Texas: Central, South, and Gulf Coast

-A A +A


Texas is a crossroads of cultures, histories, and architectures, creating a distinct blend of material traditions spanning a half millennium. Perhaps, one might say, this assertion is true for many places in the world. Just as the geologist begins to understand one place from the perspective of others, and as the botanist describes a distinct ecosystem through knowledge gained in other climates, so should the architectural historian understand Texas as a reflection of all the cultural emissaries that have passed this way. This book focuses on the central, southern, and Gulf coastal regions of the state, although it will refer to the broader history of the entire state.

The crosscurrents and their intermixing whirlpools have fashioned a place that is recognizable from elsewhere in the nation. One little Spanish building in San Antonio—the Alamo ( SA1)—with walls of local limestone shaped by Indian apprentices, a facade carved as a Roman triumphal arch, and a Dutch-gabled parapet applied by a German immigrant working for the U.S. Army cannot be confused with any other. Similarly, one large building in Houston—Pennzoil Place ( HN8)—with angular twin towers of dark glass commissioned by a Pennsylvania-born oil company and designed by a New York City architect for a southwestern developer defines the city's skyline as no other. 1

Beyond individual buildings, Texas also projects a cultural landscape that easily betrays the way its geography has hosted history. A fading but crisp photograph that sweeps across a panorama of muddy streets and wooden false-front shops flanked by shotgun houses and creaky pyramidal derricks illustrates a Texas oil boomtown of 1900, or the 1920s, or even the 1930s.


A combination of telltale factors lends the few hundred years of Texas architecture a distinctive appearance. Central and South Texas, around the 30° latitude line, are graced with light from the high sun angles. Annual rainfall varies from subtropical on the Gulf Coast to semi-arid in the Hill Country, and temperature fluctuations inspire remarkable building innovations for both heat gain and loss. Central and South Texas yield a vast selection of natural building materials: honey-tinted limestone from ancient seas and sparkling red granite from volcanic episodes. Most of the raw materials for Portland cement and concrete aggregates are found throughout the region, clay formations produce excellent brick and tile units, live oaks and tight-grained pines provide near-permanent materials, and longleaf pine forests have supplied vast quantities of framing lumber to the building industry.

A long-dominant agricultural economy of middling success created a legacy of small-to medium-scale buildings in almost every community through the 1950s. Even the mid-twentieth-century era of large buildings of national and international sameness achieved regional distinction in Texas through local materials and ornamentation. Bas-reliefs of cactus, cows, and oil derricks carved in Texas limestone enrich exteriors and interior spaces.

The need to create shade, to control the abundant natural light, and to temper the persistent heat has affected the choice of materials and building form since the earliest days of European settlement: thick stone or adobe walls, deep porches, wooden louvers, perforated aluminum, and low emissivity (low-E) glass that moderates solar gain. Natural ventilation is possible much of the year through central hallways; double-sash windows, which open at both the bottom and the top; high ceilings; and attic fans.


The crossing of cultures in Texas is an ancient tradition still evident through cross-county routes that evolved, successively, as Native American trails, Spanish roads, and modern interstate highways. For example, one trail, with its many natural tangents, followed reliable water sources and crossings roughly northeast to southwest to connect the Woodland cultures of East Texas with desert nomads along the Rio Grande. The Spanish named the corridor El Camino Real—the King's Highway. Later it became the Old San Antonio Road and today's State Highway 21. If travelers did not come to Texas by sea, they came on the Camino Real, in the footsteps of Davy Crockett and many others.

Another trail skipped west from the Gulf of Mexico to deep in the interior, far past the mountains now known as Big Bend National Park. The first Europeans to set foot in present-day Texas and describe its indigenous population were Spaniards including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his enslaved North African companion Esteban (Estevanico). They followed this western route as far as the Gulf of California. The explorers observed only nomadic groups peopling the coastal and inland landscapes. These Europeans followed various trading trails between 1534 and 1536 until they returned to Mexico City far to the south. Much of their east–west route through Texas is today traversed by U.S. 90 and I-10, crossing I-35 at the fertile river valley hosting San Antonio.


Based on conquistador Vázquez de Coronado's adventures in 1540–1542, Spain claimed a vast landscape now partly defined by Texas. Coronado set out to confirm Cabeza de Vaca's secondhand tales of “seven golden cities,” but found only mud pueblos in present-day Arizona and New Mexico, and left only encampment trash in Tule Canyon of Texas near today's Lubbock. 2The French entry into Matagorda Bay in 1685—unintentional since their leader Robert Cavelier de La Salle actually sought the Mississippi River delta— brought settlers with iron axes and shiploads of trade goods. La Salle's colony of some 180 people converted ship timbers to shelter and scratched out a redoubt dubbed Fort St. Louis on Lavaca Bay near present-day Victoria, rediscovered by state archaeologists in 2000. But the coastal climate and hostile natives proved insurmountable for the lost expedition and the French community vanished in 1688. 3

This incursion by one European nation onto another's American claims reignited Spanish interests in its northern province of Texas. By 1690 the Spanish established a mission, probably of log buildings, along El Camino Real near Nacogdoches, and in the early 1700s built a series of agricultural centers along the upper San Antonio River valley. In 1731 the king of Spain granted more of this fertile valley to a group of Canary Island immigrants, who followed the Laws of the Indies in surveying a rectilinear townsite with two plazas, one for their civic center and one for military assemblies. This enterprise fashioned the first civil government in Texas and was the cosmopolitan beginning of San Fernando de Béxar, later renamed San Antonio de Béxar, for the adjacent presidio and closest mission, San Antonio de Valero ( SA1).


In the upper San Antonio River valley, the Spanish and their Indian converts assembled elegant buildings of incredibly durable stonework. From the 1740s through 1790s, a series of talented but ill-fated master masons journeyed from Mexico's interior to supervise construction of five major churches and missions around San Antonio: San Antonio de Valero (later called the Alamo; SA1), Concepción de Acuña ( SA84), San José y San Miguel de Aguayo ( SA85), San Juan Capistrano ( SA86), and San Francisco de la Espada ( SA87). Their maestros de albañil (masters of the bricklayers, or master masons)—most notably Antonio de Tello, Geronimo Ybarra, and Antonio Salazar—typically constructed the churches with cross-plan naves about eighty feet long, with shallow transepts and ambitious clerestory domes on complex pendentives supporting drums over their crossings and elaborate west-facing facades.

The substantial stone walls, vaulted naves (ultimately successful only at Concepción), and twin-towered facades (again, realized only at Concepción) transferred Romanesque technology to Texas through generations of Spanish apprenticeships. And by clever design or isolated opportunities, the delicately carved facades of three of the churches reflected artistic phases of the Spanish Renaissance that accompanied Spain's expansion after 1492: early classical (Concepción), Baroque (Alamo), and floral Churrigueresque (San José). 4

More town building followed as the Spanish settled the fertile river valleys. Most employed Spanish precedents of gridiron street systems rotated a few degrees from the cardinal axes to encourage breezes and ensure sunlight on all elevations during the course of each day. In addition to San Antonio and La Bahía in Texas, towns appeared after 1749 along the south bank (present-day Mexico) of the Rio Grande, with the settlements of Camargo, Reynosa, and Mier promoted by empresarioDon José de Escandón. On the north bank (present-day Texas), the ranching outposts of San Ygnacio, Carrizo (now Zapata), and Laredo (in 1755) later developed into towns. Typical North African and Iberian building practices used mud, adobe, stone (where available), and scrub wood to construct residential, storage, civic, and religious buildings close to each street with protected patios and courts inside. Mature mesquites along the Rio Grande provided superb beams, or vigas,for roof systems layered with scrub-wood latiasand insulating packed-earth roofs, the best with a natural cement mixture called chipichil.The most humble Spanish houses, jacales,still visible in some border communities and interpreted at the San Antonio missions, borrowed from North Mexico native huts of woven scrub woods packed with mud and straw for substantial strength and insulation. 5


