of a single building. Plans, elevations and sections visually communicate design intent and can also be used as a vehicle in teaching through example.
An opening reception will take place at 6 p.m., Monday, February 16, in the reading room of the Architecture & Planning Library, located in historic Battle Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
UT alumnus Brantley Hightower — an educator, author and founding partner in the San Antonio firm HiWorks — will lead the exhibit opening by offering remarks about the “Little Chapel in the Woods.”
Attendees to the reception will have an opportunity to vote — along with students, faculty and staff in the School of Architecture — to help determine the next building featured in the series, chosen from a list of holdings of the Alexander Architectural Archive.
Along with providing invaluable resources for myriad scholarly and research inquiries, the Libraries collections can also occasionally become a sole source for needs of journalistic enterprise, as well, especially in the form of those unique items that are part of the Libraries’ special collections.
That was the case in a current three-part series by reporter Alan Peppard of the Dallas Morning News that looks at two small islands off the Texas coast that served as recreational and power centers for a pair of the richest oilmen in the state’s history.
“Islands of the Oil Kings” examines the islets of Matagorda and San Jose near Port Aransas. A significant portion of the former was purchased by Clint Murchison Sr., and the entirety of the latter was acquired by his lifetime best friend, Sid Richardson, both of the properties becoming retreats where the oilmen could both relax and play host to the most influential of guests, magnates of business and current and future leaders, including Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and a then-aspiring senatorial candidate named Lyndon Johnson.
Richardson’s San Jose sanctuary featured a house designed by esteemed Texas architect O’Neil Ford that married the sophistication of European modernism with the simplicity of the Texas ranch style. Being located in a place that was consistently the red zone for hurricanes, the building had to also be constructed with the strength to withstand the worst that nature could offer. When completed, Ford claimed that the structure was “tight enough to strum,” and, indeed, when Category 5 Hurricane Carla hit the Texas coast in mid-September 1961, the house survived with a mere broken window in the kitchen.
In pulling together resources for Part 2 of this excellent long-form article featuring engaging complementary multimedia components, Peppard leaned on the Alexander Architectural Archive (AAA) — part of the Architecture and Planning Library in historic Battle Hall — to provide photography of Ford’s design work on the Richardson compound. AAA maintains the collections of numerous notable Texas architects and designers, including a comprehensive archive of O’Neil Ford’s career with papers, plans, photographic prints and negatives, slides, exhibit boards, drawings and sketches that are preserved for use by students, scholars, researchers and architecture aficionados.
See more images of the Richardson home from the O’Neil Ford collection below.