Tag Archives: O’Neil Ford

The Birthday, Sterling County, Texas. © Hester + Hardaway Photographers

The Dean of Texas Architecture*

“Now, when a young architect tells me about a project he’s proud of, I say, ‘Get photographs!’” — Frank Welch, On Becoming an Architect

Texas architect Frank Welch developed this outlook after one of his seminal creations – The Birthday in Sterling County, Texas – was plastered over in a renovation by a new owner, against the entreaties of Welch himself.

The Birthday was especially personal to Frank Welch as it was the first project for which he’d been given virtual carte blanche to design a building. So when he learned in 1997 – on the eve of receiving a major award for his work – that the current owner of the iconic building was planning to encircle Welch’s creation with a renovation of the original structure, he felt a profound sense of loss.

“I think the appropriate longhair word for what happened to the Birthday would be transmogrified. That was when I began to realize that nothing does endure,” recounts Welch in On Becoming an Architect.

This recognition of the temporal nature of things probably influenced the decision to place his papers at the Alexander Architectural Archives, where they are safely preserved for use by students, scholars and researchers for the foreseeable future.

Frank D. Welch was born in Sherman, Texas in 1927. An early affinity for drawing led him to art classes, where he honed his artistic abilities and developed a love for photography and architecture. By the time he graduated high school, he’d begun to think about becoming an architect.

In 1944, Welch enrolled at Texas A&M as a liberal arts major, but joined the Merchant Marine in order to avoid the draft, but after a 6 month stint and subsequent resignation, he was called up for Selective Service anyway. He served 18 months, then returned to College Station and enrolled in the architecture program.

Though recognized primarily for other strengths, A&M was a little-known bastion for modernist architecture. Welch posited that it was the prevailing aesthetic that made the area a natural fit for the school: “Architecture, coupled with technology, could improve people’s lives. Modernist design might have been urbane and sophisticated, but it appealed to the practical bent of an agricultural and engineering school.”

Welch earned his bachelors in 1951 and after accepting a one-year Fulbright Scholarship to France, returned to Texas to work at the firms of noted architects O’Neil Ford and Richard Colley, both of whose papers are also included in the Alexander Archives; Welch’s time with the two had a significant influence on his style, but it was Ford who brought him to the firm, and who made the greater impression on him. “Most important to me,” says Welch, “I would, from the exposure to Ford, become an architect with a template: a model that guided me. From him I learned how to put building parts together in a direct, logical manner. Throughout my career, I would repeatedly think to myself, ‘How would Neil do it?’”

In 1959, Welch opened his own firm – Frank Welch & Associates – in Odessa in the basement of his brother-in-law’s clothing store, and a year later moved the practice to Midland, where it operated until the mid-1980s. Welch moved the firm to Dallas in 1985, and continued designing buildings until his death in 2017. The firm primarily designed residences but was also active in commercial and public projects, with notable projects like the Midland Episcopal School (1963), the Forrest Oil Building (1974), the Blakemore Planetarium (1972), the Purnell House in Dallas (1981), and the Nasher-Haemisegger House in Dallas (1997).

But it was the hunting cabin at Sterling City that Welch designed for John and BLee Dorn that was his masterwork. The Birthday was taught in classes and the building quickly came to be seen as an icon of regional architecture. When TSA decided to present Welch with the organization’s distinguished 25-Year Award in 1997, they did so for the first time in tandem with another remarkable feat of Texas architecture, the Kimbell Museum – the only time that it has been given to two built works.

Above his work in the field, Welch’s interest and background in writing and literature led him to pen multiple volumes and contribute to several others, including On Becoming an Architect: A Memoir (2014), Thirty Houses, 1960-2012: Selected Residential Works of Architect Frank Welch (2015), and his essential work on another iconic American architect, Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). He also served as adjunct faculty at various institutions  –  Rice University, University of Houston, University of Texas at Arlington and University of North Texas –  and received accolades throughout his career, including the John Flowers Award in recognition of his writing and the Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Texas Society of Architects, and Welch was the first recipient of the O’Neil Ford Medal for Design Achievement.

The Frank Welch Architectural Collection at the Alexander Architectural Archive presents the history of Welch’s firm spanning a period of over 50 years of practice (1959-2012). The university received the initial donation of materials for the archive in November 2011, consisting of research and reference materials (manuscript and photographic) and oral interviews pertaining to Welch’s book Philip Johnson & Texas (2000). Another, considerably larger donation was received in May 2012.

Currently processed materials indicate that the collection includes 150 linear feet of manuscript and photographic materials, 649 rolls or drawings (approximately 29,000 sheets) and approximately 10,000 slides of architectural projects. Most of the manuscript materials (ca. 1960-2010) are project files – or client files – and specifications. Professional papers include original research and writings, correspondence, clippings, association and committee papers, jurying and teaching materials and award entries. Office records are represented by business correspondence, phone message and work order books, and reference files. These include information on other architects and firms as well as architectural, landscape, and decorative resources. Personal papers are limited almost exclusively to correspondence.

*Along with his mentor, O’Neil Ford

 

Collections Highlight: Stewart King’s Mission Landscapes

Stewart King (architect). Patio garden and circulation plan for Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Scheme 1, San Antonio, Texas. ca. 1957. Marker, pencil, and crayon on paper. 21.5 x 32.25 in. Stewart King collection. Alexander Architectural Archive.
Stewart King (architect). Patio garden and circulation plan for Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Scheme 1, San Antonio, Texas. ca. 1957. Marker, pencil, and crayon on paper. 21.5 x 32.25 in. Stewart King collection. Alexander Architectural Archive.

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.

To Better Know Ford’s “Little Chapel”

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.

The building has been designated one of the state’s 20 most outstanding architectural achievements by the Texas Society of Architects.

The Alexander Architectural Archive — a special collection of the Architecture & Planning Library — has among its materials the original construction drawings from the offices of Ford and Swank in the O’Neil Ford collection. The exhibit will present correspondence, notes, sketches, drawings and printed materials related to the design and construction of the building.

“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.

To Better Know a Building: Little Chapel in the Woods” will be on view in the reading room of the Architecture and Planning Library through August 31, 2015.

 

Texas Oilmen and Coastal Architecture

Sid Richardson residence photograph of exterior corner, undated. San Jose Island, Texas. O'Neil Ford collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
Sid Richardson residence photograph of exterior corner, undated. San Jose Island, Texas. O’Neil Ford collection, Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

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.