Despite moderate successes along the Rio Grande and around San Antonio, the vast territory of Texas presented a number of problems as an outpost of empire. The distance to population centers in Mexico was great, the Texas indigenous population too small and hostile, and the westering American settlers of the United States much too close. Hoping for a grateful replication of its Canary Islander immigration to San Antonio, Spain in the early 1820s allowed capitalist empresariosfrom the United States—the most famous being Moses Austin and his son Stephen F. Austin—to import hundreds of Anglo-American families who officially swore to leave behind their African American slaves, to convert to Catholicism, and to render their taxes to Mexico City. 6

Even after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, and inspired by the U.S. model of republican liberties, the intermixing of southern American farmers into Mexican Texas produced a volatile brew. The Americans established few cities of their own (gridiron plans marked Goliad, Gonzales, and San Felipe) and built nothing larger than log cabins, leaving urbanism and institutional buildings to the still-remote Mexican officials. The traditional Anglo, or Northern European, log cabin was a sturdy room, or pen, of stacked logs trimmed just enough for a tight fit (closed with mortar “chinking”) and distinctly notched corner joints. Two pens spaced several feet apart under a common roof created an open central hall, or dogtrot (dog run), that with proper orientation channeled the prevailing breeze for comfort and health. From tropical Caribbean practice (perhaps brought to the United States after Haitian independence in 1804) came the shed-roof porch that, appended to the front eave of a side-gabled cabin roof, completed the classic prototype for frontier homes, churches, schools, and courthouses. 7

For its part, Mexico built no new churches, schools, or city halls in the handful of Texas trade centers, and it improved few port facilities along the essential waterways for commerce to and from the Gulf of Mexico. But the distant central government (and associated church bureaucracy) insisted on tributes and tithes anyway—taxation without representation in the minds of descendants from the American Revolution barely fifty years earlier.

Inevitable conflicts between Mexico and its rebellious colonists ironically centered on some of the most substantial architecture left by the Spanish. In mid-1835 at Anahuac (near today's Houston), the Mexican government's brick fort and customhouse hosted a pivotal taxpayer squabble. That autumn in San Antonio armed colonists captured the fortified adobe and stone Alamo mission from a demoralized Mexican garrison, and the old Presidio La Bahía near Goliad fell to Americans, who crafted the rebellion's first declaration of independence in the fort's stone chapel ( GB15). In the late winter of 1835 and early spring of 1836, Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna personally led his army of suppression north across the Rio Grande toward the largest urban center in Texas, and forever memorialized San Antonio's stone Alamo church after a thirteen-day siege and annihilation of its Texian defenders. 8

The next few weeks of this military chess game across rolling Texas prairies reduced the already-meager Anglo-American log settlements, bridges, and riverboats to smoldering ruins, set aflame by friend and foe alike. At an open plain along the San Jacinto River on April 21, 1836, Sam Houston's small army surprised Santa Anna, disarmed and decimated his contingent, and won independence for the huge northeastern reach of Mexico—suddenly now the Republic of Texas.

Significantly, the new republic took charge of all public lands and flowing waters (at first north of the Nueces River and later north of the Rio Grande), and assumed the considerable bureaucracy associated with land grants and sales. The secular government also confiscated lands and buildings of the Catholic Church, including the mission complexes and their associated ranchlands. And slavery quietly entered commerce and agricultural productivity as a legal enterprise, solidly linking Texas with the labor-intensive (and virtually anti-industrial) plantation economy of the American South.


Texas now offered a potential agrarian and slave-powered paradise to Anglo settlers, as well as real estate speculation on a grand scale to investors from the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Northern Europe. In the 1830s and 1840s the young republic absorbed tens of thousands of immigrants overland from the United States and by ships from Europe to makeshift Gulf ports. During this period the popular wharves of Galveston and Indianola resembled temporary boomtowns instead of established cities with permanent buildings.

On Galveston Island in 1836, Canadian-born fur trader Michel B. Ménard and his cousins paid the republic $50,000 for about 4,600 acres of prime bay-harbor frontage, and laid out a new townsite for Galveston. Urban planning and investments insured the port's dominance of immigration, manufactured goods, and cotton gathered from Texas farms for the remainder of the century. Ménard ( GV46), fellow businessmen Samuel May Williams ( GV47), and John S. Sydnor also acquired palatial (in their context) Greek Revival houses, built in 1838, 1840, and 1848, respectively. These temple-front villas boosted the Southern plantation image of Galveston and Texas in general for all who passed through the port. Yet their timbers, weatherboards, and fluted columns reputedly came from New England lumber mills in partial balance of trade for shiploads of cotton. 9

Just as negotiations between the congresses of Texas and the United States reached agreement for annexation in 1845, the republic's Supreme Court settled official property claims of the Catholic Church. The church recovered most mission sanctuaries, including the Alamo's venerable church (but little surrounding development or land), and thereafter encouraged Catholic organizations in France, Germany, and other Northern European countries to bring their own followers to Texas and to shepherd the surviving Hispanic flock. Beginning in the 1840s German and Alsatian immigrants from the Rhineland passed in large numbers through Indianola and San Antonio to farming colonies spread along the springs and rivers of the Texas Hill Country. Immigrants from Poland arrived in the 1850s to settle Panna Maria, southeast of San Antonio, and its orbital church communities. All these ventures brought experienced stonemasons and carpenters to exploit abundant limestone and wood in the region for their small but efficient homes and businesses, anchored by impressive Gothic Revival stone churches at New Braunfels ( NB10) and Fredericksburg ( NB49) and the Alsatian outpost of Castroville ( CJ6).


Texas officially joined the Union as the twenty-eighth state (also joining the Southern slave states) in early 1846, and retained its estimated 225 million acres of public lands, as well as its considerable public debt, as part of the annexation treaty. Successive leaders dedicated as much public land as possible to support education and health. From a population of about 50,000 in 1836, the republic's liberal immigration policies resulted in a census record of 125,000 upon annexation a decade later. Still more waves of settlers, slaves, and investors followed statehood, accelerating in 1848 after the Mexican War stabilized the Rio Grande as the southern frontier. Another stream of fortune seekers boosted the Texas economy on their way upstream and overland to California's gold fields after 1849. By 1850 the Texas population had reached 155,000, just as the congressional compromise of that year admitted California to the Union and created the Territory of New Mexico partly from lands claimed by Texas.

In 1850, the federal government persuaded Texas to redraw its western boundary and give up about 67 million acres for compensation exceeding $10 million. With its debts paid and cash in hand, the state government built a number of permanent public buildings in its capital city of Austin throughout the next decade, which was heretofore full of log buildings marking the first stages of permanence. The brick Governor's Mansion ( AU4) deepened the Greek Revival theme for the best houses of the state's most powerful citizens, including far-flung plantation owners along major rivers.

The stuccoed brick General Land Office ( AU2), designed by German-born and-trained Conrad C. Stremme, brought the newly popular Rundbogenstil to Austin, dressing a massive fireproof vault for the state's most valuable records. The rough stone and brick Blind School of 1859 and the limestone State Lunatic Asylum ( AU84) begun in 1857 revealed a government willing to address humanitarian needs. Both buildings utilized Italianate styling for circulation of air and light through tall windows under delicate cornices. 10

A new brick and limestone capitol building of 1854, built by Abner Cook and drafted by carpenter John Brandon, also resulted from these newfound riches, as did a number of new county courthouses, encouraged by a state tax holiday. But Cook and the architectural community drifting into the state at that time could not yet produce a suitable large capitol for such a large-thinking state. This first masonry capitol building proved mostly that an excellent hilltop site had been selected for the seat of government and that better architects must be attracted to improve the situation if Austin was to retain its capital city status after a referendum scheduled for 1870. 11


Following statehood, the U.S. military assumed a major presence in the state as an important engine of its economy and building innovations. The United States' defeat of Mexico in 1848, launched primarily from Texas and reverberating all the way to California, brought a federal strategy to guard the southern frontier against Mexico and the western frontier from the nomadic Comanche, Apache, and other tribes claiming the wilderness. Off-loading men and equipment in Indianola and storing supplies in San Antonio inside the remodeled Alamo buildings rented from the Roman Catholic Church, the U.S. Army built a series of forts across west central Texas. Their mission protected a line of settlements on a north–south axis enjoying plentiful water and arable land along the Balcones Escarpment (today paralleled by I-35). The army's assignments on several east–west tangents protected supply lines and stage routes that reached to El Paso, Santa Fe, and onward to California and the Rocky Mountains. 12

Frontier fort design and construction brought the first new urban ideas into Texas since the Spanish cloned the rotated-axis gridiron plan with a central public square. The U.S. Army generally established a parade-ground commons as central space—not the enclosed fortresses of later popular fiction— then lined up officers' quarters along one side and enlisted men's barracks on the other. Stables were strategically located downwind of daily activities and hospitals enjoyed a sanitary distance from routines as well. Substantial budgets produced masonry buildings where possible, including Fort Brown ( BS1) at the mouth of the Rio Grande and Fort Mason on the western frontier.

The Texas population quadrupled to 600,000 by 1860 and a few substantial towns emerged across the eastern third of the state, as Galveston, Houston, Gonzales, and Victoria all exploited water traffic to build small but vital urban centers. Old San Antonio and the new capital city of Austin took advantage of their strategic positions on inland trails with plentiful local water for culinary use, sanitation, and limited mill power. All these ambitious villages talked of railroads and urged connections; the growing city of Houston joined this game early and boasted five of the nine short rail lines operating when the Civil War disrupted Jeffersonian democracy in 1861.


As Southern states withdrew from the Union one by one after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, Texas joined the Confederacy in March 1861. Governor Sam Houston, who adamantly recommended either staying in the Union or declaring independence once again, sat in the capitol basement while the legislators in the chambers above declared his office vacant and replaced him. The Civil War drained manpower, capital, and the capitalist lifestyle from the Southern states, including Texas. The new frontier forts occupied by Confederate militia emptied as their troops and arms moved east toward decisive battles far from Texas. Soon after the war ended, a Union occupation force landed at Galveston to place Texas under martial law, stabilizing the immanent chaos and incidentally announcing that all slaves in Texas were free. That was June 19, 1865, and it is still celebrated as “Juneteenth,” Emancipation Day, in honor of African American freedom. 13

Postwar Reconstruction of the population was directed by Union troops, headquartered in the State Blind Asylum (1859, Charles F. Millett, designer; Abner Cook, contractor) in Austin. More than a century later, preservationists saved the school building (E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at IH35) from highway expansion by naming it after George Armstrong Custer, who was stationed here in 1865–1866, circulating a vintage photograph of the storied officer and his entourage on its Italianate porch. A few other fortunate individuals prospered in the postwar cash economy, and utilized the still-fashionable Italianate style for their show houses.

In rural Texas, home to the largest population block by far, farmers dressed their log dwellings with milled siding or, after a series of good crops, moved into their first stud-or balloon-frame houses. African Americans established “freedmen's towns” in remote areas to practice farming, such as Springfield in Limestone County, and on the edge of cities, such as Freedmen's Town (which became the Fourth Ward of Houston), to enter urban labor pools. For all rural Texans, country churches and schools served as modest community centers for distant neighbors, sometimes with both functions occurring inside a single “union” building occupied at least six days a week and by multiple congregations on Sundays. Texans built scores of these simple auditorium temples across the state, many with flanking front doors to separate male and female access according to the chaste conventions of the time.

As the state grew steadily, its population spread west on a shifting north– south line. From the midlands along the Brazos, Colorado, and Trinity River basins, new county lines continually repeated the democratic formula in uniform 30 × 30–mile quadrants. This 900-square-mile county ideal allowed a farmer from the farthest corner to drive his team and wagon to the central county seat on monthly trades' day, or on election day, and return by sundown. Today an automobile traveler driving on blue star highways through two-thirds of Texas can tick off the county seats about thirty miles apart along much of the journey. 14


Purveyors of popular Texas culture encountered other crossroads following the war, and as a result dramatically reworked their hamstrung Southern legacy for a newly crafted image. White Southerners elsewhere bitterly debated recent military defeats and loss of the slave-labor system, but Anglo Texans largely ignored embarrassments of the 1860s and celebrated their own victories of the 1830s even more loudly. Texans reinvented themselves as “southwestern”—a regional label that predated the Civil War and the United States' acquisitions of New Mexico and California in the 1840s.

Texans also gazed intently west to capitalize on their association with the larger national phenomenon of westward expansion and its new railroad connections. Black Texans, Tejanos (Hispanic Texans), and growing continental European immigrant communities added considerable variety to this intriguing mix with a simultaneous pride and confusion over multiple allegiances that looked less and less Southern.

The commodity and transport entrepreneurs who nurtured this new Texas image rewarded themselves with lavish houses in fashionable (if not always up-to-date) styles. Galveston's Walter Gresham and George Sealy, builders of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, built mansions along the city's cosmopolitan Broadway. Gresham's granite Chateauesque house ( GV30) showcased the genius of Irish-born architect Nicholas J. Clayton and Sealy's brick and sandstone Renaissance Revival landmark ( GV17) revealed his wide-ranging connections through its design by New York City's McKim, Mead and White. 15

Galveston grew in the late nineteenth century to be the state's largest city and one of the Gulf's busiest ports, while the entire state of Texas recorded a population of 1.5 million in 1880. Only San Antonio rivaled Galveston's urban population, with 20,550 versus 22,248 that year. The two cities were connected by railroads, “metropolitan corridors” spreading like an urban octopus across the state.

Well-timed investors ensured that new railroads connected their favored older towns: San Antonio, Austin, and Victoria. In addition, the rail companies platted new agricultural feeder communities sometimes every ten miles along their lines through farm country. The rails bypassed many older communities, causing rapid decline, especially at small inland river ports such as San Felipe, Washington on the Brazos, and Roma. Some old burgs were on railroad lines but still lost their former glory, such as Columbus and Fayetteville. Junction towns of multiple mainline railroads won the biggest economic benefits: Galveston, San Antonio, and Houston.

Balloon-frame and board-and-batten houses of milled lumber assembled into many traditional configurations were plentiful along rail lines. The central hall breezeway prevailed even within complex floor plans, while the square-plan, pyramidal-roofed house emerged during the railroad era as a ubiquitous vernacular house form particularly among sharecroppers along the interlacing roads of cotton country.


Lingering Reconstruction in Texas postponed the vote of 1870 to reconsider Austin as the permanent state capital, allowing just enough time for the Houston and Texas Central Railway to complete its 165-mile branch from Houston to Austin in 1871. The statewide vote in 1872 validated Austin, beating closest rivals Houston and Waco, and lawmakers soon needed a new capitol after the limestone building of 1854 at the head of Congress Avenue burned in 1881. The state constitution of 1876 allocated three million acres of public land, eventually surveyed in the Panhandle, to pay for the new building, and lawmakers issued an architectural competition for the best design. Many of the handful of practicing architects in Texas entered the contest, along with another handful from out of state which included the winner, Elijah E. Myers ( AU1), then at work on the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing. Myers's Texas capitol design inspired a number of similarly detailed public buildings in Texas and elsewhere designed by himself, his collaborators, and his competitors, ranging from the Bell County Courthouse in Belton ( NS27) to Denver City Hall and the Colorado State Capitol. 16

San Antonio's most visible symbol of its emergence as a major inland market center came with the construction of a new federal building and post office (1888, William A. Freret, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury). The Treasury Department's architecture office in Washington sent young designer James Riely Gordon to supervise construction of the immense limestone Richardsonian Romanesque castle on Alamo Plaza. Although H. H. Richardson's interpretations of Iberian Romanesque already influenced at least one commission in Texas—Austin's Driskill Hotel ( AU16) by Jasper N. Preston, who was one of the capitol competition contestants—the San Antonio federal design brought a brilliant understanding of Richardson's grandiosity directly to the state. This fine building lasted only until 1932 (replaced by a commendable design by Paul P. Cret; SA8), but Gordon soon established a private practice in San Antonio and designed dozens of the period's best public and private buildings for Texas through 1901. 17

Gordon entered the state's architecture community just as the nationwide railroad boom fostered prosperity and a surge of construction across Texas. Several advancements converged in the 1880s to fuel an age of large fire-proof buildings: passenger and mail trains delivered architectural journals and itinerant architects alike, plus hefty building materials and bulky machinery, anywhere the tracks reached. Local and regional prosperity—closely related to Texas's post–Civil War cultural and economic redefinitions—paid for these buildings, boosted after 1881 by state laws that allowed counties to sell bonds and leverage local taxes for new courthouses, jails, and even road bridges.

The town of Gonzales exemplifies the growth of a successful urban center during this period of railroad expansion. The municipality blossomed within its optimistic plan from 1825 during its Mexican era: a seven-by-seven-(one-quarter-mile-square) block plat by Anglo colonist and surveyor James Kerr. Kerr's layout followed Spanish-inspired colonial dictums of rectilinear blocks slightly off cardinal directions, but he embellished the “principal square” with adjacent radiating squares dedicated to church, school, jail, and commercial uses, resulting in a unique cruciform town center. When the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway ran its mainline twelve miles away in 1874, prosperous Gonzales merchants built a branchline into their town and maintained their commercial dominance of surrounding counties. St. Louis Street running east from the rail depot to the courthouse square became the busiest thoroughfare in a fifty-mile radius, until a second rail branch entered the town in 1888 and caused St. Peter Street to carry heavy traffic south from its depot into downtown as well.

In 1890 James Riely Gordon designed the Gonzales County Courthouse ( SF5), one of his many Richardsonian interpretations in red brick and limestone trim, crowned by a multistoried clock tower visible to travelers from miles away. Commercial blocks, public buildings, and houses facing the Gonzales squares developed densely through the 1880s and 1890s with one- to three-story buildings of local tawny pressed brick and soft limestone. Several blocks in any direction from the courthouse square, the town's most prosperous citizens built their substantial houses ( SF10), designed by professionals who followed Gordon to town, and many using mail-order plans and pre-sized materials. 18


The popular Second Empire style was pursued with gusto by some Texas architects in the early railroad era, as in the Wharton ( WD1), Caldwell ( BT6), and Blanco ( BT13) county courthouses. This gave way after the turn of the twentieth century to the “Texas Renaissance” style. The porticoed compositions in numerous county seats, such as Hays ( BT9), Fort Bend ( AS28), and Bee ( GB18) counties, hinted at the Classical Revival and Beaux-Arts civic planning movement to come. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago certainly caught the state's attention, but at first through a nascent consideration of Mission Revival—strongly encouraged as regional identity by the fair's architect in charge, Daniel Burnham—and a resulting charming Texas Pavilion by James Riely Gordon. Otherwise, the Chicago exposition's trumpets for “archeologically correct” Classical Revival, along with its Beaux-Arts style and planning, spread to Texas rather slowly.

Gordon picked up on Chicago's and Daniel H. Burnham's City Beautiful theme by the end of the decade, at Waco's McLennan County Courthouse ( WT1). Gordon adapted his signature Richardsonian Romanesque cruciform model with classical updated ornament, including pronounced temple entrances, balustraded parapet walls, and flying eagles. Waco eventually acquired an axial civic center in 1930 when its new municipal building ( WT4) was placed to anchor the axis of Austin Avenue. Elsewhere in Texas, once the depression of the 1890s subsided, businesses generally continued to build their individual statements around the traditional public squares. 19

Andrew Carnegie did his best to inspire singular civic compositions across America, telegraphing bits of his industrial fortune to several Texas towns. Bryan ( NS7), Franklin ( NS14), Belton ( NS29), and many other up-and-coming cities, each eager to demonstrate their cultural advancements with a Carnegie Library, received these signature buildings in Beaux-Arts classical dress through Carnegie's aid. 20

The U.S. Army greatly expanded its Texas facilities around the turn of the twentieth century, especially at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. At several old posts, a series of parade grounds conveniently defined axial green spaces, flanked by ever-larger barracks and administration buildings reflecting Beaux-Arts themes and classical motifs of temple-front entrances, piano nobile main floors, and climate adaptation through deep roof extensions over continuous porches. At Galveston, following the city's disastrous hurricane and flood of 1900 that dashed its urban supremacy, the U.S. Army constructed massive earthen and concrete bunkers for coastal artillery units.

The appearance of grand academic villages, harbingers of prosperity and a couple of moves for Texas up the Maslow pyramid from survival to actualization, 21combined the best of axial planning with sophisticated architectural themes. The University of Texas at Austin commissioned a series of architects after 1910 to design its campus plan and inaugurate a refreshing building style following its initial flirtation with Gothic Revival ( AU41). Early in the century, Atlee B. Ayres proposed a cluster of Beaux-Arts classical buildings along an axis between the Old Main building's tower and the State Capitol's dome. Then Cass Gilbert of New York City elaborated on Ayres's general axial plan and also designed a fine new library, today Battle Hall ( AU41.3), similar to the Boston Public Library (which Gilbert had helped design while with McKim, Mead and White) but adapted to the Texas sun and rendered in regional limestone. 22In 1909, Rice Institute (now Rice University; HN51) in Houston commissioned Boston's Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson to lay out a multi-axial master plan on the coastal plain three miles south of the city. Cram set aside the firm's famed Collegiate Gothic in favor of a new style more suited to the sunlight and climate in a variety of adaptations influenced by the Byzantine. 23

Electricity from local power plants became the norm for large and many small towns, powering lights, industry, appliances, telephone systems, streetcars, and interurban trains. Mass transit spread along with the City Beautiful movement, and soon trolley lines became the Beaux-Arts axes of planned residential developments. Streetcar suburbs such as Hyde Park in Austin, Houston's Heights and Bellaire neighborhoods, and San Antonio's Alamo Heights moved “healthy living” just beyond the increasingly crowded city centers and introduced the commuter class as a subgroup of the new middle class. A brilliant extension of streetcar efficiency, the electric interurban railroads stretched from Waco to Dallas and from Houston to Galveston for a decade or so before automobiles and highways sharply curtailed their ascendancy.


Texas supported three million citizens in 1900, making it the sixth-most-populous state in the Union. Yet the majority of Texans lived in small towns and on farms and ranches, with only a single city, San Antonio, boasting a population exceeding 50,000. The 1901 discovery of oil at Spindletop near Beaumont ignited many of the events that launched the century, including the proliferation of automobiles in unimagined numbers, and led to the flowering of emboldened architecture. The City Beautiful movement also exemplified this burst of wealth and design, but for other eclectic architects in the state's growing cadre of resident professionals, the revolution of American and European modernism brought fresh ideas and subtle distinctions for educated, or rebellious, clients.

San Antonio architect Atlee B. Ayres, who was trained at Columbia University and practiced in Mexico before returning to Texas in 1900, soon encountered the muse of early American and European modernism. Ayres's courthouse for Cameron County ( BS11) in Brownsville is a Beaux-Arts exercise on the exterior, but has a beautiful tapestry of Sullivanesque plasterwork and art glass in its bright interior rotunda. His Jim Wells County Courthouse ( KA32) in Alice started with classical temple bays, pilasters, and tripartite levels, then burst upward with geometric buttresses and pylons influenced by Austrian Secessionists (Josef Olbrich and Otto Wagner) and Finnish regionalists (Eliel Saarinen and Lars Sonck). 24

Others brought firsthand experience—and their trade-magazine subscriptions—of Chicago's Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright to Texas for a scattering of progressive commissions. George Willis worked in Wright's Oak Park studio for four years until 1904, moved first to California and then to Dallas, and landed in Ayres's studio in 1911 where he drafted unprecedented South Texas courthouse commissions in Jim Wells ( KA32), Refugio ( RF1), and Kleberg ( KA1) counties. Willis opened his own office in San Antonio in 1917 and produced the Prairie Style Lawrence T. Wright House ( SA82; today an architect's office) and many other refreshing residences. In Houston, Joseph Finger immigrated from Austria and opened the Houston office of Dallas's C. D. Hill in 1908. Alfred C. Finn opened a Houston office for Fort Worth's Sanguinet and Staats in 1912, but soon became the favorite architect of Houston developer, banker, and media mogul Jesse H. Jones. Finger and Finn produced some of the most enlightened designs of the Gulf Coast throughout their long careers ( HN1, HN16). 25

Kansas City architect Louis Curtiss, who designed several buildings in Texas for midwestern railroad companies, might have known of the Viennese Secession or perhaps just followed his own remarkable modernist muse. Curtiss installed a large railroad office building for the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway and the Casa Ricardo (or Casa Gertrudis) Hotel in Kingsville in 1912 (both razed) that made no attempts to hide their post-and-beam frames and glass curtain wall envelopes. 26

Thus modernism gained a tentative root in Texas, including a handful of interesting responses to Bertram G. Goodhue's Nebraska State Capitol constructed through the 1920s. San Antonio's Herbert S. Green (competing with Dallas's Herbert M. Greene) relied on Goodhue's modernism for his San Antonio Public Library ( SA43; the building reopened in 2011 as the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Western Art Museum).


The patriotism of World War I and its aftermath rolled blatant classicism back into the public's favor. Far more alluring than experimental modernism for Texas public buildings from the late 1910s through the 1920s were federal projects in Washington, D.C., with majestic Greek and Roman temple forms chiseled, stretched, and punched into fairly efficient office buildings. The U.S. Treasury Department stimulated the trend in Texas with buildings such as the U.S. Post Office in Houston (see HN18) and a number of contemporaneous Beaux-Arts post offices across the state by supervising architects of the U.S. Treasury James Knox Taylor and James A. Wetmore. Atlee B. Ayres brought the trend to Austin with a Beaux-Arts exercise in 1918 for the first State Office Building (now named the Rudder Building) on Brazos and 11th streets just outside the original capitol grounds. 27

Through the early 1920s progressive governor Pat Neff offered speech after speech that freely equated patriotism, motherhood, and automobiles. Neff stood the fledgling state highway department (housed in Ayres's State Office Building) on its feet and funded it with the state's first gasoline tax. He then enthusiastically promoted state parks along the new highways (what we today call roadside parks) for intercity automobile adventurers to enjoy. On weekdays, the rising class of automobile owners, which encompassed several levels of economic strata, stayed close to home in their new automobile suburbs: Belford in Georgetown, Monte Vista in San Antonio, and every fashionable residential street in county seats across the state. On those countless thoroughfares the popular bungalow style spanned an easy transition from streetcar suburbs to automobile-dominated street grids.


Although the Great Depression began with the stock market crash of October 1929, in Texas and other farm states economic hardships had multiplied throughout the 1920s. Yet after the crash and through the early 1930s, life continued little changed for most of the 5.8 million Texans (by then the fifth-most-populous state). Then city jobs began to disappear in multitudes, and urban markets for agricultural output shrank.

The Texas legislature did its part by accelerating highway construction and authorizing in 1932 a new Highway Building ( AU3) in Austin that emulated New York City's Art Deco Empire State Building. Lawmakers also authorized additional sales of bonds against University of Texas (UT) public-lands oil profits, giving Texas A&M College a one-third stake, and thus stimulating huge building programs on their campuses in Austin and College Station. Paul P. Cret's master plan for UT Austin ( AU41) made the campus one of the biggest public works projects in the state and one of its grandest academic villages. At Texas A&M, homegrown Frederick E. Giesecke designed several Beaux-Arts academic buildings ( NS6.2) for his sprawling City Beautiful on the Brazos River, each emblazoned with artwork depicting the noble pursuits of agriculture and mechanics. 28

President Herbert Hoover and Congress, led by new House Speaker John Nance Garner of Uvalde and privately influenced by Houston banker Jesse Jones, increased the federal share of highway construction. With Jones and his new federal bank, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation propped up utilities and insurance companies and loaned states stopgap sums for more local public works. Their vast roadworks of 1932 and early 1933 extended the U.S. highway system and built bridges, while other relief jobs improved schoolyards, parks, and cemeteries across the state with renewed landscapes highlighted by rustic stone walls and entrance portals. One substantial federal project in Texas, Randolph Field built for the fledgling U.S. Army Air Corps near San Antonio, kept Ayres and Ayres and other architects occupied through the decade on a vast City Beautiful scheme for this new “West Point of the Air.” 29

Despite emergency innovations by politically seasoned Texans in Washington and by local governments, the Great Depression only got worse. Yet the early cooperative employment programs set the stage for the general election of late 1932 and candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Roosevelt's much larger federal program of emergency employment and public works sprang into action following his inauguration in March 1933. 30


By the summer of 1933 Roosevelt's sweeping plan to curb the economic emergency not only kept Houston banks solvent and insurance companies open but it also began to alter the landscape of Texas. New highways cut across forests and prairies, opening scenic vistas, speeding the movement of urban Texans from city to city, and accelerating the migration of rural Texans to the metropolises. The state wholeheartedly embraced Roosevelt and a series of governors and congressional officeholders who supported the New Deal and its programs. Stalwart Texan John Nance Garner joined Roosevelt as vice president for the rest of the decade, cajoling New Deal legislation through the U.S. Congress, but ultraconservative Garner waited bitterly for the emergency demand for government programs to subside.

Meanwhile members of Congress and a few ambitious local politicians learned how powerful their positions could be during the public works distribution game. Whereas before the 1930s federal representatives influenced funding for a new post office now and then to inspire reelection and their path to seniority, New Deal projects worked immediate miracles for chronic unemployment. Congressman James Buchanan, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, stationed two camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in his district at Bastrop State Park ( BT5) for almost seven years to build a showpiece of National Park Service (NPS)–supervised “NPS Rustic” buildings and landscapes. San Antonio's U.S. congressman and then mayor Maury Maverick landscaped the Alamo grounds and turned what had become downtown alleys and slums into the River Walk and the La Villita complex ( SA38), the latter a Texas bow to Williamsburg's famous restoration. 31

The Texas architectural community hung on and then thrived with Great Depression–relief public works projects, ranging from city halls, courthouses, and post offices to schools and university buildings, the majority with Art Deco motifs. Arthur Fehr of Austin collected a few hundred dollars for private fees in 1933 before he accepted a whopping $3,600-per-year salary designing and superintending the park project in Bastrop. 32David R. Williams graduated to the Washington, D.C., design offices of the Resettlement Administration and the National Youth Administration (NYA), and O'Neil Ford picked up his mentor's two-decade campaign for “regionalism.” 33O'Neil Ford was consulting architect to the NYA on the La Villita project, while colleague Robert H. H. Hugman realized his career-long dream of reinvigorating the San Antonio River's graceful meander through downtown (see SA36). The Texas centennial celebration in 1936—a $6 million public works project itself that commemorated Texas's independence from Mexico—planted museums, statuary, and assorted historical reconstruction projects across the state. The long-envisioned San Jacinto Monument ( AT24) became the state's single-most-expensive commemorative project, pushed by Jesse Jones and artfully executed by Alfred C. Finn and engineer Robert Cummins, and built through the tireless skills of the Warren S. Bellows Construction Company. The Public Works Administration (PWA) helped fund the $1.5 million, 567-foot shaft, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) completed the vast landscaping designed by Mrs. C. B. Whitehead. Records clearly show that Jones and Finn conspired to build the monument a few feet higher than the Washington Monument, in defiance of the PWA appropriation. 34

Engineering masterpieces rose, flowed, and spanned across Texas courtesy of the PWA, WPA, CCC, and NYA, including the Colorado River reservoir system upstream (northwest) from Austin. Spectacular bridges for urban streets and remote highways appeared over the state's largest and smallest drainages, showcased by the “world's highest” Rainbow Bridge ( OP7) of 1938 on the Neches River between Port Arthur and Orange. The Texas Highway Department built more than seven hundred rustic-stone roadside parks along its ever-lengthening system, mostly with New Deal labor arranged by statewide NYA director Lyndon Baines Johnson. 35


Extension of the draft in August 1941—orchestrated by U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Bonham against stiff opposition in Congress—put 1.6 million draftees in uniform nationwide and redoubled establishment of new training camps. Texas, with 6.4 million citizens, shifting to the sixth-most-populous state, still desperately needed the economic boost, and it won big politically in the construction of new bases and coincidental buildup of arms industries. The U.S. Army hired Texas engineering firms and architects and set them up in dozens of small-town offices to design sprawling cantonments of buildings, training grounds, artillery ranges, and airfields upon vast tracts of hastily assembled rural lands.

In addition to expansion of the old posts at San Antonio and El Paso, a dizzying number of infantry and armor camps, air fields, and naval bases sprang up across the state because of favorable weather, eager local labor forces, and congressional seniority. Camp Hood near Killeen received an investment of $27 million to accumulate 218,000 acres of cantonment and maneuver areas for training more than 100,000 tank destroyer crewmen and other units. Camp Swift near Bastrop assembled 56,000 acres and built 2,750 buildings to consolidate 44,000 infantry and thousands of pack mules.

Ellington Field near Houston and Pasadena, with a flatland, fair-breezes military-aircraft facility dating from 1917, reactivated in 1941 to train bomber crews (and in 1962 became the home airfield for nearby NASA headquarters). Naval Air Station Corpus Christi received flying boats on vast concrete ramps from the bay and housed them among 1,000 hangers as part of a $100 million total investment by war's end in 1945. 36


Such astounding construction and military-housing statistics led inevitably to shortages of private living space anywhere near home-front activity, as well as overtaxing water treatment plants, hospitals, highways and railroads, and other essentials. San Felipe Courts in Houston (renamed Allen Parkway Village after desegregation in 1964) was begun before the war as a whites-only European-inspired regimen of rectilinear housing blocks designed by consortium leaders Frederick J. MacKie Jr. and Karl Kamrath. Completed during the war, it provided critical industrial-worker apartments and was the largest public housing complex in the state. 37African American Texans who did not join segregated military units found much employment in the “Arsenal of Democracy,” as Franklin Roosevelt termed it, but most relied on each other to absorb their own housing needs.

The ever-accelerating migration of rural Texans to cities beginning in the early 1930s, first for access to relief, then jobs, and then a vast range of services as they settled down to permanent residency, overflowed at war's end. Returning GIs and forcibly retired women industrial workers sought much-deserved new housing and the leverage of federally backed mortgage loans through the GI Bill and Federal Housing Administration. Subdivisions platted before the war, such as Cedar Lawn in Galveston and Crestview in Austin, rapidly filled with quickly built but fully modern houses boasting all the latest appliances. After the war, new large-tract subdivisions were built on open fields at the edge of such large cities as Beaumont, Houston, and San Antonio and sprawled into metropolises. While Long Island's Levittown received worldwide attention, equally impressive edge cities spread across the Texas Coastal Plain, Blackland Prairie, and desert scrub through the arts of Fox and Jacobs, Centex Homes, and other industrial-scale contractors. The postwar modern house, often hyped in advertising as the make-believe bastion of a Texas cattle empire, amplified the ranch-style house in its multitude of variations, also offering clean-cut living and loving accommodation of the automobile.


The mid-twentieth-century consumer culture of the United States, fueled in large part by petroleum and innovation from Texas, appeared at first glance to be an updated version of simple virtues. But the 1950s and 1960s bore so many attempts at sweeping descriptions—Atomic Age, Jet Age, Space Age, Suburban Age, even Hydrocarbon Age and Cold War Era—that the individual seemed lost in the convolution of the Military Industrial Complex, in the coinage of Texas-born president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Indeed, post–World War II Texas hosted a lion's share of military bases and manufacturing calculated to deter the faraway Soviet Union from world domination and from triggering World War III. Fort Hood (renamed Fort Cavazos in 2023) became the largest military base in the free world, hosting two army divisions fully expecting to fight in Central Europe. The Houston area bristled with manufacturing of countless devices that shaped the simultaneous Space and Arms races.

Yet the complications and uncertainties of these years brought—perhaps demanded—constant creature-comfort updates as reward and compensation. Air-conditioning had gradually penetrated every aspect of consumer life for decades, from movie houses (Austin's Paramount, 1915) to homes and automobiles after World War II. The Friedrich Company of San Antonio, starting with cabinets in the 1880s that later became iceboxes followed by iced food displays for grocery stores and restaurants, became a major manufacturer of retrofit and central air-conditioning equipment after 1955. 38

The house built by Ralph and Sunny Wilson in Temple ( NS25) as a ranch-style showcase for their plastic laminate business (later Wilsonart) was one of the nation's model homes for the consumer era's emergence. Fresh from experiences in California that touched on laminates and Los Angeles's “Case Study Houses” for new home ideas, Wilson plunged into head-on competition with the powerful Formica brand and veneered his own experimental, contractor-built home with every conceivable application of plastic laminates: floors, kitchen, baths, and even the walls and ceiling of his integral two-car garage. 39

The coldest buildings of the Cold War era seemed to concentrate in weary downtowns and on university campuses, both propelled in the 1960s by federal programs—urban renewal and Department of Education facility grants—of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Johnson's surrogate chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, Frank Irwin, returned from Washington, D.C., several summers in a row with pockets full of end-of-fiscal-year education grants that no one else had the funds to match. With his favorite architects, usually PageSoutherlandPage, Jessen and Jessen, or David C. Graeber and his various associates, Irwin transformed the Austin campus (mostly beyond the Paul P. Cret landscape) into a cloning laboratory for the severe Brutalist icons of the time. 40

Despite these prevailing cold trends, regional inspiration fortunately advanced during this era, led by Corpus Christi architect Richard S. Colley and San Antonio's O'Neil Ford among a handful. Colley and Ford embraced all manner of technical innovations, including concrete and air-conditioning, but attracted a loyal following for what would later be called “passive-efficient” details. Colley applied shading overhangs, wind/sun baffles, high horizontal windows, and sheltering outdoor patios to his residential commissions in Corpus Christi ( CC33) and other Gulf Coast cities. Ford studied prevailing breezes for orientation, and shortcut the application of thermal gain/loss mass by constructing medium-scale civic, religious, and education buildings of reinforced concrete, through lift-slab floor systems and seamless hyperbolic paraboloid roofs. He reached into the craft influences of his past and with his brother Lynn Ford, David R. Williams, and Arch B. Swank embellished cold surfaces with warm bricks and wood, bright tiles and metal-craft, and clever manipulation of sunlight.

The technological approach for buildings led to ever-larger and flamboyant promotions, spearheaded by the 1965 Astrodome ( HN59) in Houston. This 18-story, 9.5-acre clearspan building broke more than a few records and introduced the sporting world to Astroturf when its real-turf expectations wilted. The Astrodome cleared the way in America for roofed stadiums and evergreen backyard poolscapes.


As with the Texas regionalists who sought modernist solutions in historical vernacular adaptations to geography, a few American modernists by the 1970s graduated from glass and/or masonry-paneled boxes to more sympathetic plans and materials. In Houston, Johnson/Burgee Architects' Pennzoil Place ( HN8), twin charcoal-glass towers with theatrical forty-five-degree roofs, shook the stoic real estate community (much to its developer Gerald Hines's delight) and the architectural press. Even Ludwig Mies van der Rohe bent the boxy rules as well in his post-and-beam motif with the bowed front addition to Houston's Museum of Fine Arts ( HN38).

Pop culture watchers might argue that Pennzoil Place's trendsetting roofs spread into the residential market, since a new tract-home style emerged across Texas about the same time—or as soon as distress from the Arab oil embargo faded by the late 1970s. The conservative ranch style had played its part in the suburbanization of America and Texas, housing much of the state's increase in population to 11 million by 1970. Now in a backlash to the timid conservation movement of the 1970s, the “Neo-Traditional,” or French Provincial, or just “Big Roof Style,” dominated developer subdivisions throughout the state, requiring more materials and air-conditioning capacity than ever before.

By 1980, with the state's population at 14 million, the squared glass box was no longer suitable for the competitive skylines of big and even medium-sized Texas cities. Johnson/Burgee's RepublicBank Center (see HN8) in Houston planted Philip Johnson's newfound historicism right next to their decade-old Pennzoil Place. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill's InterFirst Plaza (now Bank of America; SA57) in San Antonio borrowed its angular roofline from the sophisticated Medical Arts Building (now Emily Morgan Hotel; SA9) of 1926 by Ralph Cameron. 41


RepublicBank, Texas Commerce Bank, and InterFirst Bank—these old or cleverly named Texas financial institutions—were all glistening, late-twentieth-century office towers in the big cities and branch banks on small-town corners across Texas that fell hard in the late 1980s economic bust. Office towers changed names and sometimes even curtain walls in the shake-out; new branch- and savings-bank buildings on suburban and small-town corners entered the real estate portfolio of the Resolution Trust Corporation established by the U.S. Congress to recover the losses. Previously high-flying architects' offices closed, and the conspicuous consumption of former clients disappeared from headlines. 42

The 1980s Texas real estate bust ironically, or perhaps naturally, inspired the most ambitious and high-budget historic preservation projects since the national movement gained its footing in the late 1960s. Progressive women in San Antonio had started the state's own preservation trend in the early 1900s, joined in the 1960s as the old coastal port of Galveston saved whole neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and genteel porches. The San Antonio Conservation Society started its preservation efforts in the 1920s with the restoration of the over-two-hundred-year-old granary of Mission San José ( SA85), and played no small part in securing National Park Service designation for San José and three of its neighbor Spanish missions in 1978. 43

Texas building owners and architects slowly but surely appreciated the correlation of nostalgia and profit. The insightful Main Street program, established in 1980 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed in Texas by the state historical commission, brought planning and design assistance along with shopping-mall economics to dozens of floundering downtowns, including Beeville and Navasota. Individual commercial rehabilitations rescued building after building with federal investment tax credits, including aging but glamorous hotel buildings in Galveston (Tremont House; GV6) and Houston (Rice Hotel, now Post Rice Lofts; HN10). Galveston's old Strand wharf district, inspired by oil entrepreneur George Mitchell's rescue of Tremont House, utilized tax credits to restore several large abandoned brick warehouses as restaurants, bars, housing, offices, and museums.

In the statewide election of 1990, one of the last of Lyndon Johnson's protégés, Bob Bullock, became lieutenant governor and brought to bear the most powerful position in state government as had few of his predecessors. Bullock immediately took over a disorganized plan (inspired by a frightening Senate-wing fire of 1983) to restore the 1888 capitol building ( AU1). He rammed cash funding of almost $200 million through a parsimonious legislature still shocked by the 1980s evaporation of tax revenue. Then on New Year's Day 1993 the stately 101-year-old Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro, Bullock's hometown, burned so severely that only its limestone perimeter walls remained standing. The energetic politician personally cast a wide net for restoration funding and reeled in the state transportation department, which had just rejected participation in a new program offered by its federal partners as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). Bullock coaxed the highway engineers into providing tens of millions of dollars in ISTEA “enhancement funds,” and he effectively wrote the application rules to include the Hill County Courthouse—and every other historic courthouse in the state. 44

By the close of the twentieth century, Texas's population stood at 20.9 million. Under several initiatives, the most recognizable historic buildings in the state enjoyed generous funding and professional attention to advance their timeless contributions well into the twenty-first century. The capitol received a remarkable underground addition ( AU1) of 667,000 square feet, along with repairs to the building of 1888, gloriously restored interior spaces, and rejuvenated landscaping, all completed in 1995. 45

The serendipitous success of the capitol restoration and ISTEA courthouse funding led in 1997 to direct grants from a more generous legislature— championed by Bullock's own protégé Governor George W. Bush—that extended into the first decade of the twenty-first century as the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Dozens of buildings in Texas's unmatched collection of nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century courthouses—from Brownsville ( BS11) to Belton ( NS27), Liberty ( AT4), and Wharton ( WD1)— received mechanical and accessibility upgrades, as well as reconstruction of towers, windows, courtrooms, and other features lost or mishandled over their long productive lives. Scores of restoration-trained architects capitalized on the largest single-source preservation program in the nation, as they fanned out to county seats across the state. 46


The most recent turn of a century did not herald a fresh and universal architectural style and psychological optimism in Texas as had 1900's nationalistic visions of Beaux-Arts classicism and the City Beautiful ideal. Housing starts in the early twenty-first century (up to the inevitable stall in 2007) rivaled the suburban revolution of the 1950s, with suburban sprawl still unchecked.

Culture-shocking events, from 9/11 to Gulf hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008, along with the steady comprehension of global warming, at best inspired a new design generation to strive for energy independence and sustainable consumption. The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing and the Student Community Center ( HN54) won the American Institute of Architects' (AIA) Committee on the Environment's Top Ten Green Projects award in 2006 for its energy efficient, sustainable footprint. Across the state, cities and counties are adopting green building codes and encouraging Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for new projects and remodelings alike.


Lawrence W. Speck, Landmarks of Texas Architecture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986).

“Ysleta, Texas,” Handbook of Texas.

La Salle and a small cadre set out overland on foot to link with the Mississippi River, but one of La Salle's men murdered him somewhere east of the Trinity River in present-day Texas. Six survived the impossible reconnoiter, including Henri Joutel, who returned to France and wrote a remarkable journal about the entire adventure. Of the twenty or so left behind at Fort St. Louis, most perished in attacks by the local Karankawa, who then raised a few of the children. See “Fort St. Louis,” “La Salle,” “Henri Joutel,” all in Handbook of Texas;and Robert S. Weddle, The Wreck of theBelle, the Ruin of La Salle (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001).

James Early, Presidio, Mission, and Pueblo: Spanish Architecture and Urbanism in the United States (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2004). The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the San Antonio Missions National Park have produced excellent, but unpublished, studies of the missions.

Mario Sanchez, ed., A Shared Experience: The History, Architecture, and Historic Designations of the Lower Rio Grande Heritage Corridor (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, Los Caminos del Rio Heritage Project, 1994).

“Moses Austin,” Handbook of Texas.

Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov, Texas Log Buildings: A Folk Architecture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978).

“Texian” is the loose term of allegiance for American colonists and their allies living in Texas before U.S. statehood in 1845. Details of the battles and players of the Texas Revolution—even the number who fought on both sides at the Alamo—were controversial in their time, and remain mercurial to the present. See Handbook of Texasunder various place names and personalities for generally balanced summaries with multiple citations.

Drury Blakeley Alexander, Texas Homes of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press for the Amon Carter Museum, 1966), 249, 251.

Willard B. Robinson, Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974).

Kenneth Hafertepe, Abner Cook: Master Builder on the Texas Frontier (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992).

A. Ray Stevens and William M. Holmes, Historical Atlas of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), entries 35, 41.

“Juneteenth,” Handbook of Texas.

“Blue Highways” are so named based on the ubiquitous gasoline company road maps of the last half of the twentieth century, which indicate limited-access interstate highways in red, and older meandering U.S. highways in blue.

Ellen Beasley and Stephen Fox, Galveston Architecture Guidebook (Houston: Rice University Press, 1996); Barrie Scardino and Drexel Turner, Clayton's Galveston: The Architecture of Nicholas J. Clayton and His Contemporaries (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000).

Robinson, Texas Public Buildings; Willard B. Robinson, The People's Architecture: Texas Courthouses, Jails, and Municipal Buildings (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983); William Elton Green, “Capitol,” Handbook of Texas.

Kenneth A. Breisch, “The Richardsonian Interlude in Texas: A Quest for Meaning and Order at the End of the Nineteenth Century,” in The Spirit of H. H. Richardson on the Midland Prairies,ed. Paul Clifford Larson with Susan M. Brown (Minneapolis: University Art Museum, University of Minnesota; Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1988), 86–105.

“Gonzales Commercial Historic District” National Register nomination, Gonzales County, Texas Historic Sites Atlas.

Robinson, The People's Architecture.

Theodore Jones, Carnegie Libraries across America: A Public Legacy (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.) The Ballinger, Texas, library of 1909 is the cover photograph.

“Maslow's hierarchy of needs” is a popular didactic tool of urban planning courses. See Wikipedia at http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.

Carol McMichael, Paul Cret at Texas: Architectural Drawing and the Image of the University in the 1930s (Austin: Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1983).

James C. Morehead Jr., A Walking Tour of Rice University,2nd rev. ed. (Houston: Rice University Press, 1990).

Jay C. Henry, Architecture in Texas: 1895–1945 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993).

“Joseph Finger,” “Alfred Charles Finn,” “George Rodney Willis,” all in Handbook of Texas.

Wilda Sandy and Larry K. Hancks, Stalking Louis Curtiss: A Portrait of the Man and His Work (Kansas City, Mo.: Ward Parkway Press, 1991).

Henry, Architecture in Texas,93; “State of Texas, 1918 State Office Building and 1932 State Highway Building” National Register nomination, Texas Historic Sites Atlas.

“Paul Philippe Cret,” “Frederick Ernst Giesecke,” both in Handbook of Texas.

“Randolph Field Historic District” National Register nomination, Bexar County, Texas Historic Sites Atlas.

James W. Steely, “Public Works of the Depression Era,” Texas Architect36, no. 3 (May– June 1986) : 100–105. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) joined Roosevelt's plan, and Jesse Jones became RFC chairman, as the principal source of funding for New Deal agencies.

Mary Carolyn Hollers George, O'Neil Ford, Architect (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992); Vernon G. Zunker, A Dream Come True: Robert Hugman and San Antonio's River Walk (San Antonio: V. G. Zunker, 1983). See also Albert H. Good, Park and Recreation Structures (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999).

James Wright Steely, Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999), 66. See also Good, Parks and Recreation Structures.

Muriel Quest McCarthy, David R. Williams: Pioneer Architect (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1984); George, O'Neil Ford;Zunker, Robert Hugman.

James W. Steely, “A Magnificent Monument,” Texas Highways (April 1993): 4–11.

T. Lindsay Baker, Building the Lone Star: An Illustrated Guide to Historic Sites (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1986). The occasional claim that LBJ “invented” the roadside park in the 1930s is a myth; however, this narrative earlier credits Governor Pat Neff in the 1920s with promoting “state parks” as highway waysides, following a national earmark of the newborn automobile culture.

“Fort Hood,” “Camp Swift,” “Ellington Field,” “Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi,” “World War II,” all in Handbook of Texas.

“San Felipe Courts Historic District” (incorrectly listed as “San Felipe Cottage”), Harris County, Texas Historic Sites Atlas.

“Air-Conditioning,” Handbook of Texas.

“Wilson House, Ralph Sr. and Sunny” National Register nomination, Bell County, Texas Historic Sites Atlas.

Margaret C. Berry, Brick by Golden Brick: A History of Campus Buildings at The University of Texas at Austin: 1883–1993 (Austin: LEBCo. Publishing, 1993).

Stephen Fox, “Transformation: Corporate Imagery in Tall Buildings,” Texas Architect36, no. 3 (May–June 1986): 120–23.

Joel Warren Barna, The See-Through Years: Creation and Destruction in Texas Architecture and Real Estate, 1981–1991 (Houston: Rice University Press, 1992).

Lewis F. Fisher, Saving San Antonio: The Precarious Preservation of a Heritage (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1996).

The author (Steely) watched this astonishing scenario unfold over the course of state agency and legislative meetings through the 1990s. See Michael A. Andrews, Historic Texas Courthouses (Albany, Tex.: Bright Sky Press, 2006).

Michael E. Ward, The Capitol of Texas: A Legend Is Reborn (Atlanta, Ga.: Longstreet Press, 1995).

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) requires master plans to adhere to a standardized format as part of county applications for courthouse rehabilitation funds; the resulting documents are packed with historical and technical information, and are on file at the THC.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